CNN's Ruben Navarrette Jr. says Joe Wilson, Kanye West, and Serena Williams are examples of "a rise in self-centeredness." But maybe the real problem is our desire to lump totally different types of bad behavior into an epidemic.

Navarrette writes,

Among the self-centered: Congressman Joe Wilson, rapper Kanye West and tennis star Serena Williams. But this phenomenon isn't limited to celebrities and previously anonymous backbenchers in Congress basking in their 15 minutes.

There are many people out there, in all walks of life, who think they're more significant than they really are. Plagued with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, they feel entitled to do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it no matter whom it hurts.


Yes, the culprit behind Wilson's "You lie!" outburst, West's Taylor Swift dis and Williams's U.S. Open threats is that now-so-broad-as-to-be-meaningless diagnosis: narcissism. See, kids today are so full of "cheap self-esteem," according to Navarrette, that they think they can just yell at the President, disrupt the Video Music Awards, and become a tennis star and threaten a lineperson. Of course, Joe Wilson was born in 1947, well before the kids Navarrette creepily says "have been the "most wanted" in American history" because of birth control and legal abortion (if only we had more unintended pregnancies, maybe those kids wouldn't feel so damn special). But that doesn't stop Navarrette from alleging that the bad behavior of Wilson, West, and Williams — plus Mark Sanford and Chris Brown! — "comes down to just one thing: bad parenting."


I'm not even going to bother with the narcissism-research rehash that makes up the remainder of Navarrette's piece. The point is, by lumping together Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and Chris Brown and blaming all their sins on too much praise in grade school, Navarrette ignores the totally different problems associated with each situation. He ignores the fact that while Serena Williams may have threatened to assault someone, Chris Brown actually did. And the fact that Joe Wilson's outburst may have been based on racism, which is a problem America needs to confront, while Kanye West's was based on West being a dick, which isn't. And by suggesting that Wilson, Williams, West, Brown, and Sanford are all part of a problem that should be solved "around your dinner table," he stifles collective dialogue on race or domestic violence and reduces these systemic problems to personal failings.


Navarrette isn't the only one playing the social-epidemiology game. NPR's On Point discussed our lack of "civility" this week, using some of the exact same examples — and gave Camille Paglia the opportunity to voice her support for the birthers. And Chicago Tribune advice columnist Amy Dickinson got in on the act, telling NPR's Neal Conan,

I had a different response to these three things than a lot of people did. I really do see each of these incidents as, you know, individual incidents. And I became more interested in the aftermath, which is where I think it presents those of us who have, you know, families, kids, parents, siblings. This presents us with an opportunity to think about when things get out of control, when we are out of control or when somebody else is out of control, what happens next?


Good question. Dickinson use it as a jumping off point to talk about apologizing, which is important — but so is understanding the reasons why "things get out of control," and not creating fake epidemics that obscure the real problems.

Commentary: Joe, Kanye, Serena — Aren't They Special? [CNN]
Questions Of Civility, And More [NPR]
Ask Amy: What Happened To Civility? [NPR]