Loving Thyself Too Much
In Greek Mythology, Narcissus was a handsome dude that a chick named Echo got the hots for. Turns out, Narcissus just wasn’t into Echo and he told her to bug off. Nemesis—the Goddess of revenge—found about this and thought it was a total dick move. So she decided to get him good, and one day when he was like super-thirsty, she got him to head over to a little reflecting pool to get his drank on.
Well, Narcissus looked into the water, saw himself, and fell so in love he just couldn’t do anything but look at his own reflection until he died. And apparently he turned into a flower or some shit because he was a God, but that’s not the point.
The point is—like most stories about the Gods—the myth of Narcissus exists because it explains or identifies something about the human condition. And like Oedipal complexes, phobias, and priapism, the idea of excessive and paralyzing self-love has been around since before man first put chisel to stone or pen to papyrus.
And like most things in the modern era, there’s good evidence the problem of narcissism is getting worse.
We’re The Best Narcissists Evah!
We have a narcissism epidemic. Boomers were more narcissistic generally than the era that came before them. Hippies were, as a group, more narcissistic than the Leave it to Beaver-era squares that preceded them. Generation Xers were more narcissistic still, and now, Millennials look to be the most narcissistic generation of them all.
There are lots of resources out there that discuss why this is happening (or try to suggest it isn’t, but it totally is). But that’s not what I’m here to discuss. I’m here to talk about why the contemporary epidemic of narcissism is killing Hollywood.
We’re Not Narcissists, We’re Just Better Than Everybody At Everything
For full disclosure, there are lots of people out there who argue that we aren’t any more narcissistic than we’ve ever been, collectively. There have been studies that show there have been no increases in the NPI (the Neuropsychiatric Inventory Questionnaire) scores related to narcissism. I think there are multiple problems with this more positive interpretation of the data, but here we’re going to look to the proof that’s in the pudding: the actual results.
And by results, I mean Star Wars. Also Star Trek. And Doctor Who.
Look at Me! Look at Me!
It would be hard to spend much time on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and not conclude narcissism is on the rise.
People’s obsession with either themselves or the inflation and reinforcement of their own super-awesome opinions about anything and everything is everywhere. Some of this is likely just self-selection and visibility—the population of Twitter is clearly self-selected for narcissists who believe every random thought and opinion merits sharing with the entire world.
Waterloo Coconut Sparkling Water is just… the best
— Harry Knowles (@headgeek666) February 24, 2020
Instagram and Facebook are essentially built for people who believe that every meal or casual encounter or change of clothes deserve the attention of the entire world. They are designed for people who believe the world does and should revolve around them.
But honestly, I don’t care about those people. I don’t have to use Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and I tend to avoid them like the plague they are. But when these same people take over our beloved entertainment franchises, and even entire entertainment platforms, it becomes a problem.
The Important Thing In Our Relationship Together Is Me
The relationship literature is full of narcissists. Because they are generally awful to be in a close relationship with. They usually look great, come on strong, are very attractive and seem to hold every promise for a wonderful future. But because everything is ultimately about them and they have little to no empathy, they turn out to be awful relationship partners.
When someone is first attracted to or seduced by a narcissist, it’s like that really great trailer to the next installment of your favorite franchise. It looks thrilling and beautiful. It promises deep satisfaction and a great story with a powerful resolution. It feels like true love.
Then the rest of the relationship is like going to see the actual movie. At first, it seems okay, but almost immediately there are signs something wrong. Say, the opening crawl of Rise Of Skywalker.
Yet you’re hopeful. But things only go downhill from there, as the movie/relationship becomes more confusing and convoluted and hard to follow or enjoy. Some of the things you were promised seemed to be there, but they are hollow or inauthentic and unsatisfying. Perhaps your partner starts telling you that the problem is not them, but your family and friends, and if you really want to move forward with them –
“you have to kill the past”
Because abusive narcissists tend to want to isolate you from the people that really love you and make you depend entirely on them. This way, they can give you nothing or very little but continue to take and take—like, say, a company giving you super-crappy movies while demanding you pay escalating ticket prices and then actually calling you a horrible person if you decide you don’t want to.
