Sep 27

New Books of Interest in Brief: September 2017

New books of interest, in brief, from this month:

I. Marriage has never been harder — or happier, argues new book. Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune

Eli J. Finkel writes about “how marriages moved from pragmatic institutions to partnerships based on love and sentimentality” in The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.

II. Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? Jean M. Twenge, The Atlantic

Jean M. Twenge has authored one of the longest-titled books of recent note: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Take this and the above-cited article’s subtitle—More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis—and you’ll already know the gist of her message.

III. The Most Important Emotional Intelligence Quote You’ll Hear Today. Damon Brown, Inc.

Brené Brown‘s newest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, tells readers one way Oprah Winfrey has made an impact on her. “Her advice is tacked to the wall in my study: ‘Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way’.”

Not taken from the above article, a statement by Brown in Braving the Wilderness that’s also bound to become highly quotable: “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.”

IV. This Stanford Professor Has a Theory on Why 2017 Is Filled With Jerks. Jessica Pressler, New York Magazine

Robert Sutton was behind the popular 2007 book The No Asshole Rule and now gives us The Asshole Survival GuideHow to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt. According to Sutton, the problem of ‘disrespectful, demeaning, and downright mean-spirited behavior’ is ‘worse than ever’.”

V. THE EXPERT WHO HELPED WRITE THE MENTAL DISORDERS MANUAL EXPLAINS WHY TRUMP DOESN’T HAVE ONE: Trump’s narcissism has served him well. Angela Chen, The Verge

Allen Frances‘s Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump presents his ongoing position that Trump doesn’t necessarily have a mental disorder. As he recently stated in an interview with Chen:

Trump causes enormous distress to others, but his behavior doesn’t bother himself. In fact, he gets rewarded for them, he’s not necessarily out of sync with larger society. He’s always terrific at feathering his own nest and he’s been rewarded for his world-class narcissism rather than being punished for it. Having the symptoms themselves does not constitute a mental disorder. In order to qualify as a mental disorder, the individual would have to have distress related to them.

Maybe it’s society itself that has the disorder, states Frances. From Twilight of American Sanity:

What does it say about us, that we elected someone so manifestly unfit and unprepared to determine mankind’s future? Trump is a symptom of a world in distress, not its sole cause. Blaming him for all our troubles misses the deeper, underlying societal sickness that made possible his unlikely ascent. Calling Trump crazy allows us to avoid confronting the craziness in our society—if we want to get sane, we must first gain insight about ourselves. Simply put: Trump isn’t crazy, but our society is.

Marcia Angell, MD: “In this wide-ranging and enlightening book, Allen Frances, one of America’s most distinguished psychiatrists, shows how most of the current problems facing the United States — from denial of climate change to grotesque inequality—arise from mass delusions similar to the delusions of psychiatric patients. Twilight of American Sanity leaves no topic untouched. Readers might disagree with some of his conclusions, but they will always find them provocative and well argued.”

May 08

“Welcome to Me”: A Different Kind of Therapy for Borderline Personality

Kristen Wiig stars in the new indie dramedy Welcome to Me, written by Eliot Laurence and directed by Shira Piven. IMDB describes it as “(a) year in the life of Alice Klieg, a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who wins Mega-millions, quits her meds and buys her own talk show.”

MORE ABOUT THE PLOT OF WELCOME TO ME

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter:

Wiig’s Alice Klieg was diagnosed as a youth as a manic-depressive. While the diagnosis changed over the decades (her shrink, played by Tim Robbins, currently calls it Borderline Personality Disorder), Alice didn’t: Shelves of VHS tapes and a collection of ceramic swans attest to a lifelong fixation on a shallow sort of self-examination, the kind of hear-my-voice empowerment daytime TV was built on. When she wins an $86 million lottery, she seems less excited about the money than about the chance to read ‘a prepared statement’ about the story of her life to news cameras.

THE TRAILER

WHO IS ALICE?

Betsy SharkeyLos Angeles Times: “Her particular brand of disorder means she is, as the saying goes, honest to a fault. Sometimes, that means reminding a good friend of her teenage bikini phobia on national TV, at others, it’s more graphic — like when a sexual urge hits her. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen a lot. More common is her raw emotional vulnerability.”

