Jean M. Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor in her mid-30s,who wrote, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable—Than Ever Before, has come up with a new study, applying the “Narcissistic Personality Inventory”, to more than 16.000 college students. Brought to public just in time for the paperback re-edition of her book, the data are not scientifically published yet.
Alas, the study claims, that in 2006 there would have been 30% more narcissist tendencies detectable, compared to 1982. Worse, the average participant in the research would have shown levels of narcissism comparable to a control group of average prominent actors, musicians and tv-starlets.
Detectable narcissist tendencies are no evidence for a narcissist personality disorder. PD are complex and not just “learned” reaction patterns. Nonetheless, the “young narcissists” are going to make social life in the future a lot more complicated. Whoever is convinced to be someone “totally special” or “an ideal ruler of the world” is likely to ruin every long term relationship. Narcissism feels good and helps participating in “Superstar”. But the magic self image suitable for mediatic presence does clash with the reality of closeness and emotionality in human interaction, ruining intimacy. Soon we might find ourselves in a society where everybody is abusing everybody, if that is not the case already.
Surely, narcissism of a whole young generation is not just an effect of an internet, that actually does just reflect a trend towards mediatic self-directing.
Twenge has gained celebrity last year for describing the defining characteristics of the children of Baby Boomers born from 1970 to the end of the 20th century, a group she termed Generation Me. The members of this generation, while remarkably diverse in many respects, share a unifying aspect: they are “unapologetically focused on the individual,” a trait inherited from their Boomer parents and fanned to extremes by the culture they engendered.
While no one—especially a generation raised to worship individualism—likes to have their sameness within a group pointed out to them, I was struck by how consistently Twenge’s generalizations about GenMe rang true about some of my friends, my ex-boyfriend included. They think of work more as a path toward self-affirmation, than as a means to a stable livelihood; they feel they can have it all and believe in “following their dreams” and doing things their own way; they heed social rules and figures of authority only insofar as they don’t get in their way; and they view their 20s as a period to bounce around and “find themselves” because otherwise they won’t be ready for married family life in their late 20s and early 30s. As to whether these trends are good or bad, Twenge, thoughtfully, only seldom makes an outright judgment. Most of the time her research data and sources are selectively mediated by her— yet they are meant to demonstrate, that these developments have no small hand in creating the doldrums of the book’s subtitle.
In sketching out how these conditions came to be, Twenge tells an engaging story, fueled and supported by a solid base of data, illustrative quotes from her and others’ research, and barometric examples from TV shows, movies, comics, and advertisements. She explains how the defiance of authority and shirking of social approval pioneered by Boomers in the ’60s and ’70s was subsumed by the mainstream and incorporated into the status quo, informing GenMe’s Weltanschauung. Twenge also serves up a well argued critique of the self-esteem industry in the United States, which she says has a narcissistic-tinged ethos that is harming America’s youth vastly more than it helps. Her analyses of myriad topics articulated a number of ideas on the tip of my mind’s tongue, getting me to think, as in opposition, about myself and my mother, as well the culture we come from.
Despite Twenge’s somewhat sensationalistic use of the word “miserable” to describe a generation, certainly there are hard facts hard to deal with: depression, crushing disappointment when the real world doesn’t deliver on the things the kids have been taught to expect, credit card debt, mountainous student loans, divorce-like breakups, rising health-insurance premiums and real estate prices, estrangement from the community. “Generation Me needs realistic expectations, careful career guidance, and assistance when we become parents. In return, we will gladly lend our energy and ambition toward our work and toward helping others.” Twenge is concluding.