“I’m Rejoicing In My Heart, Without A Shred Of Pity!”
Narcissists are known for gaslighting. For denying things you know are true and telling you you’re crazy for thinking that they could ever be true. They might tell you, for example, that Luke Skywalker was never a hero and was always a wannabe-nephew-murdering sociopath. Or they might tell you the first Doctor Who was a woman, and perhaps there was an entire cycle of female Doctors and that the cycle of white dudes who were Timelords in canon were actually an aberration. Or it was never real, because you’re just wrong and probably going crazy.
Malignant narcissists are known to intentionally gaslight their partners. They will move furniture in the room or pictures on the wall and then insist things have always been that way. They do this as a way of making their victim question themselves and their own sanity and thus establish greater and greater control over them.
In Hollywood, they call this retconning. In the past, retconning was something frequently done to serve a story when real-world circumstances—such as actor availability or death, or budget circumstances—didn’t give them much choice.
These days, it’s done to deconstruct canon, to change everything you loved about a story or characters because it shouldn’t be about what you want as a fan, or what the original creators envisioned. It should be all about them and their ideas.
And if it drives you nuts when they do it, when they tell you this is the way it has always been and you’re crazy for thinking it has ever been different—well, that’s just fine with them, too.
The Mystery Box
J.J. Abrams famously did a TED Talk where he talked about how –
“mystery is more important than knowledge”
This sounds clever, but at the end it’s the abusive narcissist’s MO: promise but don’t deliver. Then deny that you didn’t deliver, or claim you didn’t promise anything.
In relationships, this becomes a kind of crazy-making behavior. It’s a way of disorienting and disempowering the other person. In TV and movies, it becomes a substitute for writing a good story and giving characters solid arcs. In both cases, it tends to involve selling the sizzle but never giving you the steak. Then claiming there’s no such thing as steak, or that you already ate the steak, or possibly, that you are a steak.
And in both cases, this tends to make the victim—I mean, audience—feel like they’re crazy. And deeply unsatisfied with the relationship.
The idea that mystery is more important than knowledge carries an important implication in it for the narcissist: you don’t deserve to know. The narcissist knows, or pretends to. The important thing is that you don’t deserve to know, and that you know that you don’t deserve to know. It’s the narcissist that is important in this relationship, not you.
And you should be grateful that they are giving you anything at all.
They don’t just fail to deliver any answers because they often can’t. They don’t deliver answers because they don’t want to. And giving you answers isn’t really important, because you aren’t important. Now give them your money.
Why has the mystery box become so endemic in modern Hollywood? Why has it been allowed to infiltrate some of the most beloved franchises and degrade and diminish them?
Because Hollywood is full of narcissists.
A Little Narcissism Is A Healthy Thing
People would never make movies or write novels if they didn’t have a healthy level of narcissism. It takes a little narcissism to think that the world might want to spend money and time to see your ideas come to life on the silver screen.
Yet to do it well also requires some humility. And some empathy. Part of the definition of pathological narcissism is a lack of empathy, and while watching the deconstruction of Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who it is clear the people now responsible for these venerable franchises have no empathy at all.
Kill The Past And Also Your Nephew
This is obvious in the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy, where neither J.J. Abrams nor Rian Johnson deliver on the easiest and most obvious thing—a scene with the classic and beloved characters of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa together.
It becomes even more obvious with Rian Johnson’s intentional perversion of Luke Skywalker’s character from the beloved hero who loved his friends—and would have been there for them when facing a threat like the First Order—into a bitter hermit who was seriously thinking about murdering the son of his best friend because he thought he saw him becoming a bad person.
Walt Disney exhibited many traits of narcissism. He risked his company more than once on his personal grand vision of what could be—and this is something narcissists frequently do, often to very destructive ends. Many companies have collapsed under that kind of narcissism.
There is a possibly apocryphal story of how Walt neglected Dumbo as a property, even as it was skunk-worked in the studio, and was dismissive of it even after it was a box office success, because he had no real hand in it. Though later he would say the film –
“had a special place in his heart”
And chances are he was sincere, because Walt Disney also had empathy. He could be single-mindedly devoted to his personal vision, but he cared about the audience and what the audience wanted.
