Is Narcissism always a bad thing?

August 12, 2014

NarcissusNarcissism is often associated with ‘the dark side of leadership’. Recent studies offer a revised perspective

A review in The Economist [March 22nd, 2014] was entitled Narcissism: Know thy selfie. It reviewed two recent books on Narcissism: Mirror, Mirror: the uses and abuses of self-love, by Simon Blackburn, and The Americanization of Narcissism, by Elizabeth Lunbeck.

Lasch and the Culture of Narcissism

In examining these books it is worth going back to the psychodynamic treatment of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch. It is worth revisiting this classic study as the critic As Siegel summarized the work:

in “The Culture of Narcissism,” Lasch took what was still mainly a narrowly clinical term and used it to diagnose a pathology that seemed to have spread to all corners of American life. In Lasch’s definition (drawn from Freud), the narcissist, driven by repressed rage and self-hatred, escapes into a grandiose self-conception, using other people as instruments of gratification even while craving their love and approval. Lasch saw the echo of such qualities in “the fascination with fame and celebrity, the fear of competition, the inability to suspend disbelief, and the shallowness and transitory quality of personal relations.

The full-on connection between narcissism and many of the evils of modern society was always likely to attract a revisionary accounts such as those of Blackburn and Lubeck.

Narcissism and balance

Blackburn argues that a ‘healthy’ self-image is bounded at one pole by excessive self-regard, and at the other pole by lack of adequate self-image. This adds needed nuance to the Lasch position, as well as to the popular connection between narcissism and the dark side of charismatic leadership. His plea is for positioning the individual more carefully in their context. The prevailing view of egotistical leaders may have slipped too much into polarisation. Where he is closest to Lasch is in his cutting observations of advertising which seeks to bolster the self-image of the consumer (Blackburn takes the ‘because you are worth it’ message of L’Oreal as an example]

‘Good narcissism’

Lunbeck adds the point that the neo-Freudians have tended to focus on narcissism as bad, and that Lasch contributed this cultural belief. Freud, she argues, saw the development of self-regard as a form of ‘good narcissism’.

Narcissism as a dilemma

Both Blackburn and Lunbeck show us that narcissism may be more of a dilemma to be understood than a universal curse.

Suggestion to leadership tutors

Essay question: Is Narcissism a bad leadership characteristic? Discuss, drawing on the work of Simon Blackburn and Elizabeth Lunbeck


The Commonwealth Games illustrates the potency and symbolic nature of sport

August 2, 2014

The Commonwealth Games takes place in Glasgow as Scotland temporarily suspends campaigning for its referendum next month on independence from the United Kingdom

The Games reminded me of the Christmas Day truce in World War One. Not that I was there personally for Glasgow or WW1. According to the legend, on Christmas Day 1914, British and German troops downed arms, left their trenches and played a football match before resuming battle.

Don’t mention the war

In Glasgow during the Games, it was very much ‘don’t mention the war for independence’. If so, the truce was successful. This was perhaps because it was not clear to either the Yes or the No campaign whether political posturing would lose much-needed votes.

Overall, the Games have proceeded in an atmosphere of scarcely- controlled hysteria. Hysteria among spectators; among adrenalized athletes gasping out their semi-coherent replies at interviews minutes after completing events (“tell us what you are feeling as poster-girl now you have failed to win a medal in your favorite event”); and above all, hysteria among the assembled ranks of the broadcast media.

Gilded and giddy commentators

The BBC had more than its fair share of gilded and giddy commentators interviewing athletes and proud parents. These were performances honed by BBC experience of numerous interviews with Andy Murray and celebrity mum Judy before, during and after Wimbledon fortnight over the last few years.

