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Big Brother’s More Than Watching: The Media as Narcissistic Parent

Society, as many of us know it, has changed significantly in the last century.

Among those changes are dual-income households, working single parents, and as I’ve heard some people put it, “electronic babysitters”. I know of few parents who haven’t plopped their young kids in front of the television just to get them out from underfoot while they take care of household duties and other chores. I haven’t seen many families that don’t have the television on most of the time that they’re home and awake. Even back when was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, even when we only had a handful of television channels, constant TV was the norm.

So what’s the big deal?

The documentary “MissRepresentation” illustrates the power of the media chillingly well. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the creator of the film, makes many good points about how our culture is shaped by the media. But I pulled something from the film that she doesn’t mention: the media’s influence bears many resemblances to some common dynamics in narcissistic families. In first conceiving of this article, I thought I’d have a handful of different examples, but upon further reflection, everything seemed to boil down to one central theme:

You’re not good enough.

How do you convince people to buy a weight-loss product or service? You convince them that they’re overweight.

How do you entice people into converting to your religion? You convince them that the way they have been living isn’t enough to get them into heaven, but that your way is the right way, and usually, the only way.

How do you increase public support for a war on foreign soil? You convince them that their way of life is threatened if they do not engage in this conflict, often by instilling and nurturing fear in them. You convince them the war is required to maintain or enhance their safety.

This message, I assume, is seldom outright spoken in families and for the most part isn’t directly expressed in the media. But, it certainly is implied on a constant basis. Narcissistic families may have a different modus operandi than treadmill sales, but this is what it looked like for me when I was growing up. My parents, mainly my mother, but at times my father, were very concerned about how we kids (particularly as extensions of themselves, I’m sure) were perceived by others. We were warned that above-average performance was expected of us in school, for example. I was criticized about my weight and facial hair by my mother as well from a very young age. Later, when I hadn’t married and reproduced by my late twenties, my failure to live up to her expectations were further implied, if not outright stated.

In either case, parental influence or the machinations of the media, this is usually about control – control of the bottom line, control of perception, or sometimes even control for its own sake. Those subject to control, children and consumers respectively, are subjugated, ostensibly for their own good, but the real goal is too often the enrichment, power, or image of the controller. The media, particularly advertisers, do this on purpose. Parents don’t necessarily realize the long-term deleterious effects of squelching the spirits of their children, and sometimes only do what was done to them as kids, or just never learned healthy ways of functioning and therefore cannot teach what they do not truly understand.

To adapt the old adage, “You are what you eat,” I think it’s true that people are what they consume in all areas of life. “Garbage in, garbage out.” Consuming grossly enhanced images of models on a regular basis contributes to eating disorders in young women. Long-term psychological abuse can convince a beautiful, loving person that he is ugly and not worthy of love in return. The messages you willingly or unwittingly are exposed to do much to mould or reinforce how you see your place and worth in the world, so think carefully on who and what you allow to occupy your attention and your thoughts – do they support your inherent value and beauty or tear that down?

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