Helpful hints and discussion about mental health and mental health issues as it relates to
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Sunday 10 August 2014

Justin Bieber: Narcissism, Envy and The Cult of Celebrity

by Stephen B.Chadwick, MA Counselling Psychology.
So, dear friends it has been a number of days since I have been able to post. And I have wanted to post about a number subjects, for example:

1. Bullying, on the small scale and the large, national scale

2. Confidentiality, especially as it pertains to psychotherapy and counselling.

3. And Self-respect, especially for young females, but really for anyone,

so stay tuned. There are other posts to come. But for now, I simply wanted to post another entry and not leave you“abandoned, out in the middle of the emotional ocean”, so to speak!

So this entry is going to be about the Biebs! – Justin Bieber.
 Our collective fascination with celebrity and stardom and tabloids and “costume malfunctions” and envy is perfectly normal and part of human nature .

All that juicy stuff that one sees in the supermarket line up that one looks at, but wouldn’t dare admit, of course, because we are far too high-brow, having just read up on the latest news headlines and while finishing off our latest re-read of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.


What I say is: “Yeah, right!”

Okay, so the cult of celebrity, has really existed forever.  Back in ancient history there were mythic stories about Hercules

Alexander, and the various pantheon of Greek/Roman Gods. And really in some way these stories and legends were created for people as a way and means to understand their lives, but also to aspire to and be inspired by these heroic, mythic figures.

So, for example in this painting by Botticelli of Mars and Venus


brilliantly analysed by that cute, little celebrity nun, Sister Wendy Beckett,

we see Mars devastated by Venus after a night together. Mars, the typical man, is all spent and Venus, the archetypal woman, illustrating of course that love will conquer all.

Human beings "pedestalize" celebrities, but we need them, too.

So, really “celebs” have existed forever. Royalty are another source of celebrity. And human beings need these celebrities. We hang our collective hopes on them – when they succeed. Remember Princess Diana? Remember the outpouring of grief when she died? This again was due to identification. One could identify with her as  the good sister/mother/friend. See the entry on identification, link here:

And similarly, when Man (or humankind) first walked on the moon, we identify with the accomplishment. Same thing when our favourite team wins. We identify.

However, sometimes we place some of these poor people too high up on a pedestal. Or as I like to say we “pedastalize” them. Sounds like a naughty word. But essentially, we place the individual in an impossibly high position of veneration and authority – almost like God, himself – such that it becomes impossible NOT to fail.

Who really but God himself could ever be: perfect, good-looking, always saying the right thing, making the right sound bite, wearing the right clothes, seen with the right people, appearing gracious without appearing fawning and so on.  And so we are always looking for faults in the person who has “made it” – those people who are: wealthy, successful, good-looking, etc, etc. 

And if only God himself could ever be All-perfect, why even then we poor humans would still blame God!

But anyway, enough theology!

Envy is like a dark little momentary pleasure, when someone fails.

So, we poor human beings need heroes and inspiration. We want to look up. However, the longer we look up the more our necks start to ache! Meaning we want to look down and disregard the person placed on the pedestal. There is also a part of us that would like to think that we too could attain that person’s greatness.

And this is where the envy comes in.

Whenever we see that tabloid where the “Biebs” or  fill-in-the-blank celebrity has failed, fallen off the wagon, gone back into rehab, busted up a third marriage, we secretly, internally, quietly (inside, in our minds) rejoice. And we get a secret, dark little momentary pleasure, like a little, dark piece of chocolate. This, dear friends is envy.

Now, some people will not react this way. On the contrary, some will see the human side of the tragedy and say: “poor thing.” And then others will say – “I’m not sorry for him/her/them. They’ve got lots of money, good looks, opportunity. I haven’t got half what they have and I am still struggling away. So I am not sorry for him/her/ them at all”.

Now this supermarket tabloid envy experience is just anecdotal and just fun to remark about. Many of us will never live Justin Bieber’s life or for that matter: Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton or Rianna or Robin Thicke or Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie or Tiger Woods or fill-in-the-blank celebrity. And thank God!

The higher the celebrity climbs the more problems and pitfalls to deal with. In the immortal words of Shakespeare: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown – Henry the Fourth, part 2, Act III

And then of course there is the story of Icarus, who, being warned by his father, Daedalus, nonetheless flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax of his wings and he fell to earth and drowned.

