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Tom Estlack’s Aspects of Late Postmodernism – Part 2

February 16, 2010 Point of View No Comments

Bogart clothes hanger, 1967

From Schizophrenia to Narcissism

One of the scenarios is the link between the mediated “Global Village” and schizophrenia. If the scenario of the mediated environment becomes interactive, using electronic media, the situation is transformed. The condition known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder mirrors the cultural environment resulting from this transformation. The earlier form of postmodernism, featured a perpetual series of content snippets that were never meaningfully tied together; the simulacra described by Baudrillard. From its inception, this media diet focused almost exclusively on propagandistic concepts related to “celebrity” and “opulence”. As Jerry Mander wrote about television in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, “it makes [you] watch it”, referring to the hypnotic state induced by staring directly at pulsations of phosphorescent light emitted by the CRT screen. The messages of “celebrity” and “opulence” were woven into our cultural fabric in a simultaneous rhythm for over 60 years.

With the propagation of personal computers and the internet, the culture industry (Theodor Adorno) has expanded to wide area networks whose viewers are behaviorally active “users”. This has made it possible for virtually anyone to contribute to the popular culture environment. While in the hypnotic state described by Mander, the viewer accepts the validity of the content conveyed. When users upload any content, it has the appeal of instant credibility, via mediation hypnosis. This environment, combined with repeated messages of “celebrity” and “opulence” lead to the recent development in the cultural and semiotic media environment; a shift from schizophrenia to a more pronounced narcissism.

Tracey Emin's "My Bed", 1998

The Mayo Clinic describes patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder as exhibiting these qualities:

  • Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
  • Exaggerating your achievements or talents
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration
  • Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly
  • Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
  • Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans
  • Taking advantage of others
  • Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior
  • Being jealous of others
  • Believing that others are jealous of you

There are other qualities exhibited by NPD patients. Social networking websites succeed based on how well they manage narcissistic tendencies in their target user groups. Developers and software engineers know that people will work for more “social status”, and the result will be that they will be able to gather more reliable statistical marketing data, if engineered correctly. Some of the particulars about the semiotic environment of narcissism are explored in the section “the user’s identity”.

The User’s Identity
Previously, the viewer related to works of art, which provided a metaphorical mirror for the self and the world to which we might or might not relate. With a mediated environment of unrelated images, it was close to impossible to navigate systems of signs and signifiers, in order to derive meaning from them. As our societies became used to this environment, the semiotic environment became more understandable. We could begin making sense of artworks again. We still have the mediated environment (which is much more mediated). However, we are now feeding our personal iconography directly into the semiotic system, as well as content about our lives, real and imagined. The work of amateurs is juxtaposed with that of professionals. Amateurs are given templates with which they can display their media. The juxtaposition with the professional or celebrity reinforces the power or status fantasy, or the exaggeration of achievement. As stated before, there is the instant sense of validity given to the amateur content, when placed in the same context as that of professionals. Voting on the amateur content, the push to display banality, forming “groups” and requests to “join” them, all reflect narcissistic qualities.

Much of this can often be seen as the equivalent of scribbling some idiotic drivel on a piece of paper, going to the museum and taping it to the wall, while making claims to have exhibited at the MoMA. Plato’s “Cave Allegory” provides an excellent portrayal of this predicament. The enlightened one who has left the cave, comes back to see that the prisoners have taken to giving each other awards for guessing which shadow will pass against the cave wall next.

An advantage to the immediacy with which users can upload content, is that it has become easier for individuals to gain recognition for legitimate scholarly and critical work.


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