It may sound ridiculous but I think this is a good way to judge a person’s character without their suspecting anything.
Chatter about movies, books, and other forms of entertainment is a standard ice breaker (and is part of the dreaded “small talk” we introverts hate so much), usually used to make polite conversation with someone you don’t know that well (of course, these things can be discussed more in depth too with closer friends and loved ones). Movies, books, TV, and public figures are safe conversation starters. You can talk to people about these things without seeming to cross anyone’s boundaries or getting too personal.
But such seemingly innocuous conversations can also help you peg whether or not a person is a narcissist or sociopath–without them suspecting a thing. When you meet a new person, ask them the way you would ask anyone about movies they’ve seen and books they’ve read, and then ask them whose side they were on, or which characters they most identified with. Of course, you must be familiar with the movie or the book, including its main characters. Television personalities and other public figures will also do.
Narcissists can feel empathy for other narcissistic characters–characters that are like themselves. I’ve noticed they will often feel empathy for the villain, rather than the hero/heroine. A narcissist woman, for example, will feel simpatico with a villain like Beth Jarrett from Ordinary People, and think her behavior toward her son wasn’t that bad–she may even think he deserved it and find Jarrett’s justifications for abusing him valid. My mother found nothing wrong with her behavior and was puzzled as to why I found it so triggering and upsetting. (Of course I didn’t tell her why).
My mother also couldn’t understand why the the “Queen of Mean” hotelier Leona Helmsley was given such a hard time in the press over her arrogant statement, “We don’t pay taxes, only the little people pay taxes.” She also identified with Sherman McCoy, the narcissistic, selfish, and greedy investment banker in the novel Bonfire of the Vanities, who wound up losing everything due to a chain of events stemming from a hit and run accident which McCoy was involved in. I remember her lamenting almost tearfully about how “his beautiful life was ruined” by the events that played out in the novel. She also couldn’t stand good, sweet Melanie, from Gone With the Wind. I suppose Melanie could come across as a tad simpering and holier-than-thou, but my mother hated her. The heroine of that same movie, Scarlett O’Hara, is more than a little narcissistic (or possibly Histrionic?)–charming, flirtatious, manipulative, entitled, and possessing very little empathy. She didn’t even seem that upset when her own daughter, Bonnie, died after falling off a horse. I never understood why Scarlett has been such a huge role model for generations of women. She really didn’t have too many redeeming qualities when you think about it.
A man (or woman) with NPD or psychopathy might identify or sympathize with any of Ayn Rand’s psychopathic heroes–Howard Roark from The Fountainhead or John Galt from Atlas Shrugged come to mind. Of course, these are popular books, especially among conservatives–but holding these two highly narcissistic men up as worthy of worship might be a red flag. Be wary of such a person.
My ex, a sociopath who has been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder (but is really a malignant narcissist) always liked villainous characters, especially if they broke the law. He often rooted for the bad guy (or sometimes, girl) and the more ruthless or cruel they were, the more they seemed to enthrall him. He likes Charles Manson. He watched South Park because he thought the sociopathic Eric Cartman was so cool. He also rooted for the alien in Aliens. In addition to that, he likes satanic and demonic imagery, which always disturbed me, even when I was agnostic. We all have a touch of schadenfreude and many normal people (including yours truly) have a fascination with serial killers and other outlaws–according to Jung, that’s because we all have a shadow self that’s drawn to dark things. But there’s a difference between fascination or morbid curiosity and actually liking these things or identifying with or sympathizing with villains, malignant narcissists, and antisocial people.
So if you’re on a date with a new person, have them take you to a movie (or take them to a movie) and see who they seem to identify with or sympathize with the most (or who they seem to dislike the most). It could tell you a lot about that person’s character.