The Power and Cost of Fame December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in The Power and Cost of Fame.
Tags: anna freud, biography, chaplin, erik erickson, fame, jfk, olivier, psychoanalysis, psychology, roger hollander, sue erikson boland
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Sue Erikson Boland, daughter of the eminent psychoanalyst and author, Erik Erikson, struggled through most of her life to reconcile the larger than life image of her famous father with the fragile and insecure man she knew him to be. As a result, she believes that she has “come to understand something general about the nature of fame,” which she outlines in an essay entitled “Fame: the Power and Cost of a Fantasy,” published in “The Atlantic Monthly,” (November 1999).
Although she has enormous respect for her father’s brilliance and his accomplishments, she believes that his strong need to strive to be famous and enjoy the fruits of such fame had its origin in a deeply felt sense of “personal inadequacy” and “punishing self-doubt.” She has come to the conclusion that it is “shame,” which she defines as “a sense that the self is deeply flawed or deficient,” that “lies behind an exaggerated public image of strength, confidence, well-being, or benevolence” that characterizes famous individuals; and that what lies behind the powerful drive for fame is “an early experience of shame so overwhelming to the sense of self that to become someone extraordinary seems the only way to defend against it.”
In discussing the life of her father and other famous individuals, Boland shows how “abandonment or harsh emotional rejection by one or both parents, which leaves a child feeling deeply defective and unlovable,” and parents whose own narcissistic needs overpower the needs of their children, can be the source for the drive to achieve fame.
In the case of her father, Erik Erikson, he was raised by a step-father and a mother who refused to tell who is real father was. Because of the shame and scandal of having a child out of wedlock and being abandoned by its father, Erikson’s mother she needed from her son “emotional comfort,” and “help in restoring her lost pride.” She needed him to “ennoble her situation with his special gifts,” and she encouraged his pursuit of intellectual interests at an early age. Boland concludes that “my father was well trained as a small child to deny his own feelings … but he learned to use his intellect to connect with her … and to gratify her needs.”
Boland also discusses the early experiences of Laurence Olivier, whose father was extremely disapproving; Charlie Chaplin, who was abandoned by his father at a young age; and JFK, whose mother, Rose Kennedy, was “cold and unnurturing” and a “management executive rather than a mother,” and whose father, who had been thwarted in his own political ambition, was determined that one of his sons should become President.
She concludes: “This kind of childhood experience can easily give rise to the belief (part conscious, part unconscious) that in order to secure the love and loyalty of important others, the rejected child must be or do something very special … Thus is charisma born. Becoming someone special – being charming, talented … magnetic – becomes the vehicle for a desperate pursuit of emotional nourishment.” And she adds: “When a parent’s feelings of self-worth depend on the accomplishments of a child, this reinforces the child’s belief that only his exceptional abilities can be relied on to secure the love of someone important to his survival.”
Boland’s fundamental thesis is that the achievement of fame proves to be a hollow victory. In the case of her father, she goes into detail to describe the depression and anxiety he suffered when he was out of the spotlight and how he never felt satisfied with his achievements. In spite of a house full of honorary degrees and awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, he agonized over the fact that he failed to win the Nobel!
She states: “Behind the performance of the gifted child – no matter how successful … – the original narcissistic wound remains unhealed … Fame is not a successful defense against feelings of inadequacy. It only appears to be. This is where the greatest distortion lies in our idealization of the famous.”
Boland even suggests that her father’s own brief personal analysis, with Anna Freud, which was cut short by his departure from Vienna, was inadequate for the needs of a leader in his field. She claims that he never again sought “emotional relief” or “clarification of his feelings” from any other analyst. The price paid for this was not only Erikson’s own “fear of knowing himself … his limited understanding of his closest relationships and the sources of his own deepest pain.” It rendered him, according to his daughter, incapable of meeting her emotional needs in adolescence. His fame also made it necessary for her and her mother to avoid seeking help for him or themselves in order to protect his sacred image.
Boland suggests that the idealization of famous people is inevitable, given human insecurity and the sure knowledge of death. While it does help to make us feel safe in an unsafe universe, yielding power and authority to idealized individuals can lead to dangerous self limitation and even authoritarian dictatorship.
For Boland, true self esteem is achieved where the true self is revealed and not concealed behind an idealized image. “The real cure for shame is a gradual willingness to expose to others what you are most ashamed of, and the discovery that you will not be cast out …that you are acceptable for who you are.”
And from what we have learned about the real Erik Erikson from his own
daughter, one is reminded of the classic refrain: “Physician, heal thyself.”
Does Old Glory Have a Dark Side? December 20, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
Tags: aggression, christian, egalitarian, flag, individualism, lee drutman, materialism, muslim, natinalism, national superiority, old glory, oppression, patriotism, prejudice, psychology, religion, roger hollander, superiority, warfare, zionism
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19 December 2008
by: Lee Drutman, Miller-McCune.com
initial reluctance to wear a flag pin caused some opponents to question his patriotism. After all, some conservatives argued, the flag is the quintessential symbol of American patriotism, and by not wearing it on his lapel, well, one could only assume … Markus Kemmelmeier, a professor of social psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and colleagues show that gazing upon the red, white and blue actually does very little to stoke feelings of patriotism. an article Kemmelmeier co-authored with David G. Winter, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. The study describes two specific experiments, one in which undergraduates responded to a survey with and without a large American flag in the room and one in which undergraduates responded to a questionnaire with and without three American flags printed on the paper. lost letter study in which handwritten and stamped but undelivered letters were left on car windshield wipers, all with the same post office box. Half of the letters were addressed to a fictitious Muslim charity; half were addressed to a fictitious Christian charity. Among each group, half had an American flag on them, and half didn’t. David A. Butz (formerly a graduate student at Florida State University and now a postdoc at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst), E. Ashby Plant (a professor of psychology at FSU) and Celeste E. Doerr (a psychology graduate student at FSU) recently administered word identification tests to undergraduates to measure how long it took them to discriminate between real and nonsense words that came up on a computer screen. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. ‘real-life’ overt political behavior.” In his experiments, participants – all Israelis – who saw the flag flashes answered questions with a more “mainstream Zionist” tilt than those who didn’t. Carey Baker Freedom Flag Act) that mandates flags be placed in every public classroom – kindergarten to college – in the state. (A similar law also recently passed in Arizona.)