Christopher Gray, Slant:  “Beneath her acts of character assassination, Piven and Wiig suggest a searching in Alice that makes her both palatable and sympathetic. (The film only seems to look down on her when using her penchant to mispronounce words as a crutch for additional, unnecessary laughs.)…Wiig affords Alice with an occasionally startling range of false confidence and emotional vulnerability…”

Justin Chang, Variety: “There’s no doubt that Alice is effectively enacting a very public, very expensive form of self-therapy, but what makes Piven’s sophomore directing effort…such an offbeat delight for much of its running time is the way it privileges comedy over catharsis…Alice isn’t a puzzle that needs solving — she’s more fun unsolved, frankly — and the filmmakers seem well aware that of all the things this woman may need, our sympathy isn’t one of them.”

HOW MENTAL ILLNESS IS PORTRAYED IN WELCOME TO ME

Justin Chang, Variety: On her TV show, Alice, among other kinds of kooky segments, “proves astoundingly articulate on the subject of her illness and her treatment; and watches in critical dismay while younger actresses re-enact formative/traumatic episodes from her life.”

Christopher Gray, Slant: “The film rejects a fawning (or even particularly detailed) account of mental illness in favor of a plunge into the deep end of Alice’s bottomless ego.”

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter: “The film is in no rush to ask whether Alice’s tsunami of ego is eccentricity we can enjoy or a serious illness that merits our concern. Dr. Moffet regularly urges her to get back on her medication, but casting Robbins in the part is like a signal that we shouldn’t take his lefty nanny-state advice too seriously.”

OTHER CHARACTERS

Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com:

While some fine performers like Jennifer Jason Leigh get lost in the shuffle, others manage to stand out: Tim Robbins as Alice’s long-suffering if naggy pill-pushing shrink; Linda Cardellini as her one and only friend; Wes Bentley as the on-air infomercial spokesman whose company produces Alice’s show and who becomes her lover; and James Marsden as his opportunistic brother who serves as the film’s Faye Dunaway counterpart as he encourages Alice’s crackpot decisions no matter the consequences.

Leave it to Joan Cusack—has she ever been less than terrific?—to be the one person to be able to divert our attention from Wiig as the show’s disgusted director who nevertheless occasionally engages in a lively on-air back and forth with Alice as a kind of unseen God-like persona from beyond.

SELECTED REVIEWS OF WELCOME TO ME

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: “Though some of the jabs ‘Me’ takes at reality TV are clever, the film, like Alice, tends to fracture at key moments. What makes it worth watching is Wiig. The comic actress is fearless in giving herself over to the most awkward and unbelievable situations. Her commitment makes even Alice’s absolute narcissism somehow nice.”

Drew McWeeny, Hitfix: “…a beautiful, sad, sweet and funny movie that deals honestly with mental illness while also earning big laughs and offering up some hard truths. And it helps that Kristen Wiig gives the best sustained performance of her entire career in the lead.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “…(M)alicious, hilarious and heartbreaking…one of the biggest movie surprises of 2015 so far.”

Mar 19

“Oz Great and Powerful” As Narcissist In Growth Process

Is the Wizard in Oz Great and Powerful a Narcissist?

Today’s number one box-office hit Oz the Great and Powerful is a “prequel” to the classic The Wizard of Oz. It’s about how the Wizard actually gets to Oz in the first place.

Do viewers of this film see its lead character the same way Eleanor Payson saw him when she wrote The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family (2002)?

Narcissism: What Is It?

In clinical social worker Payson’s book, she “illustrates how Dorothy’s journey captures all the seductive illusions and challenges that occur when we encounter the narcissist.” Her book is extremely well-liked by readers who post reviews on Amazon and other sites.

First, what is narcissism? There are narcissistic traits that can be part of one’s overall personality makeup, and there are narcissistic personality disorders in which those traits are more deeply ingrained and thus more resistant to change.

The following excerpt from the first chapter of Payson’s book describes some of the signs of NPD, or narcissistic personality disorder:

Unhealthy narcissism is occurring when an individual excessively pursues admiration, attention, status, understanding, support, money, power, control, or perfection in some form. It also means that the NPD person is not able to recognize, other than superficially, the feelings and needs of others. The rules of reciprocity are not operating in the relationship. This is not to say that NPD individuals don’t often shower others with attention, gifts, or favors. Indeed, they often do. But the ultimate goal is always for some kind of return. The giving may be to foster a certain image or an overall feeling of indebtedness in you, such as an IOU note to be called in at some other time. You, of course, would rather believe you received the gift because you are cared for and valued.

