Still Ill: Narcissism is Sick Again

Terrible news! Call off the Xmas Party at Men’s Health magazine! Cancel the male strip­pers and the buck­ets of (low-fat) blancmange!

Self-love isn’t going to be rehab­il­it­ated after all. At least not by the shrinks. Professionally speak­ing, it will remain the love the dare not speak its name — even as the cul­ture screams noth­ing else.

According to this piece by Jennifer Allen in The Sunday Telegraph, in the face of strong cri­ti­cism, the American Psychiatric Association has back­tracked on its plan to remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the new edi­tion of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Allen sug­gests the reason they tried to de-list nar­ciss­ism in the first place was not down to any recog­ni­tion of how ‘nor­mal’ nar­ciss­ism has become in the world out­side the con­sult­ing room, but because of the American psy­chi­at­ric trend to bio­lo­gise men­tal ill­ness (‘Baby, I was born this way’) and pre­scribe drugs instead of the ‘inter­min­able’ talk­ing cure.

Allen isn’t impressed though by the APA’s backtracking:

I find the volte-face dis­may­ing, not because I’m for pre­scrib­ing drugs and against talk­ing cures. You don’t need to be a psy­chi­at­rist to see that nar­ciss­ism has shif­ted from a patho­lo­gical con­di­tion to a norm, if not a means of survival.

Narcissism appears as a neces­sity in a soci­ety of the spec­tacle, which runs from Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” pre­dic­tion through real­ity tele­vi­sion and self-promotion to YouTube hits.

Well, quite. But then, I would agree as I’ve been say­ing this for years, darling.

Perhaps, being some­what cyn­ical, the objec­tion to de-listing NPD was driven pre­cisely by the ubi­quity of nar­ciss­ism. It’s cer­tainly a growth market.

I don’t doubt that NPD, or some­thing akin to it exists, and can be an extremely unpleas­ant exper­i­ence both for the suf­ferer and those they come into con­tact with – here in the UK we’re only just get­ting over Tony Blair. But even before the advent of Big Brother, Facebook, iPhones and Immac for Men the symp­toms of NPD were vague and com­mon enough fail­ings to be applied to almost any­one who had any­thing about them.

Or, to quote Gore Vidal, any­one bet­ter look­ing than you. According to the DSM ‘nar­ciss­ists also tend to be phys­ic­ally attract­ive on first impres­sion, giv­ing them advant­ages when first meet­ing people’.

Here’s the full list of NPD sins provided by the DSM:

  • Has a gran­di­ose sense of self-importance
  • Is pre­oc­cu­pied with fantas­ies of unlim­ited suc­cess, power, bril­liance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “spe­cial” and unique and can only be under­stood by, or should asso­ci­ate with, other spe­cial or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excess­ive admiration
  • Has a sense of enti­tle­ment, i.e., unreas­on­able expect­a­tions of espe­cially favor­able treat­ment or auto­matic com­pli­ance with his or her expectations
  • Is inter­per­son­ally exploit­at­ive, i.e., takes advant­age of oth­ers to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwill­ing to recog­nize or identify with the feel­ings and needs of others
  • Is often envi­ous of oth­ers or believes oth­ers are envi­ous of him or her
  • Shows arrog­ant, haughty beha­vi­ors or attitudes

If you thought that just five of these symp­toms might apply to you, then you may have NPD. If you found that they all apply to you then you’re prob­ably in prison serving a very long stretch indeed or have your own TV cook­ery show and super­mar­ket endorse­ment deal.

Though I sup­pose a psy­chi­at­rist would prob­ably say that someone with NPD would likely not be able to recog­nise those traits in them­selves. At any rate, that’s what I’m telling myself.

So if you found that none of these traits applied to you then you’re prob­ably Jesus Christ. Or Barbara Streisand.

Tartphones

Martin Lindstrom writ­ing in The NYT today (‘You Love your iPhone. Literally.’) claims to have found evid­ence, using fancy-pants neuro-imaging tech­no­logy, that people are not ‘addicted’ to their smart­phones as is com­monly sug­ges­ted, but rather, ‘love’ them.

And not, like, iron­ic­ally. Or like ‘I heart my iPhone’. But like they love a per­son. Or how they used to love a per­son. Before iPhones replaced people.

But most strik­ing of all was the flurry of activ­a­tion in the insu­lar cor­tex of the brain, which is asso­ci­ated with feel­ings of love and com­pas­sion. The sub­jects’ brains respon­ded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the pres­ence or prox­im­ity of a girl­friend, boy­friend or fam­ily member.

In short, the sub­jects didn’t demon­strate the clas­sic brain-based signs of addic­tion. Instead, they loved their iPhones.

