Modernity and Sociopathy

Introduction

In this essay we will be discussing the social impacts of television and how the advent of on-demand streaming services has changed social life. We will be arguing that the mass media plays a large role in disseminating a Weltanschauung (worldview) throughout the world which is antisocial to such a degree that one could call it sociopathic.

This is not an over exaggeration. The author of this essay is not the only one who has seen this trend emerging in Western society. For example, Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (Lasch, 2018) highlights the emergence of many sociopathic traits in Western society and how these traits are being encouraged and reinforced through the system itself (including the mass media). Lasch fails, however, to understand the behavioural characteristics he is discussing are not just aspects of narcissism. His reliance of Freudian psychoanalysis and references to psychoanalysts prevented him from understanding that he was discussing a cluster of traits which are used to diagnose patients with what is referred to in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) as antisocial personality disorder  (American Psychiatric Association 2013, p. 659). Among the general public antisocial personality disorder is generally referred to (usually interchangeably) as psychopathy or sociopathy, we will deal with this confusion below.

Through the mass media (predominately television, cinema, streaming services, YouTube and so forth) a culture of hyper-individualism is instilled in the public. As Lasch elegantly puts it: “the culture of competitive individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a war against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self.” (Lasch, 2018, p. 4).

Antisocial Personality Disorder, Sociopathy & Psychopathy

In the DSM, sociopathy and psychopathy are thrown under the blanket term ‘antisocial personality disorder’. Many experts including Robert Hare, a leading expert in psychopathy and creator of the Psychopathy Checklist, are dissatisfied with how this disorder is presented as the section in question merely “consists primarily of a long list of antisocial and criminal behaviors” (Hare, 1993, p. 24). A clearer way of looking at the situation is to see psychopathy as having biological causes (nature) and sociopathy as the product of environmental factors (nurture). What we will be talking about in this essay is sociopathy. Sociopathy contains much of the same symptoms as psychopathy, but their cause is, obviously, environmental rather than biological.

The mass media is playing an enormous role in creating a public with numerous sociopathic traits. Below are the ‘key symptoms of psychopathy’ from Hare’s book Without Conscience (Hare, 1993, p. 34)

Emotional/Interpersonal:

  • Glib and superficial
  • Egocentric and grandiose
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Deceitful and manipulative
  • Shallow emotions

Social Deviance:

  • Impulsive
  • Poor behavior controls
  • Need for excitement
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Early behavior problems
  • Adult antisocial behavior

Television & Cinema

When the television first entered the home, it was a single, small, black, and white screen in the loungeroom with one or two channels. There was no variety of programmes fine tuned towards specific demographics, and consumption of the television programmes was family orientated. The family sat around and watched whatever was on together.

As time progressed consumption changed. By 1999, two out of three working-class children in the United Kingdom had a TV in their bedroom and by 2009 that number was raised to 77% – not just working-class children but all children (Giddens, 2017, p. 762). Watching the TV was no longer a family event, the family was atomised, and everyone drifted off to their rooms to watch the TV by themselves to consume material directed at their demographic. This illustrated one way in which the TV has been used to atomise individuals: the actual act of consumption itself reinforces alienation, particularly in the youth who have ‘somehow’ concluded that it is ‘not cool’ to spend time with their parents. Instead they retreat to their rooms to stare at one of their many devices for endless hours, away from real-world human to human interaction.

As the TV spread from the loungeroom to the bedroom parents began to lose control of what their children were consuming. As time goes on, parents are increasingly disinterested in monitoring their children as they too had grown up in a world where the spectacle dominates and controls the cultural realm, they grew up with media that portrayed and glorified ‘rebellious’ and antisocial behaviour. For example, through the 1980s and 1990s, ‘Hollywood’ churned out ‘hood’ films like Boyz n the Hood, Juice and Menace II Society which only served to normalise and glorify gang behaviour in African American communities.

Prima facie, this may seem as if it would be something that draws attention to something negative that is occurring – this is a false interpretation. For people disconnected from a particular environment it may appear tragic (and they may feign an interest in changing how things are in order to appear as ‘good people’), but for people within that environment it is simply a representation of their reality, it is entertainment. For children, it only shows them that they can obtain the things they want by copying the behaviour of characters they identify with. They become influenced by characters who display sociopathic traits, characters that are remorseless and lack empathy (harming, blackmailing, and manipulating someone to obtain an end is just part of ‘how things are in the hood’), promiscuous (‘getting laid’ is seen as something important, a right of passage, and having numerous partners is an achievement. We could also point to 90s cinema, such as American Pie, as further examples of cinema directed at a younger audience which promote behaviour associated with sociopathy), a lack of responsibility (responsibility for gang behaviour is directed at anything and everything other than the African American community who allow it to perpetuate), and so forth.

While there is much pushback against the idea that the media which we consume influences how people we behave, the people who oppose the idea that it does seem be unaware of the fact that humans have used myths and stories to communicate social norms since before we even developed written communication. Just as Vikings identified with certain Nordic gods, people today identify with certain characters in TV and cinema. When Rebel Without a Cause was released in 1955 the youth replicated James Dean’s behavioural characteristics, and now with YouTube the youth aspire to be famous ‘content creators’ who make enormous amounts of money from uploading videos of themselves. For the Vikings it was gods they identified with who communicated a set of values and morals for them to live by. For the youth in the 1950s it was James Dean’s rebellious character who should be emulated. For the youth of today, it is ‘content creators’ with no moral conscience and a callous disregard for others that they aspire to replicate.

Sociopathy Par Excellence

The sociologist John B. Thompson posited in The Media and Modernity (Thomson, 1995) that there are three basic types of interaction:

  1. Face-to-Face (a conversation between two or more people in person)
  2. Mediated interaction (a conversation via. letter or telephone)
  3. Mediated quasi-interaction (a one-sided interaction, such as when watching a TV)

In the first type of interaction the speakers share a common space, the communication is immediate, and they are able to read each other’s body language. In the second, the communication is, in Thompson’s words, “‘stretched’ across space and time, in such a way that individuals can interact with one another even though they don’t share a common spatial-temporal setting.” (2020, p. 5). Mediated quasi-interaction is passive consumption, you do not need to speak or think, you can do nothing more than select what to watch, switch off your mind and consume. That is precisely what was occurring in the ‘Golden Age’ of television, people came home from a long days work or school and watched whatever programme they identified with. They did not want to think, they wanted the ‘talking heads’ to think for them.

This changed with the advent of YouTube. A new form of interaction was introduced which has fed of the growing sociopathy of the Western world. Prior to YouTube, people who were attracted to the idea of ‘celebrity’ or ‘fame’ had to go out and seek it, they had to display some form of ‘talent’. Now anyone can become famous for anything, even for committing immoral and egregious acts, which only serves to influence younger generations to pursue the same path, and to push the limits even further. Here we will focus on one example of YouTube ‘creator’ who has large fanbases (predominately children and teenagers) and has engaged in sociopathic behaviour that is being replicated by his youthful audience. It may be argued that children may just watch a controversial figure for entertainment, that they will not go out and engage in such behaviour. People seem to have forgotten that in the 1990s and early 2000s Jackass and CKY led to large amounts of ‘copycat’ incidents which involved individuals harming others, pushing even further than the stunts in Jackass (the author of this essay himself copied some of the dangerous stunts).

Logan Paul is a YouTuber with over 23 million subscribers (Socialblade, 2021), most of which are children (Koerber, 2018). In order to paint an accurate picture of his