The Gold standard

Great efforts were made to preserve or even enhance the value of the gold standard. The actual events were represented as all equivalently-compelling and equivalently worth watching. After all, they all offered changes to win Gold. The prospect of winning ‘yet another gold’ was the dominant marketing offer from the start of the Games. Each session was going to be special as there were so many gold medals to be won. Somehow the discourse permitted at the same time acknowledgement of the equivalence and specialness of gold and of gold-medal winners, and the lower status silver and bronze medals . (Another image: the satirical sketch of the British class system beginning “I look up to him because he is upper class and I am middle class”).

All events are equal but some are more equal than others

I enjoyed most of the actual athletic events, particularly those that lasted fewer than several hours of running, cycling, or wheel-chairing around the track. You could keep your percentage time watching athletes up by ‘using the red button’. Otherwise you were faced with a choice of multi-tasking or taking full-on the high-intensity but very cozy chats between the assorted teams of BBC commentators and guests.

Soon our revels will be over

I multi-tasked, with mobile, tablet, and library book at the ready at all times. In a few days the Games truce will be over and the referendum campaigning will begin again.


BBC Radio Four. Champion of cool rationality

May 8, 2014

While other media succumb to cheesiness, Radio Four remains a bastion of rationality

Yesterday, I combined business with pleasure, listening to Radio Four, driving to the metropolis of downtown Bramhall for early morning coffee, and thinking about a rewrite to a chapter in a textbook on leadership and rationality.

Radio Four remains a bastion for cool unemotional broadcasting. Even the most dreadful event is communicated with the minimum of fuss from Radio Four World.

If I want cheesiness…

If I want cheesiness, Radio Five is a button away. Radio Five World has cornered the market in the sort of personal hardship stories which are banned from Radio Four.

Back on Four, I hear the reassuringly rational tones of a national treasure who has been broadcasting for many a decade. She is in conversation with someone from the Empire. Sorry, I mean The Commonwealth.

Her guest is a creative artist whose work involves the indigenous culture of New Zealand. Talk turns to the expression of Maori culture through rugby, and its ferocious team performance of the Hakka before matches.

“And this Hakka. What’s it all about?”

“It’s a kind of war dance.”

“War dance!?” [Rationality alert.]

“The chanting and rhythmic stamping of feet bond the players into a team”

“Ah. That all seems very rational.” [ A relieved interviewer is audibly more relaxed.] The conversation was not drifting beyond the boundaries of the Dominant Rational Model.

Meanwhile, on Radio Five

I switch to Radio Five Live. An empathic interviewer is sharing the distress of a mother whose child is being bullied by Face-Book Trolls.


Roger Bannister and Guto Nyth Brân

April 27, 2014

The distinguished historian Mary Beard celebrated the breaking of the four minute mile barrier by Roger Bannister, sixty years ago

The race took place on the 6th May 1954. Writing how times have changed, Beard gently points to the social message in the mythologised race:

For the few months before the big event he practised at weekends too with Brasher and Chataway, and took advice from Brasher’s coach – often over baked beans on toast at a Lyons Corner House. As for his equipment, just the day before the race he was found sharpening his running spikes on a grindstone in the lab.

So-called “effortless superiority” is rarely as “effortless” as it pretends to be. It wasn’t all do-it-yourself preparation on the lab grindstone. [Bannister] himself explains that he had some super-light running shoes specially made (4oz rather than 6oz per shoe – enough, he reckoned, to make all the difference between coming in under four minutes and not).

But the most disconcerting side of the Iffley Road race is its glaring display of class division. Sport is well known to reflect, or to reinforce, social, cultural and political hierarchies. The mile event was part of a bigger competition between Oxford University and the national Amateur Athletics Association. Although we only ever see photographs of Bannister, Brasher and Chataway.

Tom Hulatt, from a local athletics club in Derbyshire finished third behind Chataway. Hulatt worked in the local colliery near Tibshelf, and had a rat-catching business on the side. His training was largely running the five miles to and from work. Afterwards, the Oxford students presumably went back to their colleges, the Bannister trio went celebrating and clubbing in London, Hulatt got his programme signed by Bannister, Brasher and Chataway and took the train back to Derbyshire. I doubt that, outside his home village, Hulatt who died in 1990, will be a big part in our commemoration of the mile-record of 1954. Rightly, perhaps, the moment will belong to Bannister.

