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The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America
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84 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I didn't expect too much.

But, I thought it was worth a read. Almost exclusively, the only thing I knew about Drew Pinsky before reading this book is that he is a psychologist who seems to turn up on all those bad shows I see while channel-surfing: celebrity re-hab shows, an MTV show with Adam Corolla (roll eyes.) However, he appeared to be addressing a subject in this book which, if done well, could be extremely helpful to modern people.

So, I was willing to take a stab at reading it.

You see, just look it up on Amazon: modern books about narcissism tend to fall roughly into one of two categories: 1) scholarly books which are written mostly for those who do or should (like therapists) have a working knowledge of narcissism, or those who are victims of narcissistic abuse who are so intrigued by the subject that they want to know all they can about it--probably because it was so painful that they don't want such abuse to sneak up on them again (I'm a good example) or 2) books written more for laypeople to help them understand and cope with the narcissistic people they find messing up their lives in some way. Such folks previously didn't know what the sam hill narcissism is or that it ever existed. They probably thought what they were going through was just people being mean or lacking empathy but instead have figured out that there is a human phenomenon called "narcissism" and "narcissistic personality disorder." They don't want to be scholars or therapists: they just want to figure out how to deal with a narcissistic person in their lives before they resort to killing him or her (yes, I'm being facetious.)

What I have seen is tremendously lacking is this: books which attempt to bring the subject of narcissism into the public arena where it really, really, really, really needs to be discussed if things are ever going to change for the better on the narcissism front in society. You see, narcissistic abuse and the damage narcissism does to society in general is so common in great part because *"the average person" doesn't recognize what it is and doesn't know it when they see it.

Thirty or forty years ago women were more subject to sexual abuse and sexual discrimination because society in general--or the "average person"--had no or little working knowledge about it. Today, in most workplaces, the "average person" knows sexual abuse and discrimination in the workplace when they see it. The "average person" in the street, in the office or in the family in contrast 1) doesn't know what narcissism is 2) is unaware of how prevalent it is in America and 3) is unaware of how devastating it can be to individuals, families, institutions and to society as a whole.

With this effort, Drew Pinsky has attempted to write such a book. And in my opinion he hit it out of the park. Will this book win a Pulitzer or any other "book of the year" award? Of course not. Those are usually saved for the more "scholarly" or "artistic" efforts. But, in terms of a book that could possibly help make the average person, institution, business or family become healthier, then this book is my candidate for "book of the year." I'd give Pinsky at least three stars for even *trying* to do such a thing. But, since he did such a superb job, then this book warrants at least five stars. Furthermore, it is apparent to me that Pinsky "has a heart for" the people who are hurt by narcissism. It's obvious he didn't write the book just to capitalize on his MTV or reality show fame. Instead, he capitalized on his fame in order to genuinely help people. The man has a lot of empathy: well, we know then that *he* doesn't have NPD.

The authors write " Each one of us falls somewhere on the spectrum of narcissism. We are all born as complete narcissists and then, based upon our emotional development in early childhood, we arrive at our adult expression of these traits. A secure attachment to a parent nurtures empathy, high self-esteem, and self-awareness. But when traumatic experiences short-circuit the delicate process of empathic development, individuals become locked in patterns of grandiosity and emotional disconnection." (page 108)

The above paragraph is the best succinct definition of narcissism I've ever read--and it's aimed at the "average person." Beautiful.

One part of the book I did not care for: the first eighty-six pages or so when it seemed like I was watching an incessant "Entertainment Tonight" show. It was not all that pleasant to read all that--but, I was excited about it nevertheless because I could tell where he *may* be going with it all. Another good reason it was a superb idea to begin the first eighty-six pages the way they did is because it's information the average teen, twenty and thirty-something may be interested in. Pinsky writes about this celebrity and that celebrity all the while interjecting slowly but surely new terms related to the subject of narcissism. Excellent, superb job--although it nearly bored me to tears to read it.