When the iPhone was launched in 2007 I dia­gnosed its appeal, without the use of neuro-imaging tech­no­logy, or even access to the actual product, as being a form of nar­ciss­ism. Takes one to know one, I guess. The clue is in the ‘i’, of course:

Imagine the per­fect relationship.

Imagine a rela­tion­ship so per­fect that it will be the only one you need. One that is bet­ter and cooler and smarter than all the rest. A rela­tion­ship that will make you the envy of your friends and the centre of atten­tion at din­ner parties. Imagine a rela­tion­ship that is entirely con­trolled by you.

A rela­tion­ship, in fact, that is – finally! – all about YOU(I know I have).

Imagine the iPhone. The per­fect lover. The per­fect friend. The per­fect child. The per­fect access­ory. The per­fect kit. The per­fect kick. Walking, talk­ing tech­no­sexual porn.

Not for­get­ting of course that by put­ting t’internet and GPS nav­ig­a­tion in your pants, smart­phones make it much easier to ‘stray’, or ‘cheat’ on any­one you might still be hav­ing an actual, real-time, old-time rela­tion­ship with. Or just pur­sue dis­creetly your hitherto hid­den fantas­ies. To find out more about you. Which is an end­lessly fas­cin­at­ing story, naturally.

And no mat­ter how many people you hook up with through your tart­phone you’ll always remain faith­ful – to your phone.

The iPhone is really the Iphone. It’s a dir­ect line to your­self. Now, isn’t that a call we all want to take?

I now have a smart­phone myself, natch. And because I have a cer­tain knee-jerk dis­dain for the ‘gor­geous­ness’ of Apple so lauded by most of my media friends — and didn’t fancy a love-triangle with Steve Jobs — I picked up a more homely-looking Android (Samsung Galaxy S). Like most more homely-looking lov­ers, it works a lot harder at pleas­ing me.

And, yes, we’re very much in love, thanks for ask­ing. Until the next upgrade.

Tip: DAKrolak

Men’s Health Staff Celebrate News That Narcissism Is No Longer an Illness

I jest of course. The staff at Men’s Health wish they looked like that.

Even if I’m sure quite a few of them dance like that – when the read­ers can’t see them (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell may be about to be repealed in the US Armed Forces, but not any time soon at Men’s Health pub­lisher Rodale Inc.).

The top­less, some­what top-heavy chaps mim­ing to Kylie in the vid are actu­ally mod­els from a gay porn out­fit. The clip is called ‘A Tribute to Kylie’ – but should prob­ably be called ‘A Tribute to My Tits’.

Then again, lots of things today should prob­ably be called that, includ­ing Men’s Health, Strictly Come Dancing, and Mikey Sorrentino’s wan­nabe nar­ciss­ists’ self-help book, Here’s the Situation.

Get outta their way!

Especially now that nar­ciss­ism is offi­cially no longer a men­tal ill­ness.  Earlier this month it was announced that the next edi­tion of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the bible of ther­ap­ists and psy­chi­at­rists, would no longer include nar­ciss­ism in its list of per­son­al­ity disorders.

 

Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp

The Naked Civil Servant is the best and fun­ni­est TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a sci­entific fact.

And like its sub­ject it could only have been made in the UK.  Even if Crisp said he hated England — and he did, over and over again.

So many lines in Philip Mackie’s superb screen­play for the Thames TV adapt­a­tion glit­ter like, well, the icy aph­or­isms that Crisp filled his eponym­ous auto­bi­o­graphy with. But it was Hurt’s break­through per­form­ance as Crisp which is most his­toric: ren­der­ing Crisp, as Quentin him­self acknow­ledged — and wel­comed — some­thing of an under­study to Hurt’s Crisp for the rest of his life.

The actual, quasi-existing Crisp, born Dennis Charles Pratt in Sutton, Surrey in 1908, some­times soun­ded by this stage (he was nearly 70 when the drama aired) like a vin­tage car tyre los­ing air ve-ry slow-ly. And was almost as immob­ile. Hetero dandy Hurt injec­ted a kind of rak­ish­ness – a hint of phal­li­cism, even – to Crisp’s defi­antly passsss­ive perssss­sona that came across rather more invig­or­at­ing and sexy than he actu­ally was. Hurt rendered Crisp rock ‘n’ roll when he prob­ably wasn’t even up for a waltz. When Hurt repeatedly intoned Crisp’s Zen-like answer to the world and Other People and Desire in gen­eral – ‘If you like’ – it soun­ded slightly more aggress­ive than passive.