Counter claims from North Korea …

A charming piece with a gentle social message. But I await the claims from North Korea for the achievements of their great champion and leader which have not been reported in the Western media.

…and from South Wales

Mention should also be made of the folk hero Guto Nyth Brân from my own little village in South Wales, where Guto’s feats have become famous in poetry and song. Every New Year’s eve, a race is run in his honour.

Guto was a man of the people who was said could run seven miles, from his farm in the hills to Pontypridd and back, before his mother’s kettle had boiled.

Difficult to translate into modern time-keeping and tea-making technologies and race distances of course.


Sherlock Holmes series on BBC TV illustrates charismatic infatuation

January 26, 2014

The recent Sherlock Holmes series on BBC Television was launched in a sustained and skillful blaze of publicity. Its impact suggests an explanation of charismatic influence

The advertising hype created a teaser over the apparent death of Sherlock at the end of the first series two years earlier. The character in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories survived a fall. The viewers were now invited to explain the survival of the Sherlock as played by Benedict Cumberbatch

The Holmes Watson relationship

Two themes dominated the first of the three episodes. The first was How did Sherlock survive the fall from a high building? The second was the intense homoerotic nature of the Holmes Watson relationship.

The Marmite factor

The reaction of viewers to all episodes was intense. The reviews released a quite astonishing emotional outpouring of replies. Fans demonstrated the so called Marmite effect [you love it or loath it, with little cool or rational reactions displayed] Nearly a thousand comments appeared hours after the Guardian review.

For the first two episodes reviewers tended to be rather lukewarm towards the production, acknowledging outstanding elements of acting and plot but rather unsatisfactory coherence and more than a whiff of smug self-indulgence. The third was widely regarded as by far the most dramatic and compelling to watch.

The infatuation effect

As evidenced by the thousand comments [of the first two and more unsatisfactory episodes for the critics], a sizable proportion of fans were infatuated by the mega-star of the series, Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch. For this group, the overwhelming emotion was unconditional expressions of love, coupled with anger at those who expressed any signs of disappointment in the production.

Is this a clue to the nature of charismatic leadership?

Possibly. At least there is a suggestion of a line of research into followership and charisma. The vulnerability induced in followers by the charismatic leader could be studied through investigation of the concept of celebrity infatuation.


BBC SPOTY: Pretentious, sentimental, compulsive viewing

December 16, 2013

The BBC is extremely proud of its Sports Personality of the Year programme [SPOTY]. It combines much that is admirable and more than a little that is embarrassing and self indulgent

You know when a program has achieved cult status when the BBC gives it a cozy acronym or an abbreviated pet name. ‘Strictly’ [Come Dancing] and MOTD [Match of the day] are examples. SPOTY is another.

SPOTY bigged up

Each autumn, SPOTY is tirelessly and shamelessly bigged up by the BBC for several months. It has grown lengthier and more pretentious, decade by decade, for sixty years. It is tempting to have a rant about wasted money of license payers who are also hard working tax payers.By way of contrast MOTD at least remains cozy and relatively low budget and rather unchanged despite the intrusion of new technology, and countless replays of controversial refereeing decisions.

No vote fixing this year

So, SPOTY for 2013 came and went [December 15th, 2013]. One theme this year was avoiding any scandal of vote fixing. The concern was palpable and great effort went into the changes. This partly because of the rise of the mighty on-line betting industry, partly because the BBC is nearly paranoid about SOTY [scandal of the year]. Evidence abounded of potential SOTY bloopers. For example, the extra care to acknowledge disabled sporting figures, since the time they forgot to make suitable arrangements for athletes in wheelchairs, a few years ago.

