- - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Today, I’m going to tell you how to be a celebrity.

There is an endless stream of film festivals, news about Bruce Jenner and Caitlyn Jenner, and nobodies getting stars on the Walk of Fame. This leaves the rest of us in America wondering whether we, too, could be celebrities. All it seems to take is a little makeup, paparazzi, and enough press coverage. Talent, passion, and hard work have been replaced with selfies, endless coverage, and awkward sexualized poses in front of hundreds of glam cams. Or maybe it does take talent to be self-absorbed enough to strike those poses, stand on a red carpet, and smile for a minute. In fact, if there is any talent that the myriad celebrities share today, it’s just that: narcissism.

Millennials, picking up on this attitude, believe ourselves to be the best and are pretty narcissistic. (Yes, I’m a millennial. I’d be sorry, but I’m too busy appreciating how awesome I am.) Millennials statistically don’t want to work for fame and money, we pull celebrity antics all the time, and we want to have it all.

America is perhaps the biggest celebrity, with patriotic fans incapable of seeing fault with the great nation we call home. So for those of you not lucky enough to have made the Cannes carpet this year or have a star of your own, let me tell you how to be a celebrity, courtesy of lessons learned from the U.S.A.

How to be a celebrity
Believe you are the best. Even if you’re not. Trust me, the fact that some celebrities have absolutely no talent hasn’t stopped them from succeeding. And neither has America’s foreign policy, economic disasters, or environmental impact dampened our belief that we are, always, the best.
Focus on yourself. Even to a flaw. Foreigners think that we have an attitude of “America is great. Do as we do.” But Pew Research polls show that we actually believe “America is great. If you don’t agree, that’s not our concern.”
Fear failure or weaknesses. America is most definitely not declining. Not at all. We do not have a bad criminal justice system. We do not contribute that much to global warming. We’re the best.
• Change history. I don’t follow celebrity news as much as I could, but I think this is exactly how Taylor Swift and Lorde are now besties, though they once hated each other. Maybe they got a tip from the liberal rewriting of who won World War II, Japanese internment camps and Manifest Destiny. The truth, by the way, is that the USSR bore the great brunt of defeating Hitler and we can’t erase the nastier parts of our country’s decisions.
• Develop a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feelings of inadequacy. This is paired with making excuses for potential faults. You think we have economic inequality? Yes, but look at our free market! Excessive jail times? But our justice system is effective. America brands itself, for example, as being the leaders of equality worldwide. The truth may be that Britain and other democracies abolished slavery and granted women equal rights first, or that today’s leaders in gay rights, economic equality, and criminal justice reform are in Europe. But America doesn’t care about the truth. And neither should you.
• Have an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best always. “Shining City of Gold,” “City on a Hill,” and claiming to be the best thing that ever happened to the rest of the planet are a few tips you can take from the U.S.A. on how to self-aggrandize stupidly.

The Problem with this
So what’s the problem with behaving like we’re celebrities or America being exceptionalist? Well, I lied a little. My so-called “How to be a Celebrity” guide is basically a “How to be a Narcissist” guide. As people get richer and more famous, they become more entitled, and celebrities routinely score higher on narcissism indexes (I’m looking at you, Kanye West). It takes quite some self-pride, if you think about it, to turn slightly the side, put your hands on your hips, and flaunt your body for cameras.

It’s not just an analogy. Celebrities are the root of the problem. Today’s millennials are statistically much more narcissistic than their predecessors. They fail to help each other unless there is immediate gain and recognition, they invest in plastic surgery and makeup more than ever (Bruce and Caitlyn), and they want to be famous for being famous. Many social scientists agree that this is a result of watching reality TV, being encouraged by get rich/ famous quick schemes, and social media that encourages an increased number of likes and views. Celebrities, role models for many teenagers and young adults, are naturally an issue.

Narcissism has real drawbacks.

For example, we defend celebrities and ourselves no matter what we do. Narcissists and most millennials handle criticism very badly and do not change. This encourages bad behavior and prevents us from seeing flaws. It inflates pride and inhibits rational decision making. When we believe a country – or Tom Brady or Bill Cosby – is perfect and an idol, we balk at the thought of punishing them for alleged misbehavior. We think if we’re good enough, we don’t have to follow laws, be nice to people, or develop empathy. And narcissists obviously think they’re good enough.

Not being able to take criticism means we’ll never change. Celebrities surround themselves with others who will compliment and appreciate them. (Think of the Oscars, Cannes, or talk shows like “Oprah” and “Ellen.”) When America believes firmly in its own moral superiority, it cannot address its issues, because the one thing Washington all agrees on is that America is the best. But we are not. The U.S. has started several wars and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The U.S.-backed Contra war in Nicaragua, a much forgotten war, for example, killed 30,000 Nicaraguans. U.S. drone strikes have killed many civilians and over the past few decades, we’ve killed more than 250,000 Muslims in the Middle East. But our response is never “How can we do better?” Our response is still, “Why, oh, why do they hate us?”

How to fix this

The first step in fixing America’s role in the world is to analyze it, realize it’s not perfect, and make it better. Humility is key. And this entire generation needs to work on empathy: trying to understand other people and other countries, listening better, and analyzing others’ problems. America is scared to admit its flaws, but it shouldn’t be. Who do we like better anyway? Bruce Jenner or Caitlyn Jenner?
Also, take note that self-esteem is different from narcissism and is built on real mastery, accomplishments and empathy. The U.S. is the world’s leader in some things, we are a technological, diversity, industrial, and military powerhouse, and like many millennials, we’re going to go on to do great things. Let’s just stop being a jackass about it.

Isvari Mohan is the author of the war drama “The Eyes of Mikra,” a singer, and a Global Law Scholar at Georgetown Law.

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