The first time the “I, Me, My” syndrome caught my attention was about 20 years ago when I was asked to read and comment on the artist statement of a BFF (not really forever). It was hard to comment on the writing because it was overloaded with “I this,” and “Me that,” and “My blah-blah.” The heights of self-centered conceit overwhelmed her message. It was nauseating. Ick!
The next time was when Windows labeled the hard drive “My Computer,” and the document folder “My Documents.” It made me cringe. Imagine hearing in a whiney high-pitched voice, “My computer.” “My documents.” “My dolly.” “My little dump truck.” How kindergarden. (As were the garish kiddie kolors of the user interface.) Infantilism designed by adults, for adults. Ick!
You may also recall Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2006: You. (Reflexively I, Me, My.) Ick!
Over the years it’s only gotten worse. The “I, Me, My” syndrome is pervasive and perverse. It’s juvenile “social media.” It’s my updates. It’s, “Looky me, Ima big boy.“
And the sophomoric narcissism has trickled up into politics and journalism.
This subject is one of the central concerns of a new book by New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich titled This Town. A biting indictment of the “I, Me, My” incest fest raging in Washington D.C. (and across the country) among politicians, the media, and consumers. Leibovich outlines through his first hand experiences how the avalanche of money has smothered democracy and most any chance of beneficial change in the US capital. How grotesque vanity and hubris is feeding on itself to lock-in the status quo. He exposes the veneer of spin and the superficial fronts put on by elected officials with the full support of the enabling media. Controlling the message and spilling out self-gossip “leaked” for immediate media consumption is the job of personal press secretaries. They fabricate stories prepackaged for pseudo-news publishers to pump up the image of their employers who desperately need the continuous publicity to feed their addiction to external validation. There are strong hints that the extreme polarization in Washington is mostly a charade put on by US power brokers to stymie the legislative process and to stoke the newsrooms with entertainment fuel for ersatz debate. It reveals how the talk of downsizing government is swaggering pretense, a perpetual smokescreen to distract the electorate from the fact that the monster, fed by lobbyists with mainstream media collusion (read multinationals), keeps getting bigger and bigger as it strangles public services, education, scientific research, and other valuable federal and state programs. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Meaningless catch phrase talking points, such as, “fiscal cliff” and “the sequester,” generated by D.C. flacks are deliberate red herrings, more made-to-order banter for the talking head “pundits.” (Another hot word being thrown about and brought to its knees to wallow in the awesomeness of the absurd.) How the “liberal media” (a perennial hot button) is now dominated by vacuous, Hollywood-style gossip reporting—just more exaggerated intrigue to keep viewers on an artificial edge, eyes on the screen; to keep those advertising revenues flowing, big salaries and profits for the big names in broadcasting; to keep the news cycle humming, an outlet for politicians’ posturing; to keep the publicity machine cranking, ego boosts for everyone; to keep This Town looking important, and for everyone’s “brand” to get monetized. (Everyone meaning those in The Club.) He tells us about the multitudinous D.C. parties lavishly celebrating their spoils, but mostly celebrating themselves (read I, Me, My). It’s hard to believe Mark was able to maintain a light tone throughout the book, at times frivolous, and at times even funny, or perhaps it’s the antics of the people in Washington that are laughable—if you dare suspend disbelief. The blur of fact and fiction swirling in the Capital is so completely dizzying there’s little chance of sorting through which is what or who’s on the side of this is that. (Not errata.) Everything is made to appear to seem like a quasi mirage moving faster than light while the actors casually buzz about pretending to look busy while doing little more than touching up their makeup. The spectacle of misdirected attention puts on an assumed hyper-fast tracked, uber-cool game of king of the hill. You’re it.
After a pre-release announcement was made shortly before completing the book for publication, Leibovich got a load of emails. In his own words—
I was inundated with queries from people, some through intermediaries, about how they or their clients would be portrayed. Others were worried that they would not be in the book at all. Still others wanted to make sure I would be “taking down” so-and-so in some way, because he/she deserved it. And, by the way, if I took out that tiny thing about them, they would give me something better about one of their “friends.”
This pre-release freak-out was itself a corroborating data point: not the most flattering study of This Town doing its vainglorious bidding, in other words. Everyone was so convinced of their outsize place in the grimy ecosystem that, surely, this book had to be about them.
The whole of This Book is, to a degree, itself an outsize gossip column—part exposé, part self-caricature. Mark fills the book with chatty trifles, name dropping, and the kind of lavish detail good liars use to embellish their stories. It reads as true, as a matter of fact, but the line between fact or fiction, detail or embellishment, comes across as a wide swath of doubt. Just the way This Town wants you to think.
Warning : Don’t read This Town if you have high blood pressure, chronic heart disease, or are prone to road rage. Consult your doctor if you are taking other medications, own a reptile, have allergic reactions to dark colored pinstripe suits. Wearing of white shirts while reading could reduce efficacy. Do not operate heavy machinery, handle sharp objects, or be within arm’s reach of bricks or other masonry materials while reading. If you feel any positive affects, such as, giddiness, giggles, or unbearable lightness of being, discontinue use immediately and call your psychiatrist.
This Town, Mark Leibovich, Blue Rider Press/Penguin Group, 2013