(And for me, Hurtian Crisp was fur­ther improved and made edgier by what I shall call Hoyleian-Hurtian Crisp: I met the per­form­ance artist David Hoyle in the early 80s when we were both teen­age run­aways to London’s bedsit-land. He would per­form key moments from TNCS mid con­ver­sa­tion about the weather or who was on Top of the Pops last night, adding a dash of David Bowie and Bette Davis to the mix. David always suc­ceeded in mak­ing these impromptu excerpts sound as if they were flash­backs to his earlier life. Which, since he grew up a sens­it­ive boy in work­ing class Blackpool in the 1970s watch­ing a lot of telly, they were.)

TNCS, both the book and the dram­at­isa­tion, is crim­in­ally funny pre­cisely because so much of what Hurt/Crisp says/declaims is so shock­ingly true.

The line whispered del­ic­ately in the ear of the leader of a 1930s queerbash­ing gang is now almost a cliché, but still has hil­ari­ous force: ‘“If I were you I’d bug­ger off back to Hoxton before they work out you’re queer.” Some toughs are really queer, and some queers are really tough. Crisp’s truths, par­tic­u­larly about human rela­tion­ships, are the truths told by someone who has noth­ing to lose – largely because they’ve already lost everything to the bailiffs of des­pair. This is the ‘naked­ness’ of the Civil Servant.

Because it was one of the first TV dra­mas to depict a self-confessed and unapo­lo­getic — flaunt­ing, even — homo­sexual TNCS has been fre­quently mis­rep­res­en­ted as a ‘gay drama’. But Crisp’s sexu­al­ity is not really what TNCS is about – or in fact what Crisp was about.

To a degree it is about being ‘out and proud’, or at least determ­ined to inflict one­self on the world, but not so much as a homo­sexual, and cer­tainly not as ‘a gay’, in the mod­ern, respect­able, American sense of the word. It’s not even, thank­fully, a plea for tol­er­ance. Rather it’s a por­trayal of the heroic self-sufficiency of someone who decided to stand apart from soci­ety and its val­ues, henna their hair and work as a male street pros­ti­tute – and then, lying bruised in the gut­ter, turn a haughty, unsen­ti­mental but pier­cingly funny eye back on a world which regards him as the low­est form of life. It’s the black­est and cheeki­est kind of com­edy — which is to say: the only kind.

I am an effem­in­ate homo-sex-u-alll’, declared Crisp to the Universe, over and over again. And the Universe had no choice but to agree. By being utterly abject Crisp forced the Universe to do pre­cisely as he instruc­ted. A blue­print for celebrity that was to be repeated many, many times by oth­ers before his death in 1999 and even more times after — though usu­ally rather less wit­tily and with less jaunty headgear.

Crisp added that as an effem­in­ate homo­sexual he was imprisoned inside an exquis­ite para­dox, like some kind of ancient insect trapped in amber: attrac­ted to mas­cu­line males – the fam­ous Great Dark Man – he can­not him­self be attrac­ted to a man who finds him, another male, attract­ive because then they can­not be The Great Dark Man any more. Hence the fam­ous, Death-of-God declar­a­tion in TNCS, after many, many mis­haps and mis­recog­ni­tions: ’“There. Is. No. Great. Dark. Man!”’

Strictly 19th cen­tury sex­olo­gic­ally speak­ing, Mr Crisp was prob­ably more of a male invert than a homo­sexual and often said that he thought that he should have been a woman, and even wondered whether he was born inter­sexed (this des­pite fam­ously dis­miss­ing women as ‘speak­ing a lan­guage I do not under­stand’ — per­haps because he didn’t like too much com­pet­i­tion in the speak­ing stakes). Either way, he doesn’t appear to have been ter­ribly happy with his penis or even its exist­ence – some­thing homo­sexual males, like het­ero­sexual ones, are usu­ally deli­ri­ous about. But then again, per­haps rather than express­ing some kind of  proto-transsexuality Quentin’s Great Dark Man com­plex was merely set­ting up a situ­ation in which he could remain ever faith­ful to his one true love. Himself.

In Thames TV’s TNCS, which begins (at Crisp’s request) with a pretty, pre-pubescent boy as Quentin/Dennis dan­cing in a dress in front of a full-length mir­ror, Hurtian Crisp is an out-and-proud nar­ciss­ist, who simply refuses to take on board the shame that such an out­rageous per­ver­sion should entail. When he attempts to join the Army at the start of the war he causes apo­plexy in the recruit­ers for being com­pletely hon­est about his reas­ons for doing so: he doesn’t mouth plat­it­udes about ‘doing his duty’, ‘his bit’ or ‘fight­ing Nazis’. He just wants to eat prop­erly and the squad­dies he knows seem to have quite a nice time of it, load­ing and unload­ing pet­rol cans in Basingstoke. His open­ness about his homo­sexu­al­ity is palp­ably less shock­ing to the Army offi­cials than his hon­esty about his self-interestedness. About his interest in himself.