Early in the presidential campaign that was, Barack Obama’s
But are the stars and stripes as much a symbol of patriotism as many make them out to be? Probably not, according to some new research on the effects of exposure to the American flag. Experiments conducted by
But it does make people more individualistic, more materialistic and – perhaps most troublingly – more nationalistic.
Researchers tend to define patriotism as love of one’s country; nationalism, on the other hand, tends to measure feelings of superiority. “Nationalism takes into consideration that there are others and that your own country is not just only loveable but also different and better than others,” Kemmelmeier explained.
Originally from Germany, Kemmelmeier said he was struck by the omnipresence of the American flag when he arrived in the United States in 1994. “Every plumber has one on his plumbing uniform; churches even have flags in them,” he said. “This is strange to people in other countries.”
Ten years ago, Kemmelmeier and colleagues at the University of Michigan (where he was then getting his Ph.D. in social psychology) were trying to prime feelings of patriotism by showing people the American flag, testing the conventional wisdom that the flag made people more patriotic. But try as they might, the only feelings they were able to elicit by showing people the flag were feelings of national superiority (i.e., nationalism).
The nationalism-eliciting findings are published in the October issue of Political Psychology in
In both cases, according to the article, “the flag not only prompted participants to think about their own country as superior to and dominant in the world, but also induced a mode of hierarchical thinking as evidence in elevated group-dominance scores.” In other words, according to Kemmelmeier, the flag makes people think that some people and some countries are better than others, a mode of thinking, he said, that makes people “feel more entitled to express prejudice.”
The paper also notes that “nationalism has been implicated in aggression, oppression, and warfare.”
Kemmelmeier is now in the process of writing up two other sets of studies on exposure to the American flag. In one group of experiments, he found that seeing the stars and stripes elicits stronger feelings of individualism and materialism and much less collectivist feeling. “It brings forth an idea of ‘I’m my own person; I am free here; I have the freedom to enjoy these inalienable rights,’” Kemmelmeier explained.
The other group of experiments (also in the process of being written up) is a
The return rate for the letters without a flag was consistently between 50 and 60 percent, regardless of whether the charity was Christian or Muslim. But when the American flag was on the envelope, a remarkable 90 percent of the letters addressed to the Christian charity consistently came back to the post office, while only between 30 and 40 percent of the Muslim charity letters were returned.
“As soon as there was a flag sticker, that changed the meaning completely,” Kemmelmeier explained. “Adding the flag shapes how you should interpret what religion somebody is.”
But while Kemmelmeier’s studies point to a somewhat unsettling take on what Americans take away from seeing the flag, another set of studies offers a more positive perspective, suggesting that the presence of Old Glory primes egalitarian concepts and also may make Americans less hostile to Arabs and Muslims.
Participants who saw a flag before the test more quickly identified words associated with egalitarianism than those who didn’t. Exposure to the flag also elicited more favorable attitudes toward Muslims and less nationalism in a survey. The findings were reported in 2007 in the
“What we show is that the flag is associated with egalitarian concepts,” Butz said. “This is true for both high- and low-nationalism people. It’s not moderated by political party. What it means is that through socialization experiences, we gain these egalitarian concepts with the flag.”
However, Butz speculated that “perhaps this is a surface meaning.” He was actually a little surprised by the egalitarianism-priming findings, given other research suggesting that exposure to the American flag increases nationalism and the hierarchical, anti-egalitarian feelings that come with that.
“The flag has a complex range of associations,” he said. “Symbols like the flag can be multireferential. They can mean different things to different people. It shows how tricky it is to study the symbols.”
In Israel, cognitive scientist Ran Hassin studied the association that subliminal flashes of the Israeli flag had on discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and found that “subliminal presentation of a national flag can bring about significant changes not only in a citizen’s expressed political opinions within an experimental setting but also in their
Whether that meant the flag drew viewers to the political center, as Hassin theorized, or that symbols primed people based on their pre-existing associations was a question he left for future research – such as that of Kemmelmeier and Butz – to answer.
Butz got interested in studying the flag in light of a 2004 Florida law (the
These laws worry Butz. “We don’t know a lot about the potential for symbols to influence behavior,” he said. “It’s scary to think that there are laws out there on the thinking that flags influence patriotism, and there’s no evidence for that.”
Another reason for concern comes from some research that Butz has done on student performance in the presence of the American flag. With a flag in the room, he found, white students perform about 10 percent better on math tests than they do otherwise. But non-white students perform at the same level.
“What we find in studies – and this is now being replicated – is that whites are getting a performance boost, and that’s disturbing,” Butz said. He speculated that it might have something to do with whites feeling more included in the presence of the flag.
Both Kemmelmeier and Butz stress that the psychology of the American flag is complicated. It can prime a wide range of emotions, depending on the person and the situation. There may also be regional differences. And while the flag is not necessarily the pure symbol of inspired patriotism that some might make it out to be, neither is it necessarily a pure symbol of nationalism and individualistic materialism. A lot depends on the context.
“It can have a negative impact, but nowadays there is a real opportunity to re-interpret what it means to be an American,” Kemmelmeier said. “The flag is always amorphous, and the meaning is always dependent on how it is used.”