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JENKINS: Obama, Facebook and the culture of narcissism

Queen Victoria of England, who had an era named after her, was famously modest in her dress — and her personal style dominated two continents for more than two decades.

In terms of women’s fashions, the Victorian Era was known for its high necklines, long sleeves and floor-dragging hems. Legend has it that table skirts first came into vogue during that time period because people didn’t even want their furniture showing any leg.

We’ve seen in our own country how leaders can set the tone for public mores and popular fashion. A decade of liberalism in Washington during the 1960s ushered in the extreme fads of the “mod” era. Ten years later, Ronald Reagan’s genial conservatism returned us to button-downs, pressed slacks, and neat haircuts.

Today we have a president whose most remarkable quality is an awe-inspiring narcissism. This is the guy who used the personal pronouns “I” and “me” 64 times during a 64-minute speech — the 2014 State of the Union, delivered just last month.

The same guy assured us, during the 2008 campaign, that “we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.” His most significant contribution to pop culture remains an idealized, modern-art poster featuring … drum-roll, please … himself. (“But seriously, folks, it’s not about me ….”)

He also made headlines a few months ago (with some help from Denmark’s charming Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt) when he notoriously posed for a “selfie” during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Thousands rushed to “favorite” the resulting Tweets.

Is it any wonder that, under Obama, America has become the land of the “me” and the home of the “fave?”

This sad state of affairs is certainly apparent anytime we turn on the television, now more rife than ever with that most unrealistic of genres, the “reality show.” Such programs, which typically have little entertainment value (except, perhaps, for voyeurs), function primarily to enable people with tragically low self-esteem to pursue the personal attention they crave.

Then again, maybe those shows are realistic. Maybe we’re a society now equally divided between the attention-hounds and the voyeurs — with many of us, perhaps, some combination of both.

We can observe this growing societal narcissism, too, on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. I have Facebook “friends” (some of them family members) who seemingly post a selfie a day. Often they’re bizarre shots, taken at odd angles and in unusual situations — and, not uncommonly, in modes of dress that would once have been considered inappropriate.

Someone please tell me: Is such behavior not, at its most basic level, a pathetic cry for attention?

Several decades ago, developmental psychologist Jean Piaget theorized that children at around two years of age pass through a stage he labeled “egocentrism,” in which they view themselves as the center of the universe. They typically outgrow that stage by age four, he believed.

Obviously, Piaget never watched reality TV or had a Facebook account — or anticipated an Obama presidency.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and the author of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less and on Amazon. Email Rob at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @FamilyManRob.