Or as Hurt/Crisp replies as a preen­ing adoles­cent youth when asked by his exas­per­ated, buttoned-up Edwardian petite-bourgeois father: ‘Do you intend to admire your­self in the mir­ror forever??’

If I pos­sibly can.’

And boy, did he. TNCS, which aired slap in the middle of the 70s, was prob­ably more of an inspir­a­tion to the glam, punk, new-wave and new romantic gen­er­a­tion than to gays in gen­eral. Hurtian Crisp and his hen­naed hair and make-up sash­ay­ing the streets of 1930s London sym­bol­ised in the 1970s the idea of an aes­thet­i­cized revolt against Victorian ideas of proper deport­ment and dull­ness that had dom­in­ated Britain for much of the Twentieth Century. The best British pop music had always been a form of aes­thetic revolt, and Crisp seemed very much his own spe­cial cre­ation, which is what so many teens now aspired to be. Crisp was taken for a real ori­ginal and indi­vidual in an age when every­one wanted to be ori­ginal and indi­vidual. Or as Crisp put it him­self later:

The young always have the same prob­lem – how to rebel and con­form at the same time. They have now solved this by defy­ing their par­ents and copy­ing one another.’

TNCS changed Crisp’s life and made him very fam­ous indeed. A real­ity TV win­ner before such a thing exis­ted, his prize was the chance to move to America. Since he had loved Hollywood movies from child­hood and was later treated like a Hollywood star­let (albeit in air raid shel­ters) by American GI’s in London dur­ing the Second World War, no won­der he grabbed the oppor­tun­ity with both hands.

But if there’s any­thing to be learned from An Englishman in New York, the sequel to TNCS broad­cast on ITV recently, it’s that it may all have been a ter­rible mis­take. Even if Mr Crisp never thought so.

Although Hurt turns in a tech­nic­ally fine per­form­ance, he seems to have become more Crispian and less Hurtian. Perhaps that’s inev­it­able with the pas­sage of time (Hurt is nearly 70, the age Crisp was when he first played him). Or per­haps it’s simply that his act­ing skills have increased. Whatever the reason, it’s not a wel­come devel­op­ment here. And I’m sure Crisp would have agreed.

But much, much worse is the redempt­ive reek of this sequel. Everything is made to turn on Crisp’s ‘AIDS {upper case back then, remem­ber} is a fad’ quip made in the early 80s and the trouble this got him into in the US – and why he was a good sort, really. Despite the things he actu­ally said. So we see him adopt a gay artist dying of the ‘fad’, fuss­ing over him and arran­ging for his art to be exhib­ited. We dis­cover him send­ing secret cheques to Liz Taylor’s Aids found­a­tion. We even hear him explain what he meant by ‘fad’ (sup­posedly it was a polit­ical tac­tic: min­im­ize the gay plague to avoid a hetero backlash).

Now, this obses­sion with redemp­tion may be very American and has of course, like many American obses­sions, become more of an English one of late – espe­cially when try­ing to sell some­thing to the Yanks, as I’m sure the pro­du­cers of this sequel are hop­ing to do. But if there was any point to Crisp at all it was that he was utterly unsen­ti­mental – except where roy­alty were con­cerned – and rel­at­ively free of the hypo­cris­ies of every­day life.  This sequel sup­posedly about him is full of them. So for­give me if I’m unconvinced.

Crisp was invin­cible in his determ­in­a­tion to regard the US as the dream­land of the movies of his youth made real: America was as he put it ‘Heaven’ where England was ‘Hell’. And why not? If you’ve spent most of your best years deprived of almost every single illu­sion that com­forts most other people, why shouldn’t you have one big one in your retirement?

And to be fair much of what he had to say about the friend­li­ness and flat­ter­ing, encour­aging, open-hearted nature of Americans com­pared to the mean-minded, resent­ful, vin­dict­ive English is quite true, even today. But Crisp’s whole approach to life was even more at odds with American cul­ture, even in its atyp­ical NYC form, with its emphasis on self-improvement, aspir­a­tion, uplift and suc­cess. ‘If at first you don’t suc­ceed, fail­ure may be your style,’ said Crisp, who regarded him­self as a total fail­ure. Could there be a more un-American world­view? Apart that is from, “Don’t try to keep up with the Jones.  Try to drag them down to your level.  It’s cheaper.”

