I recently saw a study that indicated that among all types of entertainers, reality show stars have the highest levels of narcissism (comedians were second, which surprised me).
Dr. Drew Pinsky, contributor of this study and a celebrity psychologist who has even hosted his own reality shows (“Celebrity Rehab” among others) had this to say about reality show contestants. It’s easy to see why the study is probably correct. Many if not most reality shows feature people who have no real talent or special ability, other than airing their dirty laundry and personal issues on national television, or just acting like jerks and getting rich and famous for it.
VH1, once a respectable music video alternative to MTV, has become Reality Show Central, and their reality shows tend to be the dumbest of them all, with the most most offensive and unpleasant “stars” you could ever imagine. The premises of these shows are also questionable, even if at times humorous. I remember a show called “Tool Academy,” where young men (and sometimes women) who acted like total tools were sent to be on the show by their wives and girlfriends. The show was run in the typical “Ten Little Indians” format of most game-type reality shows, with one person (who displayed the most “toolish” behavior) eliminated each week, until the winner–the guy whose behavior had improved the most–was announced as the winner.
Another VH1 show, “Flavor of Love,” featured the narcissistic rapper, Flavor Flav, an aging, unattractive, yet inexplicably desireable has-been as the “prize.” Some prize. Flavor Flav was insufferable, annoying, vain and conceited but every week a group of girls would engage in ugly catfights over his attentions, with one girl eliminated each week (for reasons that were completely arbitrary and based on Flav’s personal opinion formed on “alone time” with that girl.)
One of the contestants from “Flavor of Love” became a reality star in her own right–a highly (and probably malignantly) narcissistic girl named Tiffany “New York” Pollard. “New York” possessed every tool in the narcissist’s bag of tricks–gaslighting, triangulating, tantrum throwing, blame shifting, abusive behavior, lack of empathy, and whiny, wheedling self-centeredness–and she got most of Flav’s attention (although she did not win). She was also hilarious, and that was probably some of her appeal. Not surprisingly, New York got her own reality show, predictably called “I Love New York,” in which men would compete for HER as the prize.
A similar show in the same vein (and made by the same producers) was a short lived reality show called “Megan Wants a Millionaire” in which a girl named Megan, a materialistic and shallow nobody, got to choose her dream rich guy, who would become the winner after everyone else was eliminated. The show made news when one of its contestants–an arrogant, sleazy and malignantly narcissistic piece of human scum named Ryan Jenkins (who was one of Megan’s favorites and probably would have won) brutally murdered and then dismembered his girlfriend, Jasmine Fiore, in a hotel in Canada, and then stuffed her body into a suitcase. Immediately following the murder, the show was cancelled, so there never was a winner. Megan may have been wound up with Jenkins killing HER if he didn’t win. I remember getting uncomfortable feelings watching Jenkins–and wondered what Megan saw in him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but Jenkins gave me a bad case of the heebie jeebies.
There are many shows of this ilk, and they’re everywhere. MTV started the reality show trend back in the 1990s with “The Real World,” which showed a group of “normal” (but hand picked through an audition process) twentysomethings living together in a house. The most narcissistic housemate would almost always become the most famous, even if they had a lot of haters. Now MTV’s offerings are more likely to be game-show based or documentary-like, such as the hit “Teen Mom.” While the show has its merits (showing how these young girls cope with raising a child without a husband or decent job), it also rewards questionable behavior, such as getting pregnant before one is ready to handle the responsibilities of a child. I have actually heard of girls who deliberately get pregnant just to be able to audition to be on the show. The girls on “Teen Mom” become instant stars, and because the girls are getting paid handsomely to be on the show, the actual “reality” of this reality show (like most others) is questionable. Most real teen moms struggle with poverty or near-poverty, but these girls only pretend to be impoverished for the sake of the show.
There are other non-contest shows like TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” featuring the supersized Duggars; the defunct and controversial “Jon and Kate Plus 8”; and of course, the enormously popular “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” which has made megastars of its namesakes. Jon and Kate, now divorced, obviously both have NPD, especially Kate, who used her many children as a ticket to stardom. Kate has parlayed the success of “Jon and Kate” into a career as a reality star and has also appeared on the show “Dancing With the Stars,” among other shows. I feel sorry for her kids, with such a fame-whoring, self centered, attention seeking excuse for a mother.