Pixar—having generated a huge number of hits for Disney over the years—is another example of a studio with empathy. John Lasseter, for all his penchant to hug-too-much (which can be an example of narcissism, and using a photo-op to cop a feel definitely is) demonstrated his empathy with the audience on many occasions and put together a story group in Pixar that was entirely dedicated to the audience experience.
To the point that some Pixar films are almost maudlin with their empathy. And these movies tend to be very successful, even when some of the sequels seem to be recycling the same story. Because they empathize with their audience.
The Rise Of ‘Memberberries
J. J. Abrams has no empathy with the audience. If he ever did, he doesn’t now.
That doesn’t mean he can’t produce good work—he’s an excellent director, and his earlier work suggested he had a very good idea about what the audience wants to see and a feel for the audience experience.
Regarding Henry is not a great film, but it was a perfectly good one. It did little to insult the audience, and told a complete story. The idea of the brain-damaged Henry sifting through his previous life and finding out that the person who he had been was someone he didn’t like at all is a story that can resonate for many people.
It’s also a character arc.
His later work shows much less of this. I enjoyed Lost, but more as a tone-poem and a brain-storming session of strange and interesting ideas, not a coherent narrative telling a complete story with identifiable character arcs.
Super 8—another film I enjoyed a great deal—is a paean to 80s Spielberg, though it lacks some of the heart. Another thing that is missing is a compelling character arc, which is something narcissists tend to have trouble with. Because substantive personal growth and change are concepts they tend to have trouble understanding. Because, being already perfect, they do not need to change.
There is no better example of Abram’s contemporary lack of empathy with audiences and the fandom than Rise Of Skywalker. In a film filled with supposed “fan service” and ‘memberberries, he demonstrated that he knew there were things and characters that fans of the franchise liked, but it was clear that he had no idea why, or how to make any of it work with the story.
He knew that the fans liked Luke and C3P0 and R2D2 and Emperor Palpatine. But he didn’t know why, or why they worked in the original stories but were just pale shadows—or just cringe-worthy—in the 9th Star Wars film.
He’s Trying To Do Something Fans Will Like! Fire Him!
In it, Luke returns as an active participant in the story—though, unfortunately, a force ghost because of Rian Johnson’s subversion of our expectations—and as a character fans of the original trilogy would recgonize and appreciate. And he even gets a hero moment, and is not just an appendage for the newer, better (re: narcissist’s avatar) characters.
There is a moment in the script where Luke echos Obi-Wan’s description of the force from A New Hope.
Hux is legitimately threatening. The Knights of Ren actually do something (the mystery box is opened, rather than just used to make the audience feel crazy and disoriented).
Coruscant appears and the audience gets to understand where they are and what’s going on (unlike, say, the pointless destruction of 5 planets simultaneously in The Force Awakens, where it is never made clear who is getting destroyed or to what purpose or why nobody attempted to prevent it).
Kylo’s obsession with Vader is explored and turned into something that actually moves the plot, and on and on.
Why Reference All That Old Stupid Stuff We Spent $4 Billion On?
So how does the script that tried to actually create a satisfying story—one that integrated with the original trilogy—out of the mish-mash that came before it indicate that K.K., J.J., and Iger have zero empathy with both audience and fan?
Because they didn’t use it. They wouldn’t make a small compromise with Trevorrow after Carrie Fisher’s death to allow him to make it work.
Then they threw out almost everything from the script—especially the things that would resonate with the fans and provide satisfying story beats—and went with another mish-mash of supposed fan-service and ‘memberberries to end the Skywalker (now Palpatine) saga with a whimper rather than a bang.
And why? Because fans don’t matter.
It’s All Kathleen Kennedy’s Fault
There’s no better example of how fans don’t matter to modern-day Lucasfilm than the pointless elimination of the Star Wars Extended Universe. While the material still exists—rechristened Star Wars Legends—the entire point of it was to publically announce that none of it was canon, and only what Disney said was canon was actually canon from now on.