In an early doc­u­ment­ary from the 1960s Crisp, sit­ting in his London bed-sitting room sip­ping an unap­pet­iz­ing powdered drink he takes instead of pre­par­ing food, which he can’t be bothered with, that ‘has all the vit­am­ins and pro­tein I need but tastes awful’ he describes him­self as a Puritan.  Actually Crisp was a Puritan with an added frost­ing of asceti­cism. Crisp was deeply sus­pi­cious of all pleas­ure (save the pleas­ure of being listened to and looked at) and most espe­cially of sex, which he described as ‘the last refuge of the miser­able’. And four years of house dust is a very good way of show­ing how above the mater­ial world you are.

It’s a very middle class, middle England, middle cen­tury Puritanism – just like Crisp’s back­ground. But Crisp was also his own kind of revenge on him­self, or on the world that had made him — of which he was a liv­ing par­ody. Ultimately none of us are really our own spe­cial cre­ations. The most we can hope for is a spe­cial edition.

Crisp’s Puritanism was part of the reason why he could never embrace Gay Lib (‘what do you want to be lib­er­ated from?’). He was recently sub­jec­ted to a stern posthum­ous tick­ing off by Peter Tatchell, an ori­ginal Gay Libber, in the Independent news­pa­per promp­ted by what he sees as the ‘san­it­ising of Crisp’s ignor­ant pom­pous homo­pho­bia’ in An Englishman in New York. Post-60s Crisp was appar­ently jeal­ous of a new gen­er­a­tion of out queers who were steal­ing his limel­ite: he wasn’t the only homo in town any more.

This broad­side was a tad harsh, and Tatchell some­times sounds as if he’s on the Army board that rejec­ted Crisp (while accus­ing him of ‘homo­pho­bia’ threatens to make an absurdity of the word). But I agree that the sequel does ‘san­it­ise’ Crisp, though I think this a bad thing for dif­fer­ent reas­ons to Mr Tatchell. I also sus­pect there’s some truth to the accus­a­tion of ‘jeal­ousy’, but I’d be inclined to put them in another form. Maybe Crisp didn’t want homo­sexu­al­ity to be nor­m­al­ised because if it were it would undo his life’s work. Likewise, I think Crisp would have loathed met­ro­sexu­al­ity.

And as the sequel sug­gests, in one of its few insight­ful moments, one reason for Crisp’s fail­ure to answer the gay clarion call was simply that he didn’t believe in causes, or the sub­jug­a­tion of truth and dress-sense to expedi­ency that inev­it­ably goes with causes. Unless that cause is yourself.

Besides, like many ‘inverts’, Crisp was a great and romantic believer in Heterosexuality — the ideal kind, of course, rather than the kind that het­ero­sexu­als actu­ally have to live, and which they execute very, very badly.  He used to call het­ero­sexu­als ‘real people’ (as opposed to ‘unreal’ homo­sexu­als), but I sus­pect he thought he was the only real het­ero­sexual in town. And in a sense, he was.

***

I can’t leave you without point­ing out that while Quentin Crisp may have dis­missed Aids as a ‘fad’, Hurtian Crisp became more asso­ci­ated with ‘the gay plague’ than almost any­one save Rock Hudson: lit­er­ally becom­ing the sound of the ser­i­ous­ness of the sub­ject. In 1975 hetero Hurt plays the most fam­ous stately homo in England. The suc­cess of this gets him to Hollywood, where four years later in 1979 he is cast in an even more glob­ally fam­ous role — as ‘Patient Zero’ in Ridley Scott’s Alien: the first host for the ter­ri­fy­ing unknown organ­ism that enters his body by face-raping him and which pro­ceeds to kill-off in hor­ri­fy­ing, phallic-jackhammer fash­ion, his ship­mates. Two years before the first iden­ti­fied Aids cases in NY.

Eight years later, Hurt was the unfor­get­table fey-gravelly voice for those ter­ri­fy­ing tomb­stone ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ ads (com­plete with jack­ham­mers) that ran in heavy rota­tion on UK TV, urging people to read the Government leaf­let pushed through their let­ter­box and prac­tise safe sex.

In other words, The Naked Civil Servant had become a rubber-sheathed civil servant.

Old Spice: inter­view Crisp gave Andrew Barrow of the Independent a year before his death.

