I’ve mentioned before that Bernard Berenson, American art historian (1865-1959) bemoaned that our culture in the 20th century was galloping toward rampant mediocrity. Given that harsh assessment, I wonder what he would say about the 21st. I suspect he would concur with the opinion of Nell Casey in her essay, “Manners and Misdemeanors.” (Town and Country 10/12 pgs. 10,12,& 81) In it she decries the growth of YouTube which she describes as a narcissistic form of entertainment where individuals commemorate their every burp. Worse, she complains, is our celebration of the mundane in the form of reality shows that involve bachelors and bachelorettes, housewives, apprentices and the generously endowed who are willing to bear it all before the cameras.
Casey admits that egoists have existed since the dawn of humanity and recounts some delightful, self-indulgent repartee between authors Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. Self-aggrandizement shaped by wit and with the occasional flashes of brilliance can be endured, she explains. But her disparagement of our current crop of egoists is that they lack any gift except a willingness to make a spectacle of themselves. Her list includes offenders like the Kardashians, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Lindsay Lohan, and Donald Trump. According to her, we have allowed the talentless to rise among us. What she fears is that we promote this mediocrity as an indirect way of worshipping ourselves. (pg. 81) If the Kardashians are worthy of adulation, then so is everyone else. (pg. 80) Casey compounds her point by noting the debate raging among psychiatrists. Many of them argue that narcissism is a trait so widely shared by the population that it can no longer be labeled as a mental illness. (Ibid pg. 80)
Alive today, I suspect Bernard Berenson would weep for us. If Casey’s observations are correct, we are in a race to the bottom, a place where the most shallow and irrelevant personalities have become our heroes — a place where, as the author points out, “We have to strain that much harder to hear a voice that actually has something to say.” (Ibid pg. 81)
(Lady Gaga, courtesy of xxx.fanpop.com)