Anyone older than forty or fifty years old can see a big difference in our culture since that time. Eighteen years ago or so Bruce Springsteen sang about "57 Channels and nothing on..." Look at the junk (my opinion) that's on television now:
"Big Brother" was one of the highest rated shows last week...Sheesh! And all the non-stop celebrity shows--yeah, I'm looking at you E!Channel. "Chelsea Lately" for months has been a show I have recorded in order to watch at my leisure. I have had many gut laughs--and we all need them--while watching the show. However, I will never watch the show again without this book in my mind. You see, the show is basically about four people making fun of celebrities and other people who do the goofy things goofy people do. And people like myself are eating it up (Handler just signed a huge contract based on the show.) Personally, it gets on my nerves how she treats Chuey: I sure hope he gets paid a lot. Just don't mess with "The Soup."

Pinsky's point is that we have become too preoccupied with exalting celebrities and we have gotten d*** good at kicking them when they're down:"kick 'em when they're up, kick them when they're down" (Don Henley) Pinsky gives an excellent example with how so many of us--and not just the press and paparazzi--have harshly treated Britney: not with empathy but with contempt and "haha, she's finally getting what she deserves." He cites a "South Park" episode in which our hypocrisy and narcissistic traits are there for us to see as we watch "Britney" just tries to be a human being.

Then and only then do the authors begin helping the average person to begin to have a working knowledge of narcissism and it's causes which always comes back to early childhood trauma with their chapter "The Genesis of Narcissism." As a side note, I have to wonder if Alexander "the Great" had had a more empathetic father in Philip of Macedon whether he would have found it necessary to prove to himself and to the world how "great" and "special" he was. It would have saved a lot of other people in the 4th century B.C. a ton of grief along with their lives. "Alex" would have been happier too.

You see, narcissism has been messing up a lot of lives for centuries. And Pinsky helps to convince me that the phenomenon is probably more prevalent today than it ever has in human history.

Why is this? Pinsky gives us his take on it: "It is childhood trauma that makes individuals most vulnerable to unhealth levels of narcissistic traits, and that allows narcissistic behavior to take hold and flourish. The incidence of childhood trauma has increased by more than 40 percent over the past twenty years, and as a result, we are all feeling *the effects of a generation with deep narcissistic wounds.*" (page 143)

I greatly applaud Pinsky for bringing the DSM-IV into the discussion, helping teens and others to understand the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (pages 98-99.) Awesome...And he does a great job at it, too. To really effectively deal with NPD you have to understand it and see it when it is present. I applaud Pinsky for taking the bull by the horns on this one.

Pinsky also address the fact that narcissism and NPD, though very much present, is hard to detect to the untrained eye (thus the essential need to bring the DSM-IV's expertise into the book.) Pinsky writes "I can't help but conclude that there are many more individuals suffering from unhealthy levels of narcissism than there are patients diagnosed with narcissism as a psychological disorder. Another reason NPD can be difficult to diagnose is that narcissism, even at NPD levels, doesn't stop people from attaining positions of power, wealth, or prestige. Narcissists often develop attractive or persuasive social skills to help them maintain the persona they have constructed to get what they want from the world...Finally, diagnosis can be challenging simply because it's extraordinarily difficult to convince a narcissist that he needs psychological help. Any challenge to a narcissist's unrealistic self-image is likely to provoke rage, disdain, denial or other protective behaviors, as the individual struggles to protect the pseudo-self at all costs." (page 100.)

I might add also that narcissists are drawn to power and fame like a moth to your backdoor light. And they don't really deep down know why they are, being that they are some of the least self-aware people you'll ever come across.

Allow me to point out one of the many pages I have marked as having especially insightful thoughts. Pinsky writes on page 139 "...studies have shown a decline in religious affiliation and beliefs, especially among America's youth , who have become increasingly disenchanted with church doctrine and the perceived hypocrisy of high-ranking church officials...According to research by John Maltby and his colleagues, as the level of religious devotion decreases, the degree of celebrity worship increases."

In my opinion, in a time in which Christian churches and their leaders could be effectively bearing witness to the truth of Jesus' words "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" too many churches and denominations are led by people trying to deal their unresolved childhood trauma by becoming "God on earth." No wonder young people are staying away from some of the more established denominations in droves...

Oh, the book also had a short test (the Narcissistic Personality Inventory) in the back of the book to give you a bit of an idea of where you are on the narcissism spectrum. The most one can score is a 40, but the mean is about 15. The narcissistic part of me wants to make sure everyone knows I just scored and "8." That's ironic isn't it? However, this is also a very good addition to the book because part of becoming aware of narcissism involves not only recognizing others narcissism, but your own and what you need to work on to be more mature and whole and less narcissistic.

