Could “localism” help dilute “narcissism”?

by Yule Heibel on May 29, 2008

Update, see end of post.

Ok, ok, I know it’s not a question I (or anyone) could possibly answer in a short blog post, but consider the discussions around the Emily Gould phenomenon (here, here, here, or a million other sites online). Fast Company‘s Laura Palotie column, How Emily Gould Turns Us On, closes as follows:

…we like to equally spit on fictional New Yorker Carrie Bradshaw, traditional celebrity Denise Richards and the newest, self-made breed that Gould represents. We scarf down the private, aggravating realities of each with equal appetite, and let the resulting schadenfreude provide a soothing distraction from our own neuroses.

Well, um, maybe. Except that until someone in my Twitter stream tweeted about Gould’s NYT piece, blissfully ignorant me didn’t know who she was — except of course that I had heard of Gawker.

Yes, I did on one or two occasions glance at Gawker, but never really read it and certainly didn’t “follow” it. Why not? Because I don’t live in New York City. Call me naive, but I thought Gawker was all about New York — rather a long ways away from this (literally) “neck of the woods.”

And until reading Palotie’s piece, I didn’t know who Carrie Bradshaw was — I had to reread one sentence to understand that she doesn’t really exist and is in fact one of the characters on …um, a TV show? Something called Sex and the City?

Why would I not know who the Sex and the City characters are? Um, well, …I don’t watch TV. I have a TV (I have sex, too), but I have no access to TV channels (antennae don’t work in Victoria, and I refuse to pay money to the cable company). All I ever watch are DVDs — I don’t have a clue what’s on actual TV this season.

Instead, I know a lot about what’s going on in my local space — some of which overlaps with my online spaces. Not to sound too colloquial, but I’m totally about keeping my eye on the pulse of trends, seeing patterns emerge, knowing what’s coming up in terms of technological innovation. My interest lies in figuring out how that can apply to where I live, to the local.

Neither Carrie Bradshaw or Emily Gould have a locality in my world. Maybe that makes me sound backwards (or just really old) in pop cultural terms? Or perhaps if I were a psychiatrist, I might be interested in one or the other as an emblem for some sort of mental disorder; if I were a professional sociologist, I might be interested in one or the other as a specimen of forensic interest. But I’m not.

From what I recall of Emily Gould’s fantastic (and probably fantastically paid) 8,000 word ramble, there wasn’t anything that I could pattern-match in any useful sort of way to anything I’m interested in figuring out here.

Reading some of the commentaries on Gould, and the underlying assumptions they make that, exuding Schadenfreude, we must all be greedily “scarfing up” each breaking scandal, I can’t help but think that a passionate interest in your locale, in where you are, is a kind of vaccination against the narcissism that serves as a prerequisite to keeping the culture industry humming along.

Technology is making narcissism easier, but it would be wrong to blame technology just because it’s used by what appear to be the terminally narcissistic to amplify their ends. After all, that same technology is also making possible a renaissance of localism, enabling a community’s place-making voices to emerge from under the choke-hold of broadcast media.

It all depends on what you choose to focus on. Obviously, if you focus on the Goulds or the even more fictional Carrie Bradshaws, and you lose your place. Your life is where you make it.

Update, May 30, 7:30am: So, this is ironic… As it happens, I checked our local paper’s “Arts” section this morning — something I usually never do because this paper rarely reports on local arts happenings, instead typically filling this section with pop culture “news” I can easily pick up just about anywhere else. I don’t get why they (the paper) don’t get that I wouldn’t bother looking in my local paper for stuff I can read anywhere else. But I digress…: what did my bleary eyes see on the “local” paper’s “Arts” pages this cloudy a.m.? Not one, not two, not three, but four (4!) “stories” about …yup, you guessed it, Sex and the City. The movie and the TV show. And all of them, save one, were recycled filler from the feed of Canwest News Service. The one that wasn’t from that outlet was a cut and paste job of critics’ snippets cobbled together into an “article,” entitled”From the sublime to the ridiculous, the critics’ take on Sex and the City,” by “Special to the Times Colonist.” It’s enough to make you weep.

And some people think the bloggers are unprofessional or shallow or full of crap, and that those in official media are the professionals. Well, if that were true, one would have to rethink the whole notion of “professional.”

(Oops, my bad: I just now realized that I hadn’t actually included a link to Gould’s NYT piece, and just added it, above, and here.)


Davin June 22, 2008 at 10:44 pm

If it’s of any condolence, I find Sex and the City completely irrelevant – though to be honest, occasionally entertaining, until the final, gutless, shoe-box moral is delivered at the end of each episode.

But still ultimately irrelevant.

Yule June 22, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Well, I’m a big fan of AbFab, so I’m not immune to what I imagine SATC to be about. In the AbFab episode “Donkey,” Eddie imagines herself as Sarah Jessica Parker — and realizing how ridiculous her notion is, goes on a boot-camp mission to restructure her body. The episode pushes the viewer’s Schadenfreude buttons, and I’m not at all immune. Not at all.
If I had tv reception, I probably would have watched SATC, too. But basically, it’s the manufactured brouhaha that turns me off (which accounts for my prissy & sour tone, above). That (i.e., the brouhaha), and the fact that this Gould person probably made more money with that one article than I make in two years scribbling for the local magazine! (Susceptible to Schadenfreude, I’m also not immune to envy…) Oh well.
And I got a kick out of this article too: Vivienne Westwood Couldn’t Sit Through ‘Sex and the City’, especially given the AbFab / Vivien Westwood connection.
Looks like a case of life imitating art — gotta love that! 🙂

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