Narcissistic Young Women Portrayed in US Media

An HBO series about four young women several years out of college, inspired by Sex in the City (1998 to 2004), Girls (began in 2012) strengthens the narcissistic side of the debate, a devolution away from the confidence and humor of the older friends show. (Another spin off of Sex in the City by the same writer was a prequel launched in 2012 called The Carrie Diaries about the fashionable star as a high school student in the early 1980s.) The creator and writer of Girls and lead actor, Lena Dunham, stated in an NPR radio interview, “each character is a piece of me or someone close to me.”[i] In her book of essays published when she was 28 (similar to her character Hannah’s proposed book), of Girl (2014) Dunham she refers to herself as, “I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.” She concludes with advice lacking in profoundity, “don’t put yourself in situations you’d like to run away from.” Feminist blogs such as Jezebel “staffed largely by people Dunham’s age, can’t kick her enough. The biggest complaint about her is that she represents all that is wrong with an over-privileged, nepotistic, Caucasian-focused slice of America,” writes Hadley Freeman in The Guardian who calls the book “clit lit.”[ii] TIME Magazine selected her as one of the 100 most influential people of 2014.

Dunham described Hannah as a brat who usually makes the wrong decisions, as when she bombs a job interview by making a joke that the rape rate went up after the interviewer entered his university and drinks opium tea and then passes out while trying to convince her parents to continue supporting her two years after graduation. The narcissistic wrong decisions continue in Season 3 when Hannah gets fired from a writing job at GQ magazine and springs news on Adam just before his Broadway debut as an actor that she may leave NYC, Shoshanna fails a college class so she can’t graduate, Marnie has sex with Shoshanna’s ex-boyfriend (who Shoshanna wants back) and flirts with a musician who is in a committed relationship. Hannah says the last four years of her life were “a total wash.” More examples of self-absorbed and foolish characters from Girls are on the book website.[iii]

A 2014 film Laggies features another confused and narcissistic 28-year old. Megan, played by Keira Knightley, buys alcohol for teens, pals around with 16-year-old Annika and lies to her father, goes to her high school prom, gets drunk with her father and has sex with him while engaged to her high school boyfriend. Although she has a therapist graduate degree, she didn’t relate to her clients during training, and is working part-time for her father waving a sign and dancing in front of his office. In the end she breaksup with her fiancé in the airport on the way to elope in Los Vegas because he sent their photo to their group of friends who she decides to break away from. She then brings liquor to Annika’s father and is embraced by him and the movie ends.

Another HBO series that began in 2014 features equally self-involved men about the same age as Girls. Three techie geeks live in Silicon Valley in the “Hacker Hostel” home of a more experienced app creator, Erlich, who gets 10% of what his tenants sell. Jared, another partner in their startup Pied Piper lives elsewhere. Erlich is arrogant and insulting. The guys are socially awkward, struggle with masculinity, amazed if a dozen girls show up at a party and that they always end up together at one side of the room. Only one of them has a girlfriend. Richard programmed the algorithm that created Pied Piper; he has anxiety attacks and vomits. One woman is an assistant to her boss, but we don’t see other employed women. Youth is valued: the guys call in a high school boy to help them with their cloud technology. He scornfully asks how old Richard is, as if 25 if over the hill. The teen relies on the ADHD drug Adderall to stay alert, and says half the kids in Palo Alto are similar. To keep him going, Erlich threatens to kill a boy’s mother unless he gets six pills and he complies. Another value is “disruption,” the theme of a conference on the show. Shows are available online.[iv]


[ii] Hadley Freeman, “Not That Kind of Girl Review—Lena Dunham Exposes All, Again,” The Guardian, September 30, 2014.




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