Young Adult: A Postscript on Narcissism

Posted: December 20, 2011 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Comedy, Drama
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I remember hating my first semester of English Literature class for one main reason–I thought it was impossible to know the mind of an author. Week after week, It was sheer torture to be asked to write about WHY an author of a story wrote what he/she wrote, or WHAT MESSAGE he/she desired to convey. Thankfully, by the start of my second semester of Lit class, I came to understand that not only can you actually get to know the mind of an author, but it’s actually the WHOLE POINT of reading stories. True authors want their readers (or watchers in the case of movies) to “get” their message and to strive to understand what they’re trying to communicate. Stories can be enjoyed, but they are also designed to provoke thought and shape the way we see the world.

That’s what drives what we do here at Reel Thinking. We try to understand the message of a particular movie and see how that story can (or cannot) be illuminated by Scripture. Now, once in awhile, we actually have the privilege of hearing from our authors and screenwriters regarding the message of their movie. Well, lo and behold, after finishing the first post on the recent release, Young Adult, I had the chance to hear these words from Diablo Cody (author of Young Adult with the best pen name ever):

“I feel like I’m part of a generation of people who are stuck in the past and are really self-absorbed. I mean, we’re actually taking pictures of ourselves and posting them on Facebook, and keeping in touch with people that should have been out of our lives 15 years ago. Obsessing over who’s getting married, who’s having kids, who’s more successful. It’s like we’re recreating high school every single day using social media. And it’s weird.”

In another interview, Cody went on to explain that her lead character Mavis’ narcissism repelled her until she realized that there was a lot of Mavis in her too. This led her to the conclusion that in many ways, this entire generation is made up of narcissists, revealed by the obsession with social media.

Narcissism is nothing new. People have been self-absorbed and self-focused since Adam and Eve. But, something is relatively new: The elevation of self-love to a virtue from its historical status as vice. Thanks to the modern self-esteem psychologies, narcissism is a cultural epidemic rather than a limited personality disorder. Most psychologists would vehemently deny that the last 5o or so years of self-esteem doctrine has brought us to this place. But, they just ignoring the logical consequences of their worldviews. When you believe the problem with society is that people don’t love themselves enough, then the solution is to convince people how loveable they really are. Then, when society in general (after all of these years of training) actually starts to believe it, you have the inescapable consequence of narcissism.

But why are there so many professing Christians entrapped by the sin of narcissism? Christianity has historically been all about self-denial, self-abasement, the love of Christ rather than self. We must lay some of the blame at the feet of the modern Church. Its embrace of self-esteem psychologies over the years has influenced many people in the pews. Scripture twisting of the Great Commandment has been used repeatedly to convince Christians that you must learn to love self in order to fully love Jesus and others. Blame can also be assigned to Christian parents who have shaped their parenting around self-esteem excesses rather than the love of Jesus Christ. Again, it is easier to believe that our children just need to “believe in themselves” more instead of seeing them as sinners who need to deny themselves more. And, of course, our own sinful hearts are to blame. The cultural narcissism cloaked in the self-esteem movement would never have caught on if it didn’t resonate in our inner selves. We would all rather think highly of ourselves and look down on others. Gazing on our own reflection makes us feel better about ourselves, which feels better than the alternative.

Isn’t it time for a new generation to reject this distortion of self? How refreshing it is, when every once in a while, I meet a young person who is actually denying self in order to love Christ and other people. In God’s providence, I met a young 20-something couple like that this weekend. And I have been praising the Lord ever since for His grace that draws us from the muck of self to the love of God. Let’s stop receating high school, and grow in the school of Jesus (Ephesians 4:20-24).

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