Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The New Narcissus

The act of blogging is perhaps one of the more extreme acts of narcissism. Media discourse uses warm, communal words when describing the phenomenon - words like "sharing thoughts" or "joining the blogosphere" -- but that's not quite it. Bloggers tell the world: "I have something to say. I am going to say it. You are going to listen, and you WILL find interesting."

We need people to listen to us. Rebecca Beuhausen, an ordinary 26-year-old from the Midwest, collected an extensive following as she chronicled the experience of a doomed pregnancy. Thousands sent her condolences, sought her advice, and even sent gifts -- baby clothes, baby blankets, tiny knit booties. According to various news organizations, over a million people logged onto the blog after the birth to catch a glimpse of the infant who had, according to Beuhasen, lived only a few hours. And so when it turned out the entire thing was a hoax, people were devastated. They demanded some sort of retribution. Angry readers were interviewed on cable news, their brows resolutely furrowed. Nobody could understand why she had done it.

What Beuhasen did was terrible, obviously. She stole from people -- their time, their emotions, and those pretty knit playthings. She played on the sentiments of those who had actually suffered similar losses. But Beuhasen was looking for something we all want -- someone to listen. She just took the normal to an unforgivable extreme.

Bloggers are simply people who decide that their thoughts are worth reading. Maybe those thoughts are, maybe they aren't. But naturally, the endeavor is an attractive one. Twitter was my gateway drug. How thrilling that 48 people knew I had just picked a filling out from between my molars! How refreshing to be able to share the intimate details of the pain in my left nostril!

Eventually, I too had to join the crowds of 21st century Narcissi, gazing rapturously at their own reflections.