The Mirror Effect: Too Much Britney Is Bad for You
The dangers teenagers face as they model their behavior after celebrity narcissists.
April 25, 2009 - 12:00 am
Dr. Drew Pinsky is watching countless hours of reality television and perusing too many Us Weekly magazines, but he’s doing it for our own good.
Pinsky, the host of the long-running Loveline radio show as well as VH1′s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, thinks the narcissism on regular display via tabloid-style media is hurting the country. He puts his thesis together in his latest book, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America. Co-authored by Dr. Mark S. Young, the book highlights their findings regarding the narcissistic levels of today’s celebrities.
Even though the book recounts the gossipy behavior of Britney, Lindsay, and co., The Mirror Effect isn’t a light read. It’s a penetrating assessment of a culture gone awry, and some of the text appears as if it was stripped straight out of an academic journal. Still, it’s written with substance and just enough style for laymen and educators alike. Behavioral researchers will find plenty to mull over here, and those titillated by the book’s gossip quotient will stick around to see the cultural x-rays.
Pinsky isn’t a player in the culture wars, eschewing ideology and party labels, but his latest book could change that. His writing details the troubles associated with shoddy parenting, sexualized behavior, and loose morals, but it doesn’t do so from a spiritual or even a moral perspective. Pinsky uses research to show what can go wrong with teens who model their behavior after famous narcissists such as Paris Hilton and her ilk, although he quickly skips over the criticism aimed at his Celebrity Rehab program.
It’s easy to thumb through The Mirror Effect and wonder if the authors shouldn’t lighten up. What harm can be done watching some reality television? Vulnerable populations are always at risk to outside influences, be it the shady friend next door, the R-rated movie that could give them nightmares, or bad ideas on how to behave around others. A child who grows up with two good parents and some healthy self-esteem will likely brush off whatever effects tabloid TV have on them, right?
The media has, after all, always detailed the exploits of the latest heartthrobs. Think Tiger Beat magazine from another era. But in the past, celebrities did their best to hide their unsavory behavior from the public. Now, getting a DUI or flashing one’s privates is considered a quick way to get your name on television. And, the book argues, the advent of the Internet gives impressionable minds near-constant access to this kind of behavior. Few public figures are better equipped to explore this subject than Pinsky. He’s been chatting up celebrities – from D- to A-listers — on Loveline for decades.
Today’s narcissistic celebrities shove their neuroses in our faces. Take Amy Winehouse, the troubled torch singer who inspired a slew of drug-related headlines. Her song “Rehab” was a narcissist’s cry of defiance, according to the book, and a troubling one when teens started singing along without realizing what her statement truly implied. Each time a new celebrity scandal occurs, the shock bar is lowered a little more. The Mirror Effect reminds us that reality show star Kim Kardashian vaulted to fame specifically from the public release of her first sex tape.
Some of the book’s material is alarming, to put it mildly. Childhood trauma, Pinsky writes, makes people vulnerable to “unhealthy levels of narcissistic traits.” And incidences of childhood trauma have increased by more than 40 percent over the past 20 years. The most jarring information involves how teenagers evolve as social beings. Their emotional development stalls in their teens, leaving them susceptible to the flood of narcissistic content heading their way.
Childhood trauma, be it the untimely death of a parent or physical abuse, is the through-line in Pinsky’s public career. He’s trying to show Americans the powerful impact early abuse has on their daily lives. The country, alas, doesn’t appear to be listening. Politicians, talking heads, and other cultural leaders rarely connect the dots between that trauma and extremely dysfunctional adults. So Pinsky will keep hammering away at a stubborn culture through every available media outlet. The Mirror Effect is simply his latest and most compelling vehicle for sounding the alarm.