CPPNJ - The Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy of New Jersey

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Men -- and women -- behaving badly (or: Trumping Charlie Sheen)

Just when the train wreck that is Charlie Sheen finally pulled out of Crazy Town, along came an even bigger loco-motive bearing down on our national sanity like ants on a speck of hamburger.

Here he is, the man who hired shamelessness and gave it a comb-over: Donald Trump. He rants! He raves! He announces how very, very proud he is for being caught lying! Like a spoiled child, he wants attention -- lots of attention -- and we give it to him! The more he hogs the spotlight, the more the media throws it on him. Are they reacting to our voyeuristic need to see others getting away with behaving badly, or are they creating it? (Most likely the answer is: c--all of the above.)

The Donald did not give birth to narcissism. In fact, crassness has become a cottage industry.

Take Snooki from "The Jersey Shore" (please!). Or the table-flipping "Real Housewives of New Jersey." (I'm sensing a geographic trend here, and as a resident of The Garden State, I am none too happy.) To paraphrase Charlie Sheen, why are these people winning?

When I was a kid, I would be punished for the kind of behavior reality shows and Fox News now encourage. Today, parents not only tolerate temper tantrums, they indulge them. And their pampered kids grow up to be MTV gawkers -- and reality "stars."

For most of us, poor behavior still has consequences (although in our angry, YouTube society, the bar for what constitutes bad behavior keeps getting lower). Which may be why we reward Snooki, the Kardashians, corporate scoundrels, and pampered music stars. We don't punish them, we idolize them. We applaud their getting away with outlandish behavior, even as we complain about it.

Unconsciously, perhaps we wish we could be Snooki, indulging in whatever we want without getting ostracized, fired, or humiliated. We live vicariously through her, deriving pleasure as she flaunts the rules we can't. We get to feel superior as we mock her crudeness and reassure ourselves of how much smarter, classier, and better coiffed we are. As we laugh at her behind her back, finally we feel like we are getting away with something, since Snooki will never hear us. We get to be bad, too! All the while, we project our own shameful feelings of not being acceptable or smart enough onto her, thereby not having to experience our insecurities ourselves. There is something nice about feeling holier than thou. Just ask The Donald.

And if our strange-haired antiheroes ultimately get their comeuppance, all the better. We get to transfer our envy and insecurity onto the next train wreck who hogs the spotlight. For when Trump's tantrum finally fizzles, you can bet another outrageous
narcissist will come along for us to shower with attention.

-- Eric Sherman, LCSW

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