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Am I a narcissist? The question itself is self-indulgent and self-absorbed, but I can't help asking it. Maybe my six years demanding your daily attention here at Click Opera have been nothing but "digital narcissism", a daily seduction, an attempt to put myself at the centre of the world, to spin myself into every story, to make myself the universal prism, the central aleph, the keystone in a grand facade. Has the motif behind every story (and almost thirty years of records, for that matter) really been "me, me, me"?



I think it's clear that I am a narcissist -- God knows, I love and believe in myself strongly enough -- but I'd say I'm also rather guilty about it. I'd say I diffuse my self-love out into so many other things that it becomes acceptable. It's not sticky and repulsive any more, as immoderate self-love tends to be.

Or does it? According to an article on PsyBlog, Why we love narcissists (at first), "despite being self-absorbed, arrogant, entitled and exploitative, narcissists are also fascinating... we are strangely drawn to their self-centred personalities, their dominance and their hostility, their sensitivity and their despair, at least for a while."

The article reports an experiment by social psychologist Mitja Back which found that narcissists make a good first impression because they look, sound and move better. They use charming facial expressions, have a more confident speaking tone, wear more fashionable clothes, have trendier haircuts and are funnier.

Wow, what's not to self-love? Narcissists sound like attractive hipsters! They must get laid a lot!



If they do -- and surely they do -- their relationships don't last long, Back found. Weirdly enough, it's the narcissist-hipster's entitlement and exploitative abilities which lure people in initially: "participants liked narcissists' sense of entitlement most -- of the four aspects of narcissism they studied (leadership/authority, self-admiration/self-absorption, arrogance/superiority and entitlement/exploitativeness) it was the last of these that most predicted liking". However, "narcissists are usually soon found out and shunned since few people will put up with a self-absorbed, authoritarian, arrogant, exploitative friend".

At this point my picture of the narcissist -- with his trendy haircut and funny comments -- became the image of a musician on tour, getting laid every night but exhausting sympathy just in time to move on to the next concert in the next town. But the digital dandy could fit the bill just as well: instead of sticking around long enough for real people to get the message that there's no place in the dandy's heart for anyone but himself, he can simply display himself digitally in the web's shop window.

"Behaving selfishly seems to bring them a rush of admiration which they get addicted to, while devaluing others when the inevitable rejection comes, covering it up by searching out new people to worship them. The reason narcissists fail to spot this cycle may well be that friends and partners never hang around long enough to tell them in such a way that they actually believe it and want to do something about it," the article concludes.

That almost makes it sound like narcissism is being made into a "cycle of abuse", a "clinical condition requiring treatment", and even a "disease". And it might well be a facet of the narcissism of psychologists that they see themselves as the universal prism, the central aleph, the see-all and cure-all. Do scientists have a grudge against artists? Do they want us to be as boring as them? It's certainly understandable that these science types would prefer to vest their own value in something other than cool clothes, immediate charm, and a nice line in chat-up patter.



So, therapy for narcissists. Would it remove their charm and attractiveness, or only their own exploitation and manipulation of it to seduce the easily-impressed? Would the trendy haircut, the nice voice, the funny remarks, vanish after a course of antibiotics? Would the narcissist become one of those English self-deprecators who proudly proclaims his complete inadequacy, stupidity and laziness at every opportunity (surely a kind of "inverted narcissism" even more egregious than the overt kind, since it often comes with a refusal to improve)?

Attacks on narcissists disturb me just as attacks on hipsters do. After reading the PsyBlog piece -- to get the astringent flavour of crushed aspirin out of my mouth -- I watched a lot of Prince videos: Kiss, Sexy MF, Alphabet Street, Cream. You can only watch them on dodgy offshore servers, because either Prince or the media moguls who own his material slap suits on anyone showing them (and I don't mean padded-shouldered, wasp-waisted numbers with peep-holes for chest hair).

The narcissism levels in the Prince vids were off the meter, way beyond the red. I loved them. I imagined that if I'd been born a girl (Sheena Easton, for instance) I'd willingly have served my time as a love-slave in the pimp-imp's harem. The idea of a "normal" Prince cured of his scandalous self-love... well, it's just plain fugly.
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February 2010

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