Narcissism is the new black…

Sir Isaac Newton said “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. He was applying it to physics, but it can be applied to the world in general.

One of the biggest social reactions to consumerism around the planet is the rise in suburbia of grow-your-own fruit and vegetables. I’ve planted a couple of crops myself in the last two years, but living by a river full of ducks means I’m fighting a losing battle once the veges start to appear.

Apparently the most popular pet in Oz is the backyard chook. There are rent-a-chook companies that supply the birds and their cages. They’ll also replace your chooks if they turn out to be duds in the egg laying department. People want fresh eggs from free-range birds, not battery hens.

But today’s coffee discussion was about a different action and the forthcoming reaction which is slowly gathering pace. I refer to the coincidental rise in the use of social media along with the rise of narcissism generally. And the growing backlash against the narcissism.

This decade has been labeled the “look-at-me” decade. And you don’t have to go far to experience it.

In Australia we have seen a rising fad for people who mostly drive SUVs, to display stickers of stick-figure-images of their family on their cars. (I have an SUV but don’t do stickers) Apparently it is so popular the couple who created the stick-figure stickers are exporting them. You cannot drive on the road without a rear window festooned with the look-at-me stickers posing in your peripheral vision.

But to quote Forrest Gump – “stupid is as stupid does” – which is why I had to photograph this window. It’s more evidence of the illiteracy of western society. And they are happy to display it, or too ignorant to know. Read the spelling under the images.

family stickers 1

To counter this look-at-me movement, another group of stickers has hit the market. I don’t know if it’s the same people who invented the original stick figures having an each-way bet, or just another smart entrepreneur. But there is now a whole series of them:

anti-family sticker

anti-family 2

anti-family 3

anti-family 4

anti-family 5

The reason this conversation started today was a radio programme discussing the rise in tattoos (also known as tramp stamps) in western society. A recent report suggests 20% of people now have some sort of ink on their anatomy. People of all ages and both genders are getting inked all over. I have friends and business partners who are inked. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote Seinfeld.

Do people really get tattoos just to seek attention? After all, tattoos certainly aren’t a fashion statement. The majority of tattoos are too difficult to decipher. And if you stare too long at someone’s ink to work out what it is, you’re likely to get a punch in the nose. Is it just another example of the look-at-me syndrome? Apparently someone is researching the relative percentage of people on Facebook who have ink versus the general population. The hypothesis is that there is a higher percentage of inked people on Facebook than the rest of the world.

There is a large segment of social media users who never create any content – they’re known as OPCs. All they do is post Other People’s Content. They post links to articles or retweet other’s original tweets. There is a market for sharing quality information via networks, but many of these OPCs just post so they can be seen to be posting, rather than to add any value. Another look-at-me activity.

A more common narcissistic habit that has proliferated in the last decade is the conversion of all public (and in some cases private) spaces, into telephone booths. We’ve all experienced those who care only about themselves – in elevators, on public transport, in shops, cinemas and even the toilet. No longer do you hear the gentle rustle of the magazine or newspaper page being turned in the cubical next door. Now it’s uninhibited discussions about that idiot in accounts, or the hangover from hell, or that chick in the bar last night…..

But the reaction has started – call it phone rage. People are now telling mobile phone abusers to shut-up in public spaces. Soon you will witness a phone ripped from a user’s hand and flung away to get the culprit to stop. And as you know, the backlash against food photography for Facebook is now in full swing – see earlier posts.

It will be curious to see how society reacts to the look-at-me attitude and proliferation of ‘self’. I’m sure a balance will occur and new acceptance levels of what is normal will appear. Though there may be some bloodshed along the way. It certainly poses some interesting challenges for marketers.

But I’ll leave you with a quote from that talented Wallaby, David Campese (that’s an Australian rugby union player, not the marsupial) when asked at a gathering of sports and business dignitaries, “what skill had the converts from rugby league brought across to rugby union?”

He answered deadpan, “tattoos”.

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