On my facebook feed, Eric Edberg had posted a link about the internet “narcissism epidemic.” It linked to a piece talking about a NYT piece about the rise of “a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music” (here’s an NPR talk with the researcher). This seems to follow a trend towards narcissism and hostility in [American] society in general.
For several decades, students have filled out a questionnaire called the Narcissism Personality Inventory, in which they’ve had to choose between two statements like “I try not to be a show-off” and “I will usually show off if I get the chance.” The level of narcissism measured by these questionnaires has been rising since the early 1980s, according to an analysis of campus data by Dr. Twenge and Dr. Campbell.
That trend has been questioned by other researchers who published fresh data from additional students. But in the latest round of the debate, the critics’ data has been reanalyzed by Dr. Twenge, who says that it actually supports her argument. In a meta-analysis published last year in Social Psychological and Personality Science, Dr. Twenge and Joshua D. Foster looked at data from nearly 50,000 students — including the new data from critics — and concluded that narcissism has increased significantly in the past three decades.
During this period, there have also been reports of higher levels of loneliness and depression — which may be no coincidence, according to the authors of the song-lyrics study.
And I think the push back in media and amongst the “Chicken Little Think Tank” regarding the so-called “decline in classical music” don’t often consider the larger societal issues and the possible negative effects that can accompany a shift in musical culture (if such a shift is actually happening as they claim it).
American Symphony Orchestras are still one of the few musical institutions in the world where blind auditions create a relatively equal representation of sex in Orchestras as opposed to what is [still] a predominantly “boys club” type of environment found in pop music circles–and with all the concomitant sexism issues. There’s always been a bit of a Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll aesthetic associated with the history of popular music since the formation of Rock and I don’t really see that going away too soon (though I must admit that it has evolved a bit).
I still remember what it was like to be playing the non-classical and local pop music circuit. Women and girls were so infrequently performers that (as I mentioned in a comment to my Looking good can make you play worse… post) comments like the ubiquitous “she’s only in the band because she’s screwing one of the band members” were seriously offered as a reason for the rare appearance of a female performer on stage. Not something that could be seriously entertained in a climate with blind auditions.
There are far more female performers in bands today than in the past, so such sexist reasoning has faded more in the background (hence why I think things have evolved a bit) but other interesting issues have become more commonplace.
The big question is, if narcissism has some survival value, how narcissistic can a population get before it becomes maladaptive?