Narcissism and the adventures of wanna-be-stars

Stardom, that elusive and non-descript rank that millions confer upon a select few whom they know so little about, is a strange thing. A recent study of stars, who are often difficult to access for study due to their living in a bubble of publicists, agents and managers, addresses the question of whether stars are narcissistic (though this blogger must admit this would pose too gross a generalisation), brought to light some fascinating discoveries.

Researchers distinguish between normal or healthy narcissism and excessive narcissism, sometimes called narcissistic personality disorder, which was not studied here. They also caution against conflating egotism and narcissism. Researchers say that narcissistic people have low self-esteem and are compensating for it, whilst egotists genuinely love themselves.

Interesting findings included the fact that the least talented of the star categories (reality television stars) displayed most narcissism, and that narcissistic tendencies predisposed people to seeking stardom and becoming stars, whilst stars did not necessarily become more narcissistic:

“The study — soon to be published in the Journal of Research and Personality — confirmed that celebrities are more narcissistic than average Americans. And — surprisingly — they seem to start out that way, leading Pinsky and Young to surmise that narcissistic people seek out careers in the limelight, rather than becoming narcissistic when they earn fame. Young thinks this nugget may prove useful to the increasingly popular course of study known as entertainment management.”

Celebrities are their own biggest fans
By Robin Abcarian, LA Times Staff Writer
September 12, 2006.

The average Narcissism Personality Inventory score of Americans — as demonstrated in a previous study — is 15.3 out of a possible 40. Celebrities averaged 17.8. Contrary to what occurs in the general population, women celebrities, across the board, were more narcissistic than males (19.26 versus 17.27). Musicians — who have the highest skill level — are the least narcissistic celebrity group, while reality television stars — the least talented or skilled group — are the most narcissistic.

“Female reality show contestants,” Pinsky said, “are off the chart.”

Society has always had narcissists, and before the tragic Greek mythological figure, those persons existed by another name. What I’m more interested in is why our contemporary society is so endlessly obscessed by stardom. It seems a fuel constantly spued onto the fire of narcissism, giving those prone to it the promise of attention. Wouldn’t it be great if there were no such thing as “stars” but just actors, singers, dancers, writers, etc. And perhaps the great work of scientists, mums, teachers and the un-famous ranks of artists could also be cared about?

A few months ago I wrote about “Stardom” in Mr. -Ed’s column in Australia’s Baha’i youth publication. Click here to read it.

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