Because what came before doesn’t matter. Because what you loved doesn’t matter. You aren’t a real person, you’re all just appendages of Kathleen Kennedy and the Hollywood narcissist machine.
This was completely unnecessary. They could have let the Extended Universe continue on—just basically printing money—without publicly announcing that none of it mattered.
They did not have to confuse the brand by rebranding it. But they did, because what came before didn’t matter to them. It couldn’t be what it had always been called, it had to be something that the narcissists at Disney put their brand on and claimed total ownership of.
That’s why there is no Empire in the sequel trilogy: it’s the First Order and the Final Order. That’s why it’s not a Rebellion now, it’s “The Resistance”. And just recently it was announced that we’re getting an entire multimedia product line based on what should have been the Old Republic, but they are calling the High Republic.
Why? Because they want you to know that what you grew up loving isn’t important and doesn’t matter to them. And why didn’t matter? Because they are narcissists.
You Aren’t a Real Person, You’re Their “Narcissistic Supply”
Narcissists want their victims—be they relationship partners or the audience—to “kill the past”. Because your past doesn’t matter. What you love doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the narcissist.
You aren’t supposed to want things, much less get anything you want. You are only supposed to want what the narcissist wants you to want.
You aren’t supposed to be satisfied with the relationship. You exist to give the narcissist their “narcissistic supply”—or, in the case of Disney, your money. No matter what they do or how they treat you.
So, they told millions of fans that their beloved Extended Universe—something many people had invested several years and hundreds if not thousands of dollars in—did not matter.
This was bad.
We Do Everything And No One Else Does Anything
But what was even worse was Kathleen Kennedy claiming that they were inventing Star Wars out of whole cloth, almost as if she and her handpicked group of cronies were entirely responsible for Star Wars, and there was nothing about Star Wars that wasn’t what she and her story group had created.
She literally said –
“We don’t have comic books.”
There are thousands of Star Wars comic books at this point.
She said –
“We don’t have 800-page novels.”
In fact, there are hundreds of Star Wars novels. She asserted that they didn’t “have anything”—yet George Lucas gave them his own sequel trilogy treatment. Not mention multiple scripts for the unproduced Star Wars TV show.
Is this a narcissist throwing away a bag full of your beloved clothes and then claiming you never had them, or that they had already been gone forever? Is this a narcissist gaslighting you, telling you the box of comics in your attic was never there?
Or is this the narcissist literally so absent of empathy, so unaware of a universe outside of themselves, that she really doesn’t believe that you should care that she threw out a box full of your most treasured family heirlooms, calling them “a bunch of old junk”?
I think Kathleen Kennedy is so wrapped up in her own self-importance and narcissism that she literally doesn’t understand that the fans—the people they want to get their money (that is, narcissistic supply) from—placed great value in the Extended Universe. That their love of Star Wars starts in 1977 and not 2015.
Because she doesn’t care about you, she can’t comprehend that you would have a life outside or beyond her, or that anything that you may have experienced without her has any importance.
Kathleen Kennedy is a Grade-A narcissist.
And So Are The Rest Of Them
As Kathleen Kennedy helped craft the first two increasingly awful installments of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Bob Iger wasn’t paying that much attention, apparently. He was busy writing a book about the most important thing in the entire universe: himself.
When there was backlash after The Last Jedi and Solo tanked at the box office, he stepped in—because of course he did. Who else could single-handedly rescue Star Wars, except The Most Important Person Ever?
And what did he do? He immediately blamed Solo’s poor box office performance on market saturation. Not The Last Jedi. Not the Lucasfilm Story Group. Not the utter narcissism of the people steering the Star Wars leviathan. Even with evidence of no equivalent of “Star Wars fatigue” with Marvel—sometimes putting out 3 movies in a year—he decided the problem was they were just making too many awesome movies at a time.
While this ignores that Marvel has, so far, been able to manage even more movies with no noticeable audience fatigue, it also ignores a few other things.
A big one is merchandising. Toys and merchandised products have always been a huge part of Star Wars revenue, and starting with The Force Awakens, merchandising performance has been weak, and getting weaker. Star Wars toy sales were actually better in the 5 years before The Force Awakens came out than after.