Speaking of our own narcissism, aren't sites like Facebook, MySpace and, yes, places where people can share their varying degrees of narcissism? I admit *one* reason I write a review Amazon now and then is to stoke my own narcissism but, what is going on with all these people who feel like they have to "review" (and I use that word loosely) 300, 500, 1000 or more books?? You come to your own conclusion...

Grand slam out of the park tearing the cover off the ball and rolling down the street while kids chase it effort.
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109 of 124 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I admire Drew Pinsky so I must reluctantly say that his latest effort The Mirror Effect is a disappointment. My disappointment is doubly bad since I had high expectations based on his intriguing discussion of this book on a local NPR interview. The problem is with the book's thesis or premise: Celebrities are worshipped more and more even as their behavior pushes the envelope of the definition of pathology and dysfunction and we, as their admirers, live vicariously through their actions and long to be like them. It is a bad trend, Pinsky argues, when the masses model themselves after celebrity narcissists.

I agree with Pinsky (what's there NOT to agree with?), but to base a book on the premise that celebrity behavior is not worthy of our aspirations is over familiar and self-evident and as such is not worthy of an entire book. The moral lesson is too simplistic.

What happens after Chapter One in which Pinsky defines the Mirror Effect (as I have above) is give countless "examples" of celebrity dysfunction from the usual suspects: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan. Instead of learning any valuable lessons, the bulk of the book feels like reading gossip from US magazine.

If you're intrigued by the premise that outrageous celebrity behavior is a bad influence on society and you want lots of juicy details of that behavior, then this book is for you. On the other hand, if the premise is too obvious to be intriguing and if you're numb to celebrity stories of self-destruction, you may, like me, find this book to be a major letdown.
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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Mirror Effect is the rarest of kind of book and the fact that is it very good is particularly impressive considering the odds. For a book of broad, social criticism written by a television personality to not only be scientific and well supported, but also calm and compassionate is a true feat.

The premise of The Mirror Effect is bold. Pinsky writes that the convergence of reality television, lowered libel standards and constant connectedness have combined to create a market for an awful kind of celebrity (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton). When this collides with the void left by pervasive divorce, childhood trauma and drugs, we have a society that encourages and supports narcissism. To continue the Mirror Analogy, society and celebrity are both mirrors and when put together create an endless chain that recreates the same initial problem. A child who develops narcissistic tendencies because of a negligent parent sees narcissism rewarded in the famous people they respect and the celebrity interprets that attention as approval for their own dangerous and indulgent behavior. Neither is incentivized be responsible, mature or healthy.

The thesis would be significant if it were simple social criticism but it is much more than that. Pinsky and Young actually bothered to do the research, subjecting hundreds of Loveline guests to a narcissism study they later published in 2006. They didn't stop there. The Mirror Effect is full of connections to existing and well respected psychological findings, making the book both fascinating and substantive. Also, due to Pinsky's place in popular culture, it is (thankfully) current. As opposed to the religiously based arguments of someone like Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, The Mirror Effect was written with an inside line on the celebrities it criticizes. Chapters begin with quotes from relevant celebrities and Pinsky draws from an array of anecdotes and examples possible only by someone who is more than just an observer.

If there is one weakness in the book it's the publishers push to make it appeal to a mass audience - something that though deserved, takes away from its academic credibility. There is the massive photo of Dr. Drew on the cover and the fact that it has a whopping three total contributing authors. (check the cover page, Jill Stern is also credited). Despite all the research there is no bibliography, index or even footnotes.

But those are small consequences considering the implications and quality of The Mirror Effect.
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29 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This often trashy book really demonstrates how stardom corrupted Dr. Drew from a once-refreshingly modest, dedicated 1980s and `90s "Loveline" late-night radio doctor into the very kind of arrogant, self-superior celebrity he deplores. It's no shock that by his own "narcissism personality inventory," Dr. Drew (even with inside knowledge of the scale's questions) scored as high as porn star Ron Jeremy and higher than Howard Stern.