Crispisms

  • In an expand­ing uni­verse, time is on the side of the out­cast. Those who once inhab­ited the sub­urbs of human con­tempt find that without chan­ging their address they even­tu­ally live in the metropolis.
  • It is not the simple state­ment of facts that ush­ers in free­dom; it is the con­stant repe­ti­tion of them that has this lib­er­at­ing effect. Tolerance is the res­ult not of enlight­en­ment, but of boredom.
  • To know all is not to for­give all. It is to des­pise everybody.
  • You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open coun­try under fire, and drop into your grave.
  • I simply haven’t the nerve to ima­gine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the plan­ets revolving in their orbits and then sud­denly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds.
  • It is explained that all rela­tion­ships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any part­ner­ship demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.
  • The con­sum­ing desire of most human beings is delib­er­ately to place their entire life in the hands of some other per­son. For this pur­pose they fre­quently choose someone who doesn’t even want the beastly thing.
  • The simplest com­ment on my book came from my bal­let teacher. She said, “I wish you hadn’t made every line funny.  It’s so depressing.”
  • Even a mono­ton­ously undevi­at­ing path of self-examination does not neces­sar­ily lead to self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave con­fused and hurt and hungry.
  • Someone asked me why I thought sex was a sin. I said, “She’s jok­ing, isn’t she?” But they said, “No.” Doesn’t every­one know that sex is a sin? All pleas­ure is a sin.

Twinsome Devils and the Narcissus Complex

Echo_and_Narcissus

Mark Simpson paints a por­trait of a clono­sexual world of Dorians

(Arena Hommes Plus, Winter 2008, and col­lec­ted in Metrosexy)

Most ads these days aren’t worth a first glance. But earlier this year D&G Time launched a heavily-rotated global cam­paign dir­ec­ted by Hype Williams that was def­in­itely worth a second. If you looked hard enough, you could see right into the mirrored heart of the 21st Century — a ‘new’ cen­tury that is now nearly a dec­ade old. Not since the Levis ‘male striptease’ ads of the 1980s has there been a com­mer­cial that summed up — and summoned up — an era.

First time, you see an attract­ive young man and woman in tasty D&G even­ing wear check­ing their D&G watches anxiously, hur­ry­ing across dif­fer­ent sides of the sexy night-time Metropolis to hook up with one another, to the urgent, techno sounds of Stylophonics’ ‘R U Experienced? (‘Dance music for people who want to listen to tomorrow’s music today!’), finally they arrive breath­less at their meet­ing place. But rather than rush­ing into each other’s arms, they ignore one another and instead clinch and kiss a same-sex part­ner that turns up at the last minute.

So those naughty people at D&G flirt with shock­ing, or at least sur­pris­ing homo­sexu­al­ity again, coolly wrong-footing our het­ero­sex­ist assump­tions — or ram­ming gay­ness down our throats. Either way, this seems to be the ad that most people saw. In other words, most people watched it only once.

Watching it again, pay­ing atten­tion this time, you real­ise that the ‘same-sexuality’ of D&G Time goes much deeper — and is much more shock­ing. So much so you can under­stand why people wanted to see just reas­sur­ing homo­sexu­al­ity — even homo­phobes. Second time, you notice that the same-sex couples are in fact… the same. Twins. Clones. Mirror images. These latter-day Echo and Narcissus are, like many if not most of us these days, on a hot date with them­selves. Or at least, a hot, ideal­ised D&G ver­sion of them­selves. No won­der they’re in such a hurry.

What’s more, D&G Time — and this is look­ing more and more like the D&G Century — has the effrontery not only to ram down your throat what con­sumer and celebrity cul­ture today is all about, but of course for reas­ons of decency usu­ally goes out of its way to deny and dis­guise, it also does it in such a way that feels and looks entirely nat­ural, entirely appro­pri­ate. The lack of shame about rotat­ing around your­self is per­haps the most eye-catching thing of all. Only the Italians could get away with it.

What, then, is D&G Time? What is the era, the epoch it her­alds and meters and so accur­ately, so taste­fully access­or­izes? Well, a cloned, digital world in which the driv­ing force, the coiled spring at the heart of the jew­elled mech­an­ism, is not het­ero­sexual repro­duc­tion, or even homo­sexual coup­ling, but rather, nar­ciss­istic per­fec­tion. Narcissistic per­fec­tion achieved through fash­ion, con­sump­tion, cos­met­ics, tech­no­logy, sur­gery and really good light­ing. A utopian-dystopian, twin­some future in which men and women date them­selves instead of each other that has already arrived. Dance music for people who want to listen to tomorrow’s music today.

It’s a meas­ure of how far and how quickly we’ve come that only a few years ago this ad would have been regarded as ‘sick’ by almost every­one, not just a few homo­phobe hol­d­outs.  But the brazen auto-strumpetry of D&G Time broad­casts that nar­ciss­ism is no longer a patho­lo­gical con­di­tion — it’s the con­tem­por­ary con­di­tion. That’s to say, it’s no more patho­lo­gical today than desire itself – since nar­ciss­ism and desire are much the same thing, par­tic­u­larly since we’re now sur­roun­ded by such shiny, pretty accessor­ies as D&G jewellery.