It’s difficult to argue that that’s due to fan fatigue.
Another thing to note is that Disney can’t be completely ignorant of fandom complaints about TFA, TLJ and other aspects of Disney Star Wars. It’s out there. And the scramble to rewrite Rise Of Skywalker and multiple reshoots that ended with most of the original narrative—the one developed with George Lucas, naturally—on the editing room floor also points to the idea they were aware of fan backlash.
Yet, lacking any real empathy, they clearly didn’t understand what the problem was. It is rumored Iger had a significant role in the insertion of ‘memberberries and trying to strip anything that might be unfamiliar from Rise Of Skywalker. Because narcissism drove him both to believe he was the “only one” who could right the ship, while also preventing him from understanding what the problems with the two previous films actually were.
But Isn’t George Lucas A Narcissist?
Sure he is! And Spielberg, too. But like J.J. Abrams, having that narcissism challenged and constrained when he was young produced much better product. Lucas had to compromise left and right when making the original trilogy—but not so much when he made the prequel trilogy, and it shows.
To some extent the same could be said of Spielberg. Jaws was nothing but a series of compromises, and what came out of that was a great movie. I would tend to argue natural talent made many of the movies that he did in his later years of high quality, despite his natural narcissism.
Narcissists Can Still Make Movies That Don’t Suck
But consider for a moment Temple of Doom.
I love that film. It’s one of my favorite Indiana Jones films. But if you regard Indiana Jones as a franchise (which, at the time, it really wasn’t quite) then it doesn’t really feel like a film that respects the fans. It doesn’t particularly feel like a film interested in canon. It feels like the film Lucas and Spielberg wanted to make at the time. It worked—for me—but it was divisive. Because it was not really a film made for the fans as much as it was to make money and satisfy the creative urges of Lucas and Spielberg.
Then came The Last Crusade—which I actually didn’t like at the time, though it’s grown on me. Because it works. I think it was the film Lucas and Spielberg wanted to make (and, obviously, a cash-grab), but it worked.
Then we get to Crystal Skull. Much later on, and with very little interest in the fans, fandom, or telling a coherent story. There is, in fact, a lot of the tropes of modern narcissistic cinema in Crystal Skull—mysteries that are never really explained, things that look cool but make no sense when you think about them, ‘memberberries with no relevance to the story, and numerous hints of much more interesting stories that are never told.
There’s A Reason That Narcissus Is The Name Of A Flower
And it’s worth noting that the more narcissism is enabled, the more it grows. It’s unlikely J.J. Abrams was anywhere near the narcissist he is now when he wrote Regarding Henry or even started Alias. It’s unlikely Lucas was a huge narcissist in the lean years, before all the merchandising money and Skywalker Ranch.
Hollywood attracts narcissists but it also feeds them. This has always been a problem, I admit. But I think the so-called “epidemic of narcissism” is making the problem worse, where there are more narcissists running the show, and more of that narcissism is outright pathological.
It’s likely Kathleen Kennedy has always been very narcissistic—and that being attached to a number of very successful movies only made that worse. Yet it wasn’t until she was given complete control that it became a full-on franchise-killing narcissism.
No doubt Rian Johnson was raised as a narcissist. Yet, the fact is, that creatively it didn’t matter for Brick or Looper—it probably helped those films get made and his vision find its way to the screen.
These were original movies without an existing fan base, new creations set loose to find their audience, and they did.
But genre franchises are a different animal, and should be approached with some humility—and some understanding of the foundation they are building their new work upon, and some respect for it.
This is extraordinarily hard for a narcissist—even if talented, perhaps especially if talented—and so they need to “subvert your expectations” and “kill the past”.
Even if in doing so, they kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
It’s Not Over Yet
I’m nowhere near done lecturing – because it’s all about me! More of my random musings that should be the TOTAL AND ENTIRE FOCUS OF YOUR LIFE are coming. Because I am fascinating and you are all just appendages of my ego!
Part II is coming soon!
… Damn, I should be working in Hollywood. I really should.
Until next time, programs!