The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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David Brooks figures out Mel Gibson's real problem: He's a narcissist!

July 16, 2010 |  4:13 pm

Mel_gibson If you're Mel Gibson, you know you're really in trouble when your epic ranting misadventures take the leap from the showbiz blogosphere and tabloids to the august New York Times Op-Ed pages, where the Times' house conservative David Brooks nails the rage-filled actor as the quintessential modern-day narcissist.

It is not a pretty picture, especially with Brooks quietly linking Gibson's much-vaunted religiosity to his delusional behavior. As Brooks unsparingly describes it, Gibson is an archetypal narcissist:

"His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage. And because he plays by different rules, and because so much is at stake, he can be uninhibited in response. Everyone gets angry when they feel their self-worth is threatened, but for the narcissist, revenge is a holy cause and a moral obligation, demanding overwhelming force."

What's really sad is that as someone who's spent years in the showbiz trenches, I could easily name another 400 people -- not just movie and TV stars and pop singers and hip-hop artists, but studio executives, filmmakers (oh-so-many of them, trust me), movie producers and agents who fit the type to a T as well. I always felt that there was something about show business that especially acted like a magnet for the narcissistic personality types, but after hanging out with some reporters who cover famous athletes and Washington politicians, I'm persuaded that this has a lot more to do with the entitlement of celebrity in general than with any particularly venal showbiz values.

In fact, I was reminded of just how narcissistic politicians can be when I read today about Aaron Sorkin optioning the rights to "The Politician," the book by John Edwards aide Andrew Young, which details the messy inside story of working for Edwards and being asked to take responsibility for the love child Edwards fathered with his kooky mistress and videographer Rielle Hunter.

Back when Edwards was first considering a presidential run, I was having lunch with David Geffen when, of all people, Rob Reiner brought Edwards over to Geffen's table to meet the well-connected DreamWorks mogul. Edwards slid into the booth and had a lengthy conversation with Geffen about his presidential aspirations. It was a conversation that almost instantly -- since Edwards wasn't on his guard, having no idea I was a reporter -- revealed the man who was supposed to be a die-hard "There are two Americas"-style idealist to be in actuality a shallow, self-absorbed smoothie of the highest order. And not half as shrewd or smart as Geffen, who, having spent plenty of time around Bill Clinton (a much smarter first-class smoothie), was clearly underwhelmed by Edwards.

Narcissism will get you in trouble every time, whether you're Mel Gibson, John Edwards or Alex Rodriguez. Eventually people see through the facade and get a whiff of the all-about-me person inside. The most depressing part of Brooks' column comes at the end, where he makes the case that we, as a country, suffer from a rampant form of self-esteem inflation. According to current sociological data, in 1950 thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an "important" person; 12% said yes.  In the late 1980s, roughly the same amount of teens were asked the same question; 80% of the girls and 77 % of the boys said yes.

That's almost as scary as anything you can hear on the Mel Gibson tapes. Americans have gone Hollywood. We are surrounded by people dangerously in love with themselves.


Photo: Mel Gibson with Oksana Grigorieva in February at the premiere of "Edge of Darkness." Credit: Jacques Brinon / Associated Press