The point of this book, which Drew and academic star-chaser Mark Young don't even pretend to document, is that "as fame has become increasingly democratized," Americans increasingly "mirror" destructive celebrity narcissism (p. 147). The authors claim (citing no evidence) that youth today "are growing up with the highest rates of divorce, of drug and alcohol abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases in our history" (p. 150) as well as rising "childhood trauma" (p. 143). They blame the "frightening statistics" of youths' "distressing behavior" (p. 164) on claims that "the behavior of today's celebrities is much more dramatically dysfunctional than it was a decade ago" (p. 3). The don't offer a shred of evidence that youth misbehaviors are rising--actually, they're falling dramatically--let alone of increasing pop-culture causality.

The authors deplore the brutal, gossip-filled mob obsession by which "celebrities are created and destroyed at the whim of a narcissistic public" (p. 168)--and then, bizarrely proceed to stoke it. The authors sink to rehashing mean-spirited gossip and rumors, such as Angelina Jolie's supposed "incest." They pack a chapter with crude pop-psychology stereotypes demeaning teenagers and flat-out falsehoods claiming surges in youthful "aggression," "violent antics," "hypersexuality," alcohol and drug abuse, and self-harm the authors blame celebrity narcissism for inciting.

That, of course, is the rub challenging all these pop-culture-apocalypse books: every reliable reference (FBI Uniform Crime reports, the Bureau of Justice Statistics' Crime Victimization surveys, the CDC's vital statistics reports, the Digest of Education Statistics, Monitoring the Future, etc.) shows that among youths, serious crime, violence, rape, murder, gun assaults, violent deaths, suicide and other self-destructive behaviors, pregnancy, abortion, school dropout, violence in school, drunken driving, drug and alcohol use, social alienation, smoking, and other ills have all fallen dramatically over the last two to four decades, many to all-time lows, while community volunteerism, voting, college enrollment, and other benefits have risen.

Further, as virtually every unhealthy behavior has plummeted among teenagers over the last two decades, the period Drew assigns the worst celebrity and media influences, drug abuse, suicide, violent deaths, serious crime, imprisonment, and AIDS have soared among middle-agers, a population culture warriors like Drew prefer to flatter. In fact, youthful behavior problems remain powerfully connected to poverty and domestic abuses, not to Lindsay's pill popping or Kim's sex tapes; pop culture and celebrity behaviors are very diverse, not the monolithic. Either Hollywood isn't nearly as big a puppet-master of youth as Drew presumes, or teens (gasp) actually make good choices and handle diverse media images quite well.

In interviews back in his pre-celebrity, Loveline radio days, Drew staunchly declared that teenagers' biggest challenge was "surviving bad parents." As one who listened to hundreds of Loveline broadcasts, I heard night after night, from teen after teen caller, the poignant and compelling link that also shows up in cold statistics: troubled youths nearly always had parents and adults around them who were physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive, grownups who abused drugs and alcohol, fathers who abandoned their kids, parents who were disarrayed and suffered severe emotional problems. Statistically, bad youth behaviors are not random or universal; they closely track those of adults of their families, communities, socioeconomic groups, and eras.

But that's a rough message for which the new, pop-personality Drew has little stomach. Massive real-world complications he can't explain contradict Dr. Drew's theories, so he simply ignores them and rewrites reality. He now retroactively blames the teen problems he heard on Loveline on "celebrity-saturated" culture (p. 210), even though just about none of the thousands of Loveline callers manifested celebrities or popular culture as any plausible cause of their problems.

In tandem with his growing stardom, Dr. Drew's concerns about child abuse also have deteriorated radically. In the earlier Loveline days, Drew expressed heartfelt, often shocked distress at the severe damage caused by violent, sexual, and emotional abuses inflicted, overwhelmingly by adults, on the large majority of the show's troubled teenage callers. The new Drew still deplores child abuse, but his chief concern in "Mirror Effect" is no longer the devastating damage caused by beatings and rapes themselves, but that abused children are more psychologically vulnerable to corrosive celebrity influences. The Dr. Drew who, back in his more realistic Loveline radio days, declared that behind every troubled teen is an even more troubled parent now depicts parents as battling to save their teens from seductive pop-culture evils. The shift in concern away from real physical violence toward imagined "media" and "pop-culture" harms marks the celebrity-enveloped bubble in which these authors are wrapped.