So the story of Icarus tells us to take the middle way, be ambitious, but remain humble. Whereas Shakespeare seems to say that when people do achieve greatness, they are plagued by more and more problems, which threaten to bring them down.

Envy of those close or closer to us... is much more dangerous.

It is no wonder then since so many of the ancient Greek stories are filled with archetypes – like Narcissisus – that dear old Freud


went back to these classic stories to help illustrate age-old repetitive patterns in human nature.

So, we can understand the cult of celebrity – needing to glorify and put someone on a pedestal – or pedastalize someone, as I call it. And we can understand envy... of celebrities.


But what about envy of the ordinary people in our lives? Neighbours, co-workers, family members?

In this instance the envy is ever more present and, friends, ever more deadly.

You see, with envy, if you see Justin Bieber, swinging around with celebrities, ropes of jewelry and gold chains round his neck and babes hanging off his arms while he drives a souped-up sportscar – so what?

Tabloids and paparazzi will ever be looking for him to make some kind of gaffe. Unfortunately, at some point his wax will melt and his feathers will come out and we should feel pity for him.

And we can because he is distanced from us. But when we feel envy of those close or closer to us it is much more dangerous. Because with envy, there is always a desire to have or own or covet that which belongs to someone else. And in that, when we do not have what our neighbour or our co-worker or our relative has, then, from a deeply psychological point of view – rage and murderous rage (ouch!) comes out in us.

And at that point we feel like we either want to have what the object of our envy has and/or we want to destroy either the object of our envy and/or what it is that the object of our envy has.

And envy is not jealousy although they are sometimes used interchangeably. Envy usually involves a person and their possessions, talents or attributes, whereas jealousy usually involves the relationship to another person whom you have affections for. I know. I know. Complicated.

But just remember: if someone is doing you evil because of your talent or looks or financial situation or wisdom or fill-in-the-blank, it is probably most likely because they are envious. They want what you have or feel threatened by it.

Finally the cult of celebrity is clearly necessary. And it is clear that envy is destructive in people’s lives.  

And narcissism, within limits, is also healthy.

Narcissism, of course originated, with the story of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image. And Echo, the girl who loved him, was sadly not able to express her love to him as she sat next to him. Eventually he turned into a flower overlooking the water’s edge, while Echo eventually faded away, until all that was left was a faint reflection or “echo” in her voice. This is a beautifully crafted story which epitomizes a relationship between someone who is narcissistic (self-absorbed) and the sad creature who could have offered unbounded love but is totally ignored.

So, there is nothing at all wrong with looking in the mirror. One needs it. It is necessary for self-examination, both literally: (Am I wearing the right tie? Is my makeup okay?) and figuratively: ( Did I say the right thing? How do other people perceive me?)

But Narcissism – too much vanity – leads to problems such to the point, such as Narcissus, where the natural, mutual affection and support from others is subordinated to the point where the people around the narcissistic person is simply viewed as a means to an end.

In other words, the narcissist thinks (but not consciously): What can this person give or do for me? What's in it for me? What do I get out of this?

And really, in a healthy relationship it needs to be a two-way street. One gives to the other and they give back to you. This is the example of a normal, healthy relationship.

However, as a final side note, the present, ongoing cult of celebrity, especially with the advent of reality shows where even ordinary people can become “stars” has led us to live in a world where, in the words of the famous Andy Warhol: “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes”. 


However there is more to this quip.  Warhol, who was used to the glamour and glitz of the “Factory” – his New York studio where he produced art with the various glitterati and hangers-on of the time was apparently being photographed at an art exhibit in Sweden and bystanders were trying to make it into his photo op (or photo-bombing him) and he apparently stated that “Everyone wants to be famous” to which his photographer – Nat Finkelstein said “Yeah, for about 15 minutes”, perhaps implying that ongoing fame and celebrity is also a cross to bear.

And then finally of course, there is the “selfie”. This seems to me at least to be the quintessential example of the latest in narcissistic self-absorption. Take enough selfies apparently, and even you too, can have all your dreams fulfilled and be famous --- God Help Us.

Here to finish are the Chainsmokers with their, in my opinion, very funny video “Selfie”

Enjoy and

Take care,





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