“Narcissism and self-deception are survival mechanisms without which many of us might just jump off a bridge.” —Todd Solondz
“I don’t care what you think unless it is about me.” —Kurt Cobain
I’ve been thinking a lot about narcissism lately. I don’t want to be one of those boring middle-aged guys who shares every detail of his personal growth and development and then inevitably starts administering pro-bono psychotherapy whether you want it or not, but tough titty, as they say. This is my column. Blame Sean for hiring me in the first place.
Anyway, narcissism. Narcissism is a complex thing. Like many human traits, too much of it can be debilitating – in fact, it’s in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, (fondly referred to by psychiatrists and psychological hypochondriacs like myself as the DSM-5) as an actual mental health condition: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). But we also need measured doses of self-interest to survive. As they say, somebody’s gotta take care of Number One.
Of course, some of us are interested in us more than others. And for some reason, we like motorcycles.
I know I’m painting with a broad brush, or maybe an industrial paint sprayer, but after learning about narcissism and its effects, I’m starting to realize just how many narcissists there are in the motorcycle industry and media. In fact, it would be harder to name the folks I’ve met over the last quarter century of motorcycling who aren’t narcissists than those who are. I’m sure I’ve met one or two, but I’m at a loss right now. Give me a second.
Since this column could jeopardize my job security, I’ll build my case carefully and anonymously. The word narcissism refers to the Greek myth about a youth named Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. His obsession was so consuming he turned into a flower – the narcissus – and was then eaten by a goat, who was later condemned to the fifth circle of Hades for selling an Isle of Lesbos timeshare to Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.*
So the dictionary definition of narcissism refers to love of one’s appearance, but the psychological/anthropological definition deals with feelings of superiority, self-absorption and self-admiration.
So, I’m not saying all motorcyclists are narcissists. I’m just saying that if a narcissist were to design a vehicle, it would probably be noisy, compromised in function, uncomfortable for passengers, bad for the environment and very difficult and dangerous to operate. Luckily for the narcissistic among us who don’t have the creativity to invent some kind of coal-fired balsa-wood motorized hang glider, motorcycles fit that bill perfectly. So do AC Cobra replicas, tandem bicycles and high-lift pickup trucks, but we’re not talking about those today.
Motorcycles are, let’s face it, attention-getting – and that’s why we like them. Maybe that’s not why you started riding, but it’s a big part of why I did. I thought it would be cool to ride a motorcycle, and have everybody look at me as I rode by. You need a lot of skill to operate one safely, and everybody knows it. In fact, it’s a big reason why so many people don’t ride – they fear they don’t have the necessary basic skills and abilities to learn. So, narcissists get a little thrill every time we even think about going for a ride – another opportunity to show off how skilled we are to strangers! Look at me!**
And then there’s motorcycle racing – a solo sport even when there are 60 riders on the grid. If you’ve spent time at the racetrack, you’ve met your share of self-centered racers, racers who strut about the pits like prize roosters, hawt girlfriends and admiring buddies straggling along in their wake. After their racing careers, they often open motorcycle shops or other businesses, inflicting their self-absorbed, micromanaging behavior on overworked, underpaid employees who still sigh admiringly whenever they’re in the presence of the Great One, their boss. “He podium finished in 750 Superbike at Loudon in 1991. And he just touched me.”
Like every other aspect of motorcycling, narcissism abounds in the world of motojournalism, the cramped, incestuous sweatshop of our own making. Go to a motorcycle press event, or anywhere motojournalists gather, and you often won’t find them doing what actual journalists would do, which is interviewing subjects who know things about motorcycles. Instead, motojournos regularly gather together at a table away from the industry people, telling stories about how awesome they are. Meanwhile, a group of small, quiet engineers, who individually know more about motor design, component manufacturing and chassis dynamics than a Yankee Stadium-sized crowd of hacks like me sit on the other side of the room, muttering to each other about the local food. “Watanabe, what is this thing called ‘Frito Pie?’ Is it safe to eat?”
Working in motorcycle journalism is a good way to get fired, though I feel oddly safe here at MO. Egos clash in impressive firestorms, with grown men weeping and cars peeling out in various Orange County parking lots as balding, angered men head off to new jobs at rival publications or ho-ing for OEMs or PR firms. There is one editor/publisher who has fired almost every motojournalist I know, sometimes more than once. I’ve been fired several times, though I’m not sure whose fault it was – the narcissist I was working for, or the narcissistic hack working for them. At some point, it doesn’t really matter.
Anyway, there are two ways to cope with narcissists. You can avoid them, which would mean not being involved with motorcycles, or you can swallow your own bloated self-image and put up with it. It beats getting a normal job with all those nasty little regular people. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Google myself. Again.
*I made the part about the goat up, because I’m a self-indulgent narcissist.
**Of course, when my editor-in-chief posts a column showing off all the awesome wheelie photos he has of himself (some of which are pretty cool, I admit), it’s not narcissistic at all.
Gabe Ets-Hokin is currently on a hiatus between jobs as a columnist for major motorcycling websites so he can spend more time with his family and catch up on his favorite Lifetime Network programming.