"Mirror Effect" boils down to an exercise in conceit. Dr. Drew is clearly offended at celebrity excesses (well, those by certain celebrities: he endlessly berates Miley Cyrus for wearing a drape while praising his pal and promoter Oprah Winfrey, who spends $10,000 on eyelashes and features her own picture on every cover of her magazine, as humbly non-narcissistic). Dr. Drew aggrandizes his personal offense at Hollywood images by claiming they "trigger behavior pathology" in weaker souls (p. 11). The authors divide the world into the morally strong (among whom they count themselves and their fans invited to join in pomposity) who intrepidly resist cultural temptations versus the morally weak, who succumb in "monkey see monkey do" fashion to the self-destructive celebrity debasements they crave.

The bizarre paradox is that it is Drs. Drew and Young, whose professions, commentaries, and book demonstrate an unhealthy obsession with the luridly sensationalized foibles of a small number of already-well-berated stars. Dr. Drew's immersion in the world of messed-up entertainers has warped his once acute perceptions, to the point that he now traffics in tabloid gossip and tosses out reckless quips, such as suggesting that Lindsay Lohan's father stuff his daughter's car full of illegal drugs to get her arrested (a harebrained idiocy that likely would have landed several people in prison).

Even by the dubious surveys he presents and misrepresents, teens are not nearly as fascinated with pop personalities and images as Dr. Drew is; very few seem to share the authors' all-consuming belief in irresistible celebrity allure. When teens are asked what they think their biggest challenges are, they sensibly cite the bad economy, war, high cost of education, family breakup, racism, environmental degradation, and other real problems. Almost none cite silly distractions like pop culture.

Drew was right 10 to 15 years ago when he bravely declared that modern teenagers' biggest challenge was to survive an older generation that a wealth of statistics clearly document are the most difficult, troubled parents and adults that young people have ever had to grapple with. That was a difficult, troubling message Americans desperately needed the discipline to confront. Unfortunately, this new book is a made-for-prime-time distraction that, more than anything else, demonstrates the need for Drew to retire from his Hollywood status and rediscover his humbler days.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Great book! Very informative and educational to learn the harm that reality shows are having on our society, and how the over regard for talentless celebrities has really paved a new era of celebrityism. A must read!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This release from the thankfully distinguished MTV and VH-1 (and upcoming CNN) expert on behavior that is not distinguished is probably one of the most important books I have ever read. It's also one of the most relevant, as America's celebrity culture is as inescapable as it is potentially dangerous to those who are most impressionable to its influences. Although many examples of celebrity excess cited in this book will seem a bit obsolete over time, the message is clear to those who watch such people every day and assume that the behavior that makes headlines is the behavior that is most desired by society.

Also, as a bonus, anyone reading the book who may think that they have the disorder predominantly described in the book (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD) can take a certified quiz on the back. That way, if a reader thinks that they themselves have the disorder just by reading about the symptoms (most "normal" people will have quite a few) they can check their score before rushing out for professional help in a frenzy of hypochondria. I was certainly glad to see that, after wondering if the few symptoms I had meant that I had it, I was able to find that I scored far below average. The test itself is said to be not 100% accurate, but it is helpful nonetheless. And so is the rest of the book, which is a truly great work in the study of the parallels of psychology and sociology.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Every few years a different psychological term becomes the insult du jour. Back in the 80s, people called each other "codependent." In the 90s, everyone was accused of being "bipolar." And recently the word "narcissist" has been tossed around to describe anyone who is annoyingly self-centered.

What makes THE MIRROR EFFECT so fascinating is that in this easy-to-read book, the authors (Doctors Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young) define what narcissism really is, why it develops and how it affects both the narcissist and those around him or her. What's more both authors use their access to famous people to illustrate how celebrity narcissism is affecting the greater population. And they scientifically prove that the effects of exposure to celebrity narcissism are dangerous to everyone, though they can have particularly disastrous consequences for tweens and teens.

Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in popular culture or those who enjoy reading about psychological maladies, THE MIRROR EFFECT contends that:

* Narcissism isn't about self-love. On the contrary it is a symptom of self loathing, born from severe childhood trauma and the lack of a healthy sense of self.

* Narcissism is in everyone. All babies, the authors contend, are narcissists who during their first six months of life display all seven narcissistic personality traits. As people develop from babies to toddlers they learn to channel their narcissistic traits in healthy ways. When the child is traumatized and doesn't get proper feedback from their parents, the child may develop unhealthy narcissistic traits.

