Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Personal Asides: Bravo Pickett!…My Spiritual Son.

Bravo Pickett!

For the past several years Debra Pickett was the hottest narcissistic young thing on two legs in “Sun-Times” trendy narcissistic journalism. She had a column on page 2 with a smile of supreme all-knowingness; she had a second feature where she took famous people out to lunch and reported what she thought of them which far dominated what they said. She had a third column on the book page—“The Smart Girls Book Club.” Smart girls read the books that interested Debra. She topped all the other women in the paper—the workaholic Lynn Sweet, the cotton-candy religion editor Cathleen Falsani, the predictably angry black woman Mary Mitchell…the—what shall I say?…the publisher’s wife Jennifer Hunter.

“The Smart Girls Book Club” dealt with more than books but what young female singles should be and sound like to be cool. It was narcissism but more: it fit the description of the near-illness defined by the late Christopher Lasch in his famous 1979 book “The Culture of Narcissism.” The narcissistic culture where liberalism is the fashion because it is cool, that every action and want is traced to the need to provide a veneer of what is cool. Were Lasch alive today he would say that the narcissistic culture would insist that the favored presidential candidate is Barack Obama…not because of Obama nor what he thinks (it doesn’t care what he thinks) but because support of him reflects well on the one who supports him. There was a time when Fidel Castro was regarded as fondly by the narcissists, when the Red Chinese were agrarian reformers.

All of us know people and couples who are slavishly narcissistic. They (a) hate Bush, (b) hate the war, (c) love Obama, (d) have read and still think “The Da Vinci Code” unmasked a church which has spent 2,000 years putting down women and now the threads of the conspiracy are being pulled away to reveal voila! that Magdalen carried Christ’s child—which explained why old dry-balls monks and pathological murderers from “Opus Dei” have been seeking to put down women for two millennia.

Since Lasch wrote it, it has been a favorite occupation of mine to identify narcissism, particularly in politics but also because of who owns or covets what. I enjoy couples like this—enjoy looking at them under a microscope, that is. I read Pickett avidly because she was the height of narcissism…occupying a higher niche I thought than Richard Roeper the status-seeking Hurd Hatfield-like trend writer (the perpetually youthful bachelor cum movie critic who tells you what thoughts are cool and what films are too)…Neil Steinberg is the bright metro narcissist: his sly humor, his once-in-a-while zing at even liberal convention.

Pickett was better than they. She was the all-American single woman who fit the marketing icon for the paper which has been trying to get young people to read it…and she defined what was cool. She was (a) young, (b) female, (c) not bad looking, (d) single, (e) neither establishment nor anti-establishment in thinking but suitably narcissist liberal. Her thinking was the epitome of cool. Whatever she touched became cool. It was not long later that Channel 11 came calling and assigned her a commentary cameo on “Chicago Tonight.”

In accordance with the canon of journalism begun years ago by Tom Wolfe, Debra Pickett was hugely successful because she wrote not just about herself but her thoughts which were concerned with the hedonistic urge to cavort with symbols of the consumerist age. Wolfe started personal journalism’s modern fad by writing about how he felt watching the ill-fated fund-raising for black militants defiling Lenny Bernstein’s apartment while the guilt-ridden white conductor savored the destruction ala the Marquis de Sade: if it hurts, do it! All reported uproariously from the standpoint of the perpendicular personal pronoun that Wolfe used as a revolutionary change of style for newspaper writing. Pickett was the latest follower in a long line of Wolfe imitators—but she had a following. She wrote endlessly about herself as the princess of cool—her boy-friend, how they regarded morals, trends, politics, developments. She was the beatific vision of narcissism.

Fine so far as it went. But Michael Cooke, the editor born with no narcissist soul but out to hustle writers with ones, found her less interesting when she got married—and evidently very-very uninteresting when she got pregnant and had the baby. While she was away on maternity leave she was transferred unceremoniously from page 2 to the—gasp!—women’s page. No more “Smart Girls Book Club.” No more “Lunch with Debra Pickett.” Hence no more cameos for Channel 11. The “Sun-Times” and its camp follower 11 were not going to follow her while she descended from narcissistic cool to…possibly wanting to interview Rich Lowry or Brian Wesbury and pronounce she agreed that Bush’s tax cuts should be made permanent for god’s sake. What next, lunch with Don Rumsfeld?

The last thing we heard was that Michael Cooke who rates second among the most banal creatures on this earth wanted her to write about breast feeding—for the women’s page. Hey, and the art to go with that would look down from the top so breasts would look like torpedoes. The word from the newsroom is she told him to go to hell. The “Tribune” carried a few of her charges. Bravo Pickett. For the first time I find her interesting, not as a narcissistic marketing sell but for herself.

Spiritual Sons.

I have two beloved natural sons—and two beloved natural daughters—with all of whom I am well pleased, thank you. But all old men have spiritual sons. I am fortunate in that I have a good many. Two of the many are Mark McGuire, a bright young lawyer and Nicholas Lund Malfese another bright young lawyer. That means two things: I am interested in their well-being and pray for them and their loved ones every night. I am not allowed to have spiritual daughters because this could be misunderstood as an old man’s fantasy. But I have spiritual sons, cherish them and fret over their welfare.


  1. I am not allowed to have spiritual daughters because this could be misunderstood

    And spiritual sons couldn't be misunderstood? These days most anything can be misunderstood.

    Better to do what you think best; be honest about it; and not worry about what others think.

  2. Yes, but Wolfe knew the answers. About 2/3rds of "Charlotte" is a heartfelt and passionate request for the Sacrament of Confession.

  3. The reference to Richard Roeper Hurd Hatfield was a brilliant and inspired shot! It is also perfectly accurate.

    Does Roeper have a portrait in a locked room in his attic?

  4. You're dead on about the machinations and manipulations coming out of the Sun-Times. That said, please realize that your entire blog is narcissistic in essence and is hardly the first or last word on the matters you take on. Your tone, however, conveys a certain "now that I've seen it, carve the tablets" superiority that I find disenchanting when mixed with the above-mentioned narcissism. Just watch how many times you use the personal pronoun yourself. Cheers.