The tri­umph of met­ro­sexu­al­ity has seen to that. Contrary to what you may have heard, met­ro­sexu­al­ity is not about ‘fem­in­ized’ males — or even about straight men ‘act­ing gay’. To talk in such terms is merely to reveal your­self as a hope­less nos­tal­gic. As the ‘father’ of met­ro­sexu­al­ity, I can tell you that met­ro­sexu­al­ity isn’t about men becom­ing women, or becom­ing gay — it’s about men becom­ing everything. To them­selves. In much the same way that women have been for some time.

In the early Noughties I defined the met­ro­sexual as someone who ‘might be offi­cially gay, straight, or even bisexual, but this is utterly imma­ter­ial as he has taken him­self as his own love-object and pleas­ure as his sexual pref­er­ence.’ The met­ro­sexual announced the begin­ning of the end of ‘sexu­al­ity’, the 19th Century pseudo-science that claimed that your per­son­al­ity and psy­cho­logy and taste in home fur­nish­ings was dic­tated by whether or not your bed-partner’s gen­italia were the same shape as yours.

As we approach the Teenies (what else should we call what comes after the Noughties?) this pro­cess, with a flush of hor­mones, has been speeded up. D&G Time is neither homo, hetero, bi — or even metro. It’s simply same-sexuality. Clonosexual. In D&G Time, all gen­italia are the same shape: fashion-shaped. In place of the Oedipal military-industrial com­plex of the 20th Century we have… the all-consuming Narcissus Complex of the 21st.

We live, you can hardly failed to have noticed, in an age of Dorians, male and female, admir­ing them­selves in web­cams, phone cams, digicams, online pro­files and the two-way mir­rors of the global Big Brother House. There may or may not be a por­trait in the attic, but if there is you can be sure that it’s been Photoshopped. Back in the 20th Century — which seems much, much longer than just a dec­ade ago — I thought that the defin­i­tion of a trans­sexual was someone who behaved as if they were being pho­to­graphed 24 hours a day. Now, of course, this is how every­one under the age of 25 behaves. Because they are.

As the young Quentin Crisp, a real­ity TV win­ner long before there was such a thing as real­ity TV, or even TV, respon­ded proph­et­ic­ally to his starchy father’s angry accus­a­tion: Do you intend to spend the rest of your life admir­ing your­self in the mirror??

‘If I pos­sibly can.’

Whatever you or I may think of nar­ciss­ism — and Gore Vidal fam­ously described a nar­ciss­ist as ‘someone bet­ter look­ing than you’ — it’s far, far too late for an opin­ion. After a cen­tury of very bad press indeed, nar­ciss­ism now holds the (nicely turned) whip-handle over the cul­ture. Even polit­ics, always the last to know, has noticed: in the UK the ‘Nasty’ Tory Party is now led by a nice, dash­ing, mois­tur­ised young man who wants very much to be liked, while the American Democratic Party earlier this year chose a gym-going, preen­ing youth­ful male over a tougher, older, more exper­i­enced female can­did­ate in large part because he was much pret­tier than her and reflec­ted back, in his charm­ingly, delib­er­ately vague way, a more flat­ter­ing image of themselves.

Now that we’re pretty much over the 20th Century we can see that at the end of the 19th Century Dorian’s Dad, Oscar Wilde, the ‘first celebrity’, wasn’t pun­ished for his homo­sexu­al­ity so much as his nar­ciss­ism. Wilde the aes­thete may have been gaoled for sex with males, shortly after the word ‘homo­sexual’ was coined, becom­ing its most fam­ous exem­plar, but it was the ‘gross inde­cency’ of his van­ity that had sen­tenced him in the minds of many Victorians, long before his trial.

Have you ever adored a young man madly?’ he was asked in the wit­ness box. Wilde par­ried, quite truth­fully: ‘I have never given ador­a­tion to any­one but myself.’ You could have heard a cologne-soaked silk handker­chief drop. A line that would have worked per­fectly in a com­edy of man­ners in a West End theatre fell omin­ously flat in the courtroom. No won­der he was given four years hard labour — a fit­ting pun­ish­ment for idle self-contemplation in Victorian England. An England that per­sisted, of course, for much of the 20th Century.

For that other Nineteenth Century celebrity, Sigmund Freud, nar­ciss­ism was a neces­sary and healthy part of child­hood, but one that must be aban­doned to reach full adult­hood (remem­ber that?). This explained, he wrote, the fas­cin­a­tion that ‘chil­dren, humor­ists, crim­in­als, and any­one who holds on to his/her self-contentment and inac­cess­ib­il­ity’ rep­res­ent for us (Wilde was of course all three). He could also have added ‘women’ to that list, since women were expec­ted to hold onto their nar­ciss­ism — and use it to attract men. Heterosexuality was based on this Victorian divi­sion of sexual labour — as this divi­sion broke down in the lat­ter part of the 20th Century het­ero­sexu­al­ity was, as we now know, even­tu­ally itself phased out. (The very innov­a­tions which have helped free women from domestic drudgery, such as the pill, wash­ing machines, microwaves, Hoovers, and fem­in­ism — in that order — have also freed men from… women.)