* When the child begins to display unhealthy narcissistic traits, he or she loses the ability to relate to others with empathy. And instead uses others as a coping mechanism that serves to help the narcissist see him or herself more clearly. Completely lacking an independent sense of self, the narcissist turns the world into a mirror that reflects back an image of who the narcissist is.

* Just like a mirror, as the narcissist attempts to provoke a reaction in the observer, the observer runs the risk of mimicking the actions of the narcissist.

* The explosion of 24-hour a day celebrity media coverage, we are exposed to increasing access to dangerous celebrity behavior. This behavior is simultaneously escalating from mildly outrageous to downright frightening.

* Those same seven personality traits that define narcissism predispose people to wanting to be celebrities and to be successful in seeking fame.

* Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to mimicking outrageous celebrity behavior. This mimicry fosters a lack of empathy and a troubling inability to connect emotionally with others. As a result of this vulnerability, we see an explosion of amateur sex tapes, sexual explicit text messages and extraordinarily nasty comments on the boards of celebrity-obsessed blogs like TMZ and Perez Hilton.

* Rather than rip to shreds the celebrities who make mistakes and suffer public embarrassment, the authors contend that we must feel empathy for the celebrity or run the risk of suffering from narcissist rage ourselves.

-- Regina McMenamin
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Drew has put together a poorly-conceived book based on the weak premise that in the past few years celebrities have suddenly become narcissists. He claims at the start that he wants to help our culture be rid of tabloid-type tales that can negatively influence fans--then he proceeds to spend page after page rehashing celebrity problems in the very tabloid style he condemns.

These types of tabloid stories have been around since the start of the modern entertainment era early in the 20th century. The author (and his writing partner) ignores the fact that there were often worse scandals made public in previous times (Elizabeth Taylor, etc.). The few times they do mention long gone stars they only stereotype them with no solid evidence presented (Elvis was "strung out" on drugs, Cary Grant was "gay or bisexual").

He tries to summarize the reality show phenomenon, claiming that the Real World merely showed an "authentic mirror of their personal experiences." (If he thinks the Real World is reality, then he needs to get out of the business.) He then slams other reality shows that he claims make narcissistic stars behave badly (ignoring the fact that just about everyone on these series have moments of bad behavior when the camera is turned on and the subject edited in a certain way). But to top it all off he claims that his Celebrity Rehab show is different--done "to humanize the celebrities" and "provide context" to their "outrageous and inconceivable behavior." Ummmm...Dr. Drew's program uses those strung-out stars to make him a small fortune and if anything he is more guilty than other shows of wallowing in the very celebrity culture he condemns.

After 87 pages of gossip rehash, he finally gets to the book's subject. And it feels like a different book. The discussion of narcissism becomes almost clinical and he tries to give tips on helping readers with narcissism. Most of it is common sense and after awhile it seems like he is overstating the problem or choosing to ignore the real issues.

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory test that he uses to base most of his conclusions is only 40 questions long (included in the book), where you pick one of two choices for each. The self-administered exam is meaningless, especially when you discover that Howard Stern got below the national average. Pinsky's promise to reveal the scores of "celebrities" amounts to only a few D-listers, like Pauly Shore, Adam Carolla and Chelsea Handler. It is a very incomplete way to approach the subject. (Pinksy, of course, scores right about average on the test!)

There are some research studies quoted, but many have almost nothing to do with narcissism. It's interesting that the actual subject of the book isn't dealt with much, even though he tries to make the jump from these studies and tabloid stories to his own conclusions about young people mirroring what they see celebrities do.

He very briefly hints at the steps needed to help young people avoid mirroring the famous, such as stronger parental control and increasing moral values. But those are a few sentences hidden near the end of the book.

He never makes the single most important suggestion he could possible make--turn off the TV and stop reading the tabloids! Those are his meal ticket to his own fame, therefore he avoids recommending that.

In the end the problem isn't the celebrity behavior or narcissism but the media, and that issue is not adequately addressed in the book. As long as multiple magazines publish the trashy photos or television networks air shows that are edited in such a way to promote outlandish behavior, there will always be readers and viewers wanting to copy what they see. The solution therefore is to encourage media responsibility (from both the creators and the consumers), which is avoided in this book because that would infringe on Pinsky's own cash cow.