Don’t forget the gals

Two women were added to the ten finalists after a twitch in the direction of a SOTY story earlier in the year. In a nice touch, John Inverdale, an appropriately cozy and lovey commentator, was banished from the show after inappropriate remarks he made last July about Wimbledon ladies winner Marion Bartoli. And all was made fine by having Marion announce one of the prizes, and having Marina Navratilova hand over the big one to Andy Murray, who, you may remember, won the gentleman’s singles at that same tennis tournament.

And the winner is …Andy Murray

The bookies had made Andy Murray overwhelming favourite. This could have also been the stuff of SOTY because Andy wasn’t present. In the build up to the SPOTY, there was some quite anxious discussion about whether Andy should be banned from receiving any award, because he had chosen to remain in Miami training and recovering from surgery.

PAOTY

Which brings me to PAOTY, the newly installed patronizing award of the year. The winning award was to a nice couple of ‘unsung heroes’ from Wilmslow, who had done much needed work to promote basketball in that neck of the woods. The interview seemed to have had the virtue of being completely unprompted and unrehearsed. A true contender for PAOTY.

Why didn’t I switch off?

OK. So the programme was pretentious, sentimental, and bling-heavy. Why didn’t I switch off? Why was the trusty remote not put to use? I don’t think it was only because of the promise of material for LWD. Truth is, SPOTY, despite all its other features, makes compelling watching. Like a cozy horror movie.


Ann Widdecombe’s ‘Are you having a laugh?’

March 28, 2013

Ann WiddecombeTV Review: BBC1 Wednesday March 27 2013

Last night I watched a rather sad late-night programme fronted by Ann Widdecombe. Her focus was the hurt caused to Christians by assorted humorous treatments of religious themes. The humorists she interviewed argued they were mocking not Christianity but attitudes of Christians

Background

Ann Widdecombe has celebrity status in the UK, for her uncompromising views on matters political, social, and religious. Following a career in politics she moved into the world of media and journalism. Her visibility is enhanced in a culture which delights in unself-conscious eccentricity. Her views are mostly of a socially conservative kind which she is prepared to back up by taking a moral position, at one stage refusing higher office during her time as a junior Government minister which would have required her to work against her beliefs.

A regiment of mockers

In the programme ‘Are you having a laugh: Humour and Christianity’ She offered an unshakable position, setting out to confirm it under the guise of rational discourse. Anger at the mockery naturally led her to name, shame, and confront a regiment of mockers ranging from the Monty Python team, Ricky Gervase, stand-up comedians as a tribe, and a few producers of other assorted media programmes.

Feel my pain

Her pain, induced by what she sees as the mocking of her beliefs, seemed genuine enough for some of her interviewees to show empathy, not a quality particularly manifest by the interviewer. I found my own sympathy diminishing she moved from the [in]famous crucifixion scene ending of the Life of Brian film to other less cogent examples of blasphemy through mockery.

Dangerous Territory

There was one point made about fundamentalist evangelical Christians in America, which fitted in with the general narrative, and yet was different. For once, Widdecombe’s views were not expressed with clarity. She seemed to be sensing dangerous territory to be skirted. Or maybe she felt that however egregious were the actions of these leaders, the basic point did not really fit into the theme of blasphemous mockery.

The arrogance of the mockers

The examples seemed to be located along a wide spectrum of any mock scale. Collectively they capture the libertarian component in British culture rather well. The perpetrators, one confessed to the confronting Widdecombe, are often prone to arrogance and a belief in the superiority of their views. Ms W, who presents herself as rather similar to another Conservative, Margaret Thatcher, in her grasp of irony, found only pleasure in the repentance of the wrong-doer.

So long as it doesn’t offend…

I detected an inauthentic note in her conclusion that ‘we’, (presumably Christians), should be more robust about such humour,’as long as it doesn’t mock ‘our’ beliefs.’ Quite so.

It was then I turned

I watched the programme feeling that I really should go to bed, or turn over to anything else that might provide me with less disappointing viewing. Eventually, I turned to my trusty non-religious tablet, and began writing…


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