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In the January 2013 issue of Esquire magazine, Stephen Marche has gotten to the heart of what is quite possibly, in my opinion, the root problem facing…if not our country, then certainly our culture. It is not the problem of government or politics, though the problems of those institutions certainly stem from it. It is the ingrained, pervasive, and persistent narcissism attributable to the Gen Y “millennial” demographic cohort, and on which the ongoing infotainment deluge intended to placate the masses – our so-called dumbed-down society – is predicated. It is the grease that keeps the gears turning – without being driven by narcissism to participate in our own placation, the system would not work.

To begin with Marche’s premise:

Television is inherently an act of narcissism. It both feeds and fuels what Freud described as the core of the narcissistic personality — “the delusion of being watched.” Television’s narcissism is currently shifting ground. This month, The Carrie Diaries relaunches the Sex and the City franchise while Girls starts up its second season. The contrast is stark: In the old narcissism, we have dumb, beautiful moneyed people trying to become more beautiful and more moneyed. In the new narcissism, we have smart, unattractive poor people trying to confront their pervasive, intense self-obsession. All of the best shows on television, the most urgent, most relevant pop culture of the moment — Louie, Community, the upcoming season of Arrested Development — reflect us as we are: narcissists in search of a cure from ourselves.

Self-conscious narcissism of the Carrie Diaries variety is still the bulk of mainstream culture, of course. Why do people watch the Kardashians or any other reality-television show? To learn how  much self-exposure is acceptable. And every episode conveniently gives the same answer: more. In 2011, Americans spent an estimated $10 billion on plastic surgery, according to an industry association, and about $5 billion on NASA space operations. By this logic, having perfect tits is worth twice as much as exploring the universe. The academic authors of The Narcissism Epidemic found that among thirty-seven thousand college students, the rise of narcissistic traits from the 1980s to the present was as steep as the rise in obesity. And the epidemic is largely generational: According to a National Institutes of Health study, 10 percent of young Americans exhibited symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, while only 3 percent of older Americans did.

The current generation of college-aged people thinks unprecedentedly highly of themselves, and with no good reason to do so. In an ongoing study by the American Freshman Survey, college students have been asked to “rate themselves as compared to their peers” every year since 1966. The Survey has compiled the responses of about 9 million students, and a new analysis of the results reported here says:

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An argument that I thought had been more or less settled years ago has raised its ugly and nonsensical head, most vocally by a man who in so doing has been dubbed the Craziest Man On Earth – and rightfully so.

Stephen Marche at The Culture Blog says:

Common sense says as much as any study, though. Widespread mass slaughter by guns is an American disease. Everywhere else in the world consumes American culture voraciously, and yet they don’t have murder as a public-health problem. Canadians and Koreans play more video games than Americans, but manage to rein in their shooting impulses. Ever seen Japanese slasher movies? Or Japanese pornography? It redefines exploitation and disgust. Japan has virtually no gun deaths. Why? One answer — I’m just saying — is that it has virtually no guns.

The study Marche refers to, reported by the Atlantic Wire, concordantly backs him up:

26ae3fa8e130bd1a591e5bad36638189_623x330A more detailed, thorough report by The Washington Post concordantly backs the Atlantic Wire up:

So, what have we learned? That video game consumption, based on international data, does not seem to correlate at all with an increase in gun violence. That countries where video games are popular also tend to be some of the world’s safest (probably because these countries are stable and developed, not because they have video games). And we also have learned, once again, that America’s rate of firearm-related homicides is extremely high for the developed world.

So, case settled. Again.

esq-thousand-illo-1212-lgI’m assuming that most bloggers are, like me, either aspiring writers, unsuccessful writers, jilted writers, writers who have had a deep yet unrequited affair with writing, or some combination of all of the above. For this reason, and for anyone else who’s just interested, I recently read an intriguing article that might be worth reading to anyone who would describe themselves in any of the aforementioned ways, which I will now relate to you. This article was intriguing for two increasingly improbable reasons: the first is that it related good news – I know, actual good news! – and not just good news, but good news and even positive outlook in topics relating to the economy, to economic growth, to a prospering vocation, to trade, and to an increasingly profitable and prosperous industry. The second is that the article was about writers! Yes! Writers, novelists, and the publishing industry. Stephen Marche, writing in the December issue of Esquire (yes, again, I’m a subscriber), says that the medium may be changing, but that we are living in the golden age for writers.

In music, it’s a truism that technology liberated creators and listeners in magnificent ways but more or less ruined the industry in the process. Even big-name acts have struggled to adapt financially. But the world of writing has escaped this mess. Writers are prospering as never before, on all levels. At the very pinnacle, J.K. Rowling is a billionaire. She is richer than the queen of England. A little lower down the scale, Tom Wolfe was paid $7 million for his last novel. Just to put that in perspective, Charles Dickens’s net worth when he died would be about $10 million today. And for writers starting out, there are more options, more means of access to the marketplace, than ever before. With Fifty Shades of Grey and a whole whack of other e-book miracles, self-publishing has almost lost its stigma. Small presses have never produced more lovely editions or had an easier time disseminating their products. In 2010 the National Book Award and the Pulitzer for fiction both went to books from tiny presses.

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