The Greek myth of Narcissus tells of a young man who saw his own reflection in a pool of water, and was so entranced that he fell in love with it. Eventually, realising it was himself he loved, and that he could never have the object of his desire, he committed suicide. I don’t know how long he stared before he realised, but the pool must have been pretty still to not give the game away, unless he thought his lover had a naturally wavy face. I guess the moral is either A – never look at your own reflection or B – if you do, for god’s sake have the wherewithal to recognise it.
You may think you know where I’m going with this. “Oh I get it. You’re saying we’re all Narcissus aren’t you, because we look at ourselves a lot?” Well no that’s not what I was going to say, and please don’t predict the narrative progress of my blog, because mostly there isn’t one. Plus I’m pretty sure no-one’s killed themselves because they’ve fallen in love with their own reflection. And in fact, if Narcissus was born now, he’d either kill himself at a much younger age i.e. the first time his mother took a selfie with him, perhaps mere hours after birth, or he’d get on Instagram, pout for the fans, and the likes and comments rolling in would periodically quell the pain of not having his photos love him back.
Alright yes, I am saying we’re all Narcissus, what a shock.
I think vanity comes in various forms, depending on what we value in ourselves that we wish others would recognise. We tend to think of physical appearance; wanting to be attractive and so putting on makeup, going to the gym, not picking our nose in front of sexy people. Most of us are preoccupied with how we look a lot of the time. I’ve certainly been guilty of it. I’ll fluctuate between periods of trying not to give a shit, allowing myself to leave the house wearing whatever’s comfortable, and not shaving for three weeks (which in my case leaves me with almost-noticeable stubble) and periods of going to the gym four times a week, puffing myself up like a cartoon pigeon, and not shaving for three weeks, but trying to make it look like it’s only been three days. When I think I look good, yes it does make me happier, more secure, but I know it shouldn’t.
We should at least try to recognise when we’re behaving like this though. You’ll often hear people condemning gym-goers to the tune of “people at the gym are always doing X, and they always look like Y” with the detail that only comes from being a gym-frequenter themselves. It’s the adult equivalent of playing heads down thumbs up and telling the teacher when you see someone with their eyes open.
“Thank you for telling me Tim, but the only way you could have known is if you’re a psychic, a hypocrite, or you have transparent eyelids.”
At least have the honesty to admit your own vanity though. Just do what I do and smugly decide that you’re better than everyone else at the gym because the only mirror you pose in front of is the one in your bathroom. You would pose in the mirror in your bedroom, but you don’t have a mirror in your bedroom, because you don’t want people to think you’re vain.
Physical vanity aside, we basically have a desire to feel special in any other way we can. A good example of this is to ask any one of your friends which famous person they share a birthday with. Nine times out of ten they’ll be able to name one or two people, allowing themselves a quick smirk of pride if the person is particularly well-known. Again, I’m not condemning, I do it too, but I really don’t know what conclusions anyone is supposed to draw from the fact I share a birthday with Leonardo DiCaprio. Are you impressed? If you like him, do you now like me? If I concentrate hard enough could I become him? My dad shares his birthday with Freddie Mercury and they both have a moustache. Is that magic?
Social media is great for this sort of thing, attributing information and trivialities to yourself in the hope of being more interesting. Someone posted a link recently to a site that would tell you what movie was number one on the day you were born. Like a zombie who feeds on dopamine instead of brains, I followed the link, and found that the number one movie on my birthday was Child’s Play 2. For some reason I was actually disappointed. As though whatever film was out that day is a reflection on me. Being a younger sibling, am I in some ways a disappointing sequel? Does my life have the veneer of something innocent and playful, while actually hiding something sinister beneath?
No of course not, but if the number one movie had been Goodfellas, released only a couple of months before, I’d probably have a misplaced sense of pride, and some idiotic notion that I played some part in it.
But this is how we try to define ourselves. People like to put themselves in boxes, especially if those boxes are labelled in such a way as to suggest they are outside of other boxes. But I think the only worthwhile pride is the sort you’ve earned from things you’ve done, made or accomplished. It makes little sense to be proud of things that happened by accident, like the country you were born in. I’m not proud to be English. I’m glad I’m English, because it affords me a lot of privileges that people from other countries don’t get, but pride suggests a level of smugness about it. The proudest nation is surely America, where patriotism is not as associated with jingoism and racism as it is here, although from our perspective it still looks mental. But in fairness, I worked tirelessly to convince my parents to birth me in England. I endeavoured to be white, so I could have a much easier life. And I made sure I was born into a middle class family.
I’m so proud.
Next time on the Bandwagon, to mark my twentieth blog entry, I’ll be live blogging along to the aggressive screams outside my bedroom window on Saturday nights. Don’t miss it!