I haven’t watched The Kardashians, so I don’t know if the sisters are narcissists, but I fail to see how a show about a family with daughters whose only claim to fame is the fact their father (Bruce Jenner) used to be a famous track and field athlete and is now a motivational speaker, ever got so popular. Yet people want to be just like Kim, Khloe and Kourtney, and their very average countenances regularly grace almost every entertainment and women’s magazine.
Then there is Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club,” which is exactly what its name promises. Although the premise of the show (like “Tool Academy”) is the improvement of the girls’ selfish, combative, narcissistic behaviors, with the winner showing the most improved personality and etiquette, people don’t really watch the show for the bad-to-good transformation (which is most likely fake and scripted anyway)–they watch it to see the catfights and the girls’ bad behavior–it’s nothing more than digital rubbernecking. Of course, to get on the show, a girl has to act like a complete bitch, so in effect, the bad behavior is glorified.
Michelle Duggar of the TLC hit “19 Kids and Counting” gives me mega N vibes. While putting on this mask of being an angelic, meek, deferent, soft spoken, ultra religious Mother of the Year, I highly suspect this act is fake as hell and Michelle is actually a media savvy, manipulative operator behind the scenes, much like Kate Gosselin. Having babies seems to give Michelle a narcissistic rush, but once each child becomes a toddler, she pans them off to an older sibling (always a girl) who is to be their “buddy” and basically raise that child herself, so Michelle can focus on having the next baby. Evidently once she had her 19th child she finally became too old to birth any more children. Her last pregnancy ended in miscarriage and she has not become pregnant since.
Another of TLC’s offerings (which I think has been cancelled) was a show called “Toddlers and Tiaras,” a documentary-style behind the scenes look at child beauty queens and their parents, who shamelessly exploit their young children and push them into these pageants. Almost without exception, the parents are narcissists who try to turn their child into a showpiece, whether the child wants to participate or not. The children’s own wishes and interests are not respected and in some cases, the parents’ (usually the mother’s) behavior borders on abuse. When all the makeup, fake tans, fake teeth, and creepy sexualization of the child is finally done, the kid looks more like a doll than a human being, and it’s chilling to see. Only a narcissist would understand the appeal of making a child look like that.
Talent contest shows seem to have more legitimacy since some of the contestants actually have a talent, such as singing, cooking or dancing (and usually, the most talented are the ones that make it farthest and go on to win). Still, I think narcissism is a motivator for many of the participants, and NPD is highly represented among both the contestants and the judges.
Mean, abusive, tantrum throwing judges like Gordon Ramsey of “Hell’s Kitchen” is a good example of a highly narcissistic judge who is probably malignant as well. The contestants’ terror of Ramsey’s narcissistic rages is one of the show’s attractions. Simon Cowell, a savvy business tycoon who made his fortune with his empire of singing reality shows like “American Idol.” “America’s Got Talent,” and “The X-Factor,” is probably still most famous for his mean, sarcastic, and abusive commentary to the fledgling singers on the once popular show, “American Idol.” People would tune in just to see what he would say to some poor hapless auditoner. While Cowell gives generously to charity, that doesn’t mean he’s not a narcissist.
I read a horrifying story once about Cowell and I don’t doubt it’s probably true (unfortunately I can’t locate the link right now). Some years back, Cowell developed an attraction to a contestant named Nikki McKibbin. At first Cowell was nice to her (he was always nice to contestants he liked), but one day he told her (not on the show itself) he thought her eyes were so pretty he wanted to remove them and keep them in a jar by his bed. Ms. McKibbin was understandably so spooked she decided to stop speaking to Cowell and started treated him coldly offset. Cowell, suffering narcissistic injury, got back at her by henceforth being extremely critical of every one of her performances, where before he had been nothing but complimentary. Nikki must have been popular in spite of Cowell’s campaign against her, because she went all the way to 3rd place.
This year’s “American Idol” winner, a rock singer named Caleb Johnson, is from my town (Asheville, NC) and while there is no argument he’s extremely talented (and an unusual winner for being a hard rocker on a show that features pop singers), he displayed enough narcissistic traits during his appearance on the show it would not surprise me if he has NPD–but of course that could have been due to the scripting too (I don’t think these reality shows are really based much on actual reality).
There was an incident where during an interview which occurred offset, Caleb called his fans “retarded.” This could have just been the ignorant gaffe of a young guy who didn’t quite know how to handle overnight fame and having to deal with the media, so I’m not going to judge his behavior too harshly. I have no proof he has NPD.
In summary, narcissism does seem to be highly represented among reality show participants (and is definitely glorified on these shows), especially the shows that reward and showcase bad, immoral, or abusive behavior.