As for narcissism, it ultimately has to do with what's on a person's inside--but this book mostly addresses what stars & fans do on the outside. It rehashes their bad behavior and then draws conclusions that the behavior is caused by narcissism. That is a gross misdiagnosis. Instead it appears that celebrities want fame and that drives them to do outrageous things in public in order to have their fame increase and be reinforced. Oprah herself admitted that her goal in life wasn't to be a talk host or newscaster or even actress--it was to be famous. That's something that is beyond the narcissism discussed here.

Pinksy is a hypocrite, claiming to want to rid society of these negative role models, yet using those very celebrities to become rich and famous himself by bringing them on his radio and TV shows. If you have ever watched him on Larry King you know that the guy loves the limelight and is totally focused on his own image in front of the camera. He could have written more about his own struggles, but instead throws many of the people he "treats" under the bus in the book, the same way he does on his broadcasts. When you break it down he is guilty of riding the coattails of the famous to become famous himself.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Here is my premise, please feel free to skip: To be honest, I don't don't really like Dr. Drew very much, but I do think that he is a good physician. I also feel that educating the general public on the disastrous repercussions of drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, and other self-destructive behaviors that effect millions of people is paramount in addressing these problems. However, it is my opinion that television shows such as Celebrity Rehab and 16 and Pregnant are actually detrimental, considering the target audience. By sensationalizing chronic drug abuse among celebrities and other peers of the target audience, not only does the care of the patients suffer, the intended message of the dangers of drug abuse is diminished. As a medical professional, I feel as though all of these shows undermine the severity of these disease, and are more about entertainment and ratings than rehabilitation and care.

Now, as for the book: I think this book is very well written and makes some excellent points about how celebrities' behavior and constant media coverage of such behavior is become destructive to children, adolescents, and families. The emergence of "celeb-utants", who derive fame from drug use, sex-tapes, and other late-night antics set an awful example for young people. Added to the fact that their celebrity status leads to essentially no legal consequences (such as less than hour in jail), impressionable young people are imprinted with the notion that success and irresponsible behavior are not mutually exclusive. I know that this sounds like a ridicule by a cynically, out-of-touch loser, and maybe that is true. But I am also a medical professional and am younger than most of the people referenced in the group.

I feel as though though this book takes an important step away from sensationalizing the abhorrent behavior exhibited by many celebrities and takes a more realistic and pertinent reflection on how manage them. It is also appropriate for young adults, who are the primary beneficiaries of the book. I would recommend this book for parents; read it, and then give it to your teenage kids to read. It's not a "shock and awe" book meant to instill fear in readers, but rather provides relevant educational content that is useful to a large demographic.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
No matter how much we try not to be, we're all exposed to the celebrity culture in some form or another. Even if it's only peripherally, we follow the exploits of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears as they careen from one tabloid breakdown to the next, never seeming to stop to even take a breath. Dr. Drew Pinsky has counselled many celebrities through their addictions and other psychoses, so he's a man who knows what he's talking about. But is all of this celebrity detritus affecting us as a society? Dr. Drew (as he's commonly known) addresses this subject in The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America. This is an excellent book describing not only how excessively narcissistic celebrities are creating their own downfall, but also affecting the broader cultural and societal mental health as well.

One of the major points Dr. Drew wants to make is to define narcissism. It doesn't generally mean what we believe it to mean. To quote the back cover (as well as somewhere in the book): "What is narcissism? It's not what you think it is: It's not ego. It's not self-love. It's self-loathing. Envy. Insecurity. Self-destruction." Narcissistic people create images of themselves to broadcast to the world, trying desperately to have those images be loved by the general populace or by their peers. Deep down, they are insecure and don't think much of themselves. Narcissistic celebrities inflict these psychoses onto society at large, and many times it brings them to (or even over) the brink of disaster.

