Hidden In Plain Sight

Image by Jörg Peter from Pixabay

As a self proclaimed amateur sleuth specializing in narcissism, I have observed and secretly “diagnosed” many of my friends, acquaintances, and relatives. Today, as I was preparing to do the weekly laundry as a dutiful and custom-abiding person, I suddenly thought about those narcissism hidden in plain sight in popular TV shows and books. I should dig and diagnose them as well. In these TV shows or books, narcissism is often normalized as personality quirks, common parental pride, which are considered good fodder for the plot or the laughs. And the real victims are often not sympathized. Worse, the real victims are often getting along fine with the narcissistic environment and grow and thrive in it. However in real life, the majority of these victims are far from unscathed.


I really love this show very much and it pains me to say something unflattering about the show. Here I only want to point out a very small and insignificant detail so that the fans of this show will not hate me. Whenever Frasier and his ex-wife Lilith talk about their son Frederick, they sound so much like narcissistic parents. And it is obvious that it’s the show’s intention to portray them as self-absorbed achievement-obsessed psychiatrists. And it is very surprising to me that their son Frederick grows and thrives. Whenever Frederick shows up in an episode, he is a very normal kid with very healthy looks and concerns. Even his faults are extremely normal. The show seems to demonstrate that the parents’ narcissism has no bad effect on the kid, and on the contrary their narcissism pushes the kid to achieve more. This is in direct contrast with reality that most of the kids of narcissistic parents are scarred for life and have to struggle with normal social interactions.

“Two And Half Men”

I really love “Two and Half Men” so much, especially for the character of Evelyn Harper, who’s portrayed to be a narcissistic mother and she played it so well. She is so selfish that she never cares about her two sons as a mother. Instead she often laments how her boys bad performance (like divorce, womanizing etc.) reflects badly on her. Needless to say both of her sons, Charlie and Alan, grew up with emotional and communication-related issues. They actually fully acknowledge this. However when it comes to Jake (Alan’s son), Alan is not behaving too differently from his narcissistic mother despite his loud proclamation of trying to be a different kind of parent. Jake is often told that he’s slow, he has bad grades, he is barely going to feed himself. Although Jake has very clever lines throughout the show, he never says anything to defend himself when other people tells him in polite or impolite ways that he’s a failure. And it is surprising to me that Jake grows up to be a healthy and normal adult after being subjected to constant taunting about his mental capacities by his relatives.

And knowing that Jake is not doing well academically, his parents never think about exploring other career options for him even though they are middle class with some disposable income, even though at one point Jake’s mother Judith inherited a big chunk of money. They never think about letting him run a small business, or fixing cars, or learning to be a chef, or becoming a chiropractor like his father. They just keep on talking down to him about his school performance, and intermittently punishing him for not completing homework, even if Alan admits that Jake’s high school diploma will probably be a useless piece of paper anyway.

Jake’s mother Judith scolds other people when Jake is exposed to poker games, or learns bad words, which demonstrates that she has Jake’s best interests in her heart all the time. However while it comes to Jake’s career or how he should contribute to the society in the future, Jake’s mother does nothing to help him despite with a big inheritance in her hand. It makes me feel that Alan and Judith are narcissistic. Not an extreme narcissistic case like Jake’s grandmother Evelyn Harper, but rather mild and mid-level narcissistic, which are not easy to detect and probably very difficult to defend against.

And audience is not supposed to feel sorry for Jake at all. Audience is supposed to laugh at Jake, And the TV audience become flying monkeys recruited by a narcissist.

“Keep Up Appearances”

I am not really a fan of this show since I think other Britcoms are funnier than this one. Still I watched it since I had two friends who liked it so much. At the time, I valued other people’s recommendation more than what I felt myself. The main character Hyacinth Bucket is obviously an overt narcissist who does everything for appearances. And inevitably her husband Richard is being sympathized by every member of the audience. So much sympathy is pouring on Richard that “Richard is a hero” becomes a recurring line throughout the show. Everybody thinks enduring Hyacinth is one of the highest achievements of life.

The problem is that nobody has any sympathy for their son Sheldon, who never really shows up. Sheldon is considered an unworthy wanton young man who wants money on the phone in each episode. The audience has a very negative opinion about Sheldon. I think that’s rather unfair since growing up in such a household, Sheldon must have suffered a lot of emotional damage and psychological trauma, but nobody feels sorry for Sheldon for even one second. Why people pour so much sympathy on the husband, who’s an adult, while have no sympathy at all for the son, who has to deal with narcissism as a child?

Growing up I have witnessed such things first hand. A narcissistic couple were fighting constantly and their neighbors would often bang on the door whenever they heard loud arguments, for fear that the arguments would escalate. Neighbors knew about the couple’s bitter relationship and would often try to help make peace. However when the couple’s daughter complained about her parents, nobody believed this daughter. Everybody thought the daughter was a problem–she was ungrateful, she was sulky, she was unpleasant.

This post is getting too long but I still have a lot to say about “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” and “Friends”, the TV show. I will do another post for another day.

18 thoughts on “Hidden In Plain Sight

  1. Anything is possible in the name of entertainment. I doubt that these shows care about what the actual reality is. And obviously, being abnormal in any way can guarantee some laughs. Nice research and thoughts, Haoyan. You are so thorough! How?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never watched that show. LOL. Most of the characters are narcissists. Gosh–they form a team of narcissists or they fight all the time? Now you piqued my interest. I got to find a way to watch that show. LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, narcissists will eventually implode when the fake grandeur crashes down, but that’s usually after they have ruined things for everybody else. Be careful not to get involved with them, but sometimes we have no choice or sometimes we realize when it is too late.

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  2. Haha – I can’t believe that people watch “Keeping Up Appearances” in the US! It’s so painfully British I’m amazed it has crossed the Atlantic. And I agree that the humour is quite weak. I think it comes from the same stable as shows like “Last of the Summer Wine” – which is often described as “gentle” comedy”. “Gentle” as in “weak” I think. It seems to me that Hyacinth is in the tradition of suffocating mothers – and maybe this is what narcissistic parenting looks like in Brit culture. (You said in a previous comment that its exact manifestation was culture-dependent.) The suffocating mother is a trope in Jewish culture and humour too. Another trope in old-fashioned British humour (and KUA is old-fashioned) is the large dominating woman and the feeble, weedy husband. You see this in old seaside postcards from the mid 20th century that are now almost collectors’ items. Typically the huge woman and her skinny, henpecked husband are on the beach in these illustrations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I forgot to mention the class-based nature of the humour in KUA. The most important thing to Hyacinth is her position in the social hierarchy – and that position is signified by class markers that are probably (?) less money and success related than they would be in the USA, for example.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I watched show like more than 15 years ago. However I still remember it for some strange reason. I guess I must have missed a lot of humor in KUA since I am not familiar with it. I didn’t feel it particularly funny–in particular I don’t believe that a woman as energetic as Hyacinth can have such an uninspiring aspiration. Probably as a narcissist, she would have higher calling like controlling everybody including her son, her husband, her church, or even trying to run for office. I mean a true narcissist would want to do that. Another thing is it doesn’t have the real women’s humor that I enjoyed. More recent productions like “Two Broke Girls”, “Shrill” etc. really bring out what’s in women’s mind…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. So true. I mean so much energy is pouring into such an objective, which only makes her more miserable. I think that’s probably what the writers of the show was thinking, but I always thought she should have something more aspiring.

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