Randi Kreger presents (in a Psychology Today post) a passage from Payson’s book that further describes how the narcissist uses manipulation to get his or her needs met:

The narcissist has learned that other people do not always do his bidding or meet his demands in the way he expects. He has, therefore, developed manipulation skills, sometimes deceitful, to achieve his goals. Sometimes these skills are a highly developed ability to charm and bring others under his spell or influence.

Other times, he may be exceptionally good at using intimidation, power plays, or intellectual prowess. Yet another style is the martyr manipulation of using helplessness, obligation, or guilt. In many ways, the narcissist has assessed, with considerable skill, the vulnerabilities of another person. He then effectively manipulates this person until he achieves his desired outcome.

How does one deal with or have a relationship with a narcissist? Can you develop compassion for the narcissist who’s in your life or work? In offering a way one might try to achieve this, Steven BerglasForbes, puts the Wizard of Oz metaphor to use:

It is hard to dredge-up sympathy for a narcissist since working with or for one sets you up for an inevitable beat-down. You can forestall this outcome if you distance yourself emotionally… and remind yourself that beneath his flimsy veneer of power he is a terrified Wizard of Oz— shaking behind a curtain that shields him from being seen for who he is.

The Wizard in Oz the Great and Powerful

As played by James Franco, Wizard-to-be Oscar Diggs is a magician from Kansas who wants to be not a “good man” but “a great man.”

Unfortunately, Franco’s performance and/or suitability for the role has been widely criticized. See the trailer below:

Yes, Some Viewers Do Indeed Find the Narcissism

IGN: “Diggs is a dangerously irresponsible narcissist at the start of the film and his journey is to become a leader that the people of Oz can believe in. It is less about him being powerful, or great as he imagined greatness to be (full of pomp and fame), and more about him being man enough to give the citizens of Oz the confidence to fight for themselves.”

1amgeek: “Oz the magician is a con-man who has tangoed with one too many women in his time, which has put him on the run, landing him smack dab in the middle of Oz, a land which just so conveniently is named after him. Oz The Great and Powerful follows this man’s journey from narcissistic ninny to the good man he never thought he was.”

David Dixon, The Daily Aztec, says of Franco’s portrayal:

He’s actually better exploring Oscar’s more sensitive side, whether bonding with the hilarious flying monkey, Finley (Zach Braff) or a talking doll named China Girl (Joey King). I wished this part of Oscar’s personality was featured more than his egotistical narcissism.

It’s been suggested by some that Diggs’s less appealing traits are more tolerable by the end because of his eventual growth into a somewhat better human being.

I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say. Have you seen it? What’s your take?

Dec 21

“Young Adult”: Emotionally Stunted Alcoholic Narcissist

Over the weekend I saw the new movie Young Adult, a comedy/drama starring Charlize Theron, and featuring the same combo of writer and director, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, behind the success of Juno (2007).

Since seeing it, I read an article by Dan Persons, film journalist, and liked what he had to say regarding the release of this film during the holiday season:

Bless screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman their twisted, little hearts. In a season rife with people bettering themselves through moody introspection, they introduce us to Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), author of young adult novels and a woman who looks within and comes away with all the wrong lessons.

Young Adult isn’t season-specific, but it does serve as a healthy counterbalance to all that holiday growth and belonging…

Theron’s character Mavis, as described by Claudia Puig, USA Today, is  a “surly, emotionally stunted woman.” She’s depressed and knocks back hard liquor like there’s no tomorrow—and it clearly isn’t doing her any favors. And, with an unhealthy megadose of narcissism, her main quest in life, at the age of 37, is to bulldoze her way back into the arms of her old high school boyfriend—who’s now happily married with a newborn.

Here’s a look at the trailer:

In the end, although very impressed with Theron’s acting, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the overall story. Yes, it had held my interest. But…

A few hours later, though, it caught up to me, and I found myself thinking more about its meaning and impact. As Robert Levin, The Atlantic, concludes: “It trades in discomfort and unease, not catharsis. That’s an achievement worthy of admiration, if you can endure it.”

And Roger Ebert‘s sentiments also come close to my own feelings: “As I absorbed it, I realized what a fearless character study it is. That sometimes it’s funny doesn’t hurt.”

I would add, though, that the character is so damaged that some of those so-called funny moments—the ones that produced laughter from the people around us while my partner and I looked at each other questioningly—also do hurt.