Narcissus contemplating his reflection in the spring
Today’s BBC site headlines with the very distressing story of Brian Blackwell, a bright 19-year-old from Liverpool who savagely murdered his elderly parents and then went on a £30,000 ($54,000) spending spree in America with his girlfriend. The reason given for his action was “narcissistic personality disorder”. The condition was described by the prosecutor at the trial as:
" … a diagnosis that is very rarely used for someone as young as Brian Blackwell"
I wonder if that’s true. Brian Blackwell is eerily reminiscent of Sef Gonzales, a 21-year-old Filipino Australian who also callously massacred his parents and threw in his sister for good measure. He too purchased luxury goods with his dead parents' money immediately after committing his guesome act (including a Porsche and a Lexus SC430) and, tellingly, 15 different bottles of aftershave. Gonzales was, like Blackwell, a fantasist with an obsessive desire for material possessions and an overwhelming desire to lead “the good life” to which he felt entitled.
"This was the same young man who was able to stand in front of the coffins of his family, deliver a eulogy for his father and sing, eyes closed, with no accompaniment, the Mariah Carey/Boyz II Men duet One Sweet Day. ... A feeling of intense strangeness rippled through the church that day; it seemed to confirm what police knew. It jarred in the minds of friends. "He seemed sad, but so calm at the funeral," said one. "There were the three caskets in front of him holding the mutilated bodies of his family and he started to sing . . . it was really strange."
Much as I enjoy lambasting the lax morals of the younger generation, I’m not sure that we can pin the narcissistic and disordered personalities of Blackwell and Gonzales on MTV, the consumer society, and the usual whipping boys for bizarre crimes of the modern world. Unfortunately, selfishness and delusion are in all of us to a degree (except for me of course). And if they are part of the human condition, then there is a good chance that in some people they will predominate. What about Hamlet and all the pain he caused?
What do you think? Slightly reversing my position, I think it would be hard to deny that we live in very narcissistic times, or at least that narcissism, which used to be mainly enjoyed by those with the money and leisure to contemplate their beautiful features, is now open to more of us. In that case, perhaps the context in which impressionable young men like Blackwell and Gonzales found themselves helped to legitimize their self-love, with the terrible consequences we have seen. The photo from Gonzales's website that accompanies this article--which has a sickening quality, given what we now know--certainly seems to owe a lot to MTV.