Dr. Drew has had many celebrities as patients, both in his well-received television shows like "Celebrity Rehab" as well as in his private practice. As he should, he avoids talking about any details he may have learned via those routes, except in the most general terms ("some patients..." etc). Those he hasn't counselled, though, he does do his best to analyze in this book. He brings up the usual suspects mentioned above, as well as Nicole Ritchie and others who seem to be at home in the tabloids. A study he and his co-author, Dr. S. Mark Young, conducted about celebrity narcissism is also included, where a narcissism survey was given to 200 celebrities (142 males and 58 females) as well as to 200 MBA students (same gender make-up). This test demonstrated that celebrities are generally 17 percent more narcissistic than the general population. Pinsky then goes on to break down the results by gender, profession (actor, reality-show star, musician, comedian) and other ways. This was extremely interesting to read about, and even more interesting that some celebrities consented to have their scores made public (Howard Stern is only 15 out of 40, with 40 being the most narcissistic?)

The most important part of the book, however, is how this celebrity narcissism is affecting the rest of us. This quote brings it all home to me:

"The interdependence between celebrities and the media is a dangerous bargain. The more a celebrity attracts the attention of the media, the more famous he or she becomes. The more dysfunctionally the celebrity behaves, the more interest he or she generates from the tabloids. The more the audience finds out, the more we want to know. And the cost of it all - to the vulnerable celebrities on one side of the mirror, and the impressionable viewers on the other - is impossible to estimate." Pg 41-42

As Pinsky points out, we all have narcissistic tendencies in one form or another, but most of us are able to channel those tendencies into positive things. However, the "Mirror Effect", as Pinsky calls it, of the constant media barrage of celebrity bad and narcissistic behavior, is very likely to affect those of us who already are leaning toward narcissism. Pinsky defines the Mirror Effect as "a tendency to obsess over those damaging celebrity stories - and mirror them back in our own behaviors." Impressionable children and teenagers, already "fraught with insecurity and hardwired for constant drama" see constant celebrity bad behavior, behavior that is largely excused or not punished, and start acting in a similar fashion. Since they idolize the celebrity and see their bad behavior lead to more fame rather than consequences, they start to feel like that it's ok to act like that as well.

The media comes under heavy criticism in The Mirror Effect. Pinsky talks about how, in the past, Hollywood stars' private lives were actually kept private, except for strictly controlled snippets to keep fans interested. The studios and the media were complicit in this, hiding homosexuality, love affairs, and other misbehavior. Now, the media is all over a juicy story as soon as a rumor comes up, covering it in all its gory details, and seemingly reveling in the celebrity's misfortune. The media builds the celebrity into a star, and then it does its best to tear them down. Many in the general public follow the rise and fall of these people with bated breath as well, finding the final collapse of the star exhilarating. They never seem to think about the psychoses the star may have that are causing this behavior, never wondering what might be going wrong.

Pinsky does an excellent job of bringing all this together, first concentrating on the celebrities themselves and then bringing it into society itself. He talks about whether or not becoming a celebrity creates narcissistic tendencies in said person or whether the tendencies themselves cause the person to try and become a celebrity. It's an interesting question, and I find I agree with his answers to it. Pinsky then ends the book with helpful tips for parents who are raising teenagers, to hopefully avoid having them succumb to the Mirror Effect trap.

The only real flaw I could see in The Mirror Effect is that Pinsky has a tendency to repeat information in an annoying fashion, sometimes just a few pages after he's first mentioned it. I don't mind an author doing this when it's the point he/she is repeatedly stressing, but I'm mainly speaking about general information in this criticism. Sometimes authors seem to repeat factual information to support their point, seemingly not realizing that we already know this because the same information was given to us 20 pages ago. Pinsky isn't a big offender in this category, but he did do it enough to make me roll my eyes a bit.

That doesn't detract from the valuable points that Pinsky is making, though. I don't follow celebrity culture religiously, but it's impossible to avoid when it makes mainstream news as well. I have to say that a few times when I've seen a major figure self-destruct in front of the cameras, I've had a "wow, she deserved that" feeling in my head even as I moved on to something else. It's residual, but it's there. The Mirror Effect has changed that for me. While the automatic reaction may be hard to eliminate from my mind, my second thought will be "I wonder why he/she is doing that." I don't believe there is any way to turn back the clock and stop the media "up and down" cycle of celebrity coverage, but books like Dr. Drew's will hopefully help make it so the celebrity problem doesn't expand into even more of a societal problem than it already is. At least we've taken some baby steps in that direction.

Originally published on Curled Up With a Good Book © David Roy, 2009
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