We’ve all seen them on Instagram- perfect; peerless pristine people in gorgeous settings, showing off abs, teeth and hair while a nutritious yet yummy dinner bubbles away in an immaculate kitchen.
Or the famous, sexy do-gooder, cutting ribbon on an animal sanctuary bearing their name, the sunlight bathing them in golden hues,as if the luminosity is a perfect metaphor for inherent human decency.
Virtue signalling is ubiquitous on social media, a cultural touchstone. Problem is, we’re also at a tipping point with celeb culture. If I want to watch a documentary about gurkas, I’ll watch one, regardless of if the bewitching Joanna Lumley is at the helm or not. Nothing wrong with her, it’s just that the need for fame, long past Warhol’s use-by time of fifteen minutes, is such that everyone is chasing fame for its own sake, and the result is Narcissism.
Prior to becoming an arts critic, I briefly studied psychology. I found human behaviour and motivation fascinating, and had to pull back from taking an anthropological approach to every single person I encountered.
More recently, I encountered the work of clinical psychologist Dr Ramani Durvasala, and learned my dad was basically a covert narcissist. She knows that social media both displays and reinforces Narcissism and is the playground.
Some days, I just can’t deal with social media. The noise, colour and stimulation becomes overwhelming,a ceaseless babble in 3D and Stereo Surround Sound. It distorts and drowns out all else.
To me, the main offenders are the narcissistic wannabes. There are two strands: the grandiose narcissists- the “look at our new noses /Aga/holiday/expensive dinner/showbiz pals/toned bodies” brigade.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing achievements per se, as we all do it to an extent,but there can be too much and it becomes like toxic positivity gurus who smile with mirthless eyes, encouraging you to “follow your bliss” and “live your best life” etc. It’s white noise, enshrined in rainbows, and puppies and unicorns, and seems as artificial as a freshly airbrushed smile with a filter on top. It’s superficial bullshit.
The second type is the didactic, communal narcissist preaching about how they have been making strides in saving the planet, and why aren’t you doing your bit? Again, nothing wrong with working to improve the world (there are enough people hellbent on destroying it) but when it’s as pervasive as this, and all coming from rich hippies sitting cross-legged in ivory towers and you know they’re just a facsimile of decency, then we have a serious problem.
It’s easy to name names and point fingers (we all know the main offenders) but when external validation, not fighting for a genuine cause, is the raison d’etre, we are all collectively screwed. The void can’t be filled with likes.
It’s becoming like a global school playground out there. Step away from the narcissists and seek the smaller, quieter ones in unobtrusive spaces. They don’t care if they’re liked or not.