For Freud the uni­ver­sal Oedipus Complex was the prin­ciple way in which boys became men. Today by con­trast the uni­ver­sal Narcissus Complex is the way in which boys become… pret­tier boys. Vanity, thy name is Man. Both Narcissus — who was, it needs to be said, a chap - and Oedipus were warned by Tiresias the blind trans­sexual seer (and like Quentin, a real­ity TV con­test­ant avant le lettre) that they would live a long life so long as they didn’t know them­selves. As poor old Oedipus found out when he con­sul­ted him, Tiresias’ proph­ecies although always accur­ate weren’t exactly help­ful. Narcissus doesn’t know at first that the hand­some image he glimpses in the pool and falls in love with is him­self (in other words Narcissus isn’t very nar­ciss­istic). It’s only when he twigs and ‘knows him­self’ that he dies of des­pair, know­ing that he can never pos­sess himself.

The ori­ginal Narcissus myth has been mis­rep­res­en­ted for much of the last hun­dred years as a cau­tion­ary tale about the patho­logy of male beauty. In fact, it was a warn­ing to beau­ti­ful youths to be more gen­er­ous with their looks — to both sexes. Sodom & Gomorrah in reverse.

Narcissus is not doomed by his own beauty but by his thought­less spurn­ing of vari­ous suit­ors, male and female. His selfish­ness. One cruelly rejec­ted youth prays to Nemesis that Narcissus should know what it is to love without hope. Nemesis, the god­dess of revenge, assents and arranges for Narcissus to be pun­ished for being so hoity-toity by ensnar­ing him with his own looks.

It’s a les­son that seems to have been instinct­ively learned by today’s tarty youths. Success and fame is now some­thing for the hero­ic­ally nar­ciss­istic and exhib­i­tion­istic, those who makes them­selves con­stantly avail­able for our love, on TV, at the cinema, on bill­boards and in glossy magazines. Or emer­ging glisten­ing and glam­or­ous from the roof of a red double-decker bus at the Beijing Olympics to the strains of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, show­ing a wildly cheer­ing world their latest cos­metic surgery.

Today, nar­ciss­ism is not aban­doned, of course, but cul­tiv­ated. It’s an industry. The industry. No won­der Oscar Wilde has been so rehab­il­it­ated to the point where he and Freddie Mercury are to all intents and pur­poses the same per­son. Today, chil­dren, humor­ists, crim­in­als and foot­ballers are not merely envied, they are emu­lated. We are encour­aged — nay, com­pelled — to mis­take them/recognise them for our own ideal­ised reflec­tion. (This is no doubt the point at which I should quote smoke-and-mirror-phase Jacques Lacan, but as far as I can tell, Lacan’s only real achieve­ment was to turn lucid Freudianism into self-regarding Gallic metaphysics.)

The cal­cu­lated child­ish­ness and fickle­ness of con­sumer­ism makes nar­ciss­ism not only pos­sible but neces­sary — since it is the very basis of our global eco­nomy. This is why 21st Century nar­ciss­ism is not a form of con­tent­ment but rather of end­less desir­ing. The Narcissus Complex is the romance of the end­less per­fect­ib­il­ity of ourselves proffered by the smoked High Street changing-room mir­rors of a medi­ated world — the irres­ist­ible lure of a hyper­real, twin­some ver­sion of ourselves. What the entire his­tory of human cul­ture turns out to have been work­ing towards.

Before his own doom, Wilde wrote a prose poem called ‘The Disciple’ which played with the story in a typ­ic­ally Wildean inver­ted fash­ion. Some Oreads griev­ing for Narcissus come across the pool and ask it to tell them about Narcissus’ famed beauty. The pool replies that it has no idea how beau­ti­ful Narcissus was. The Oreads are baffled: ‘Who should know bet­ter than you?’

But I loved Narcissus because,’ replied the pool, ‘as he lay on my banks and looked own on me, in the mir­ror of his eyes I saw my own beauty mirrored.’

As Wilde wrote in the Preface to his mas­ter­piece, the Narcissus novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, which has proved as eer­ily time­less as Dorian’s looks: ‘It is the spec­tator, and not life, that art really mirrors.’

D&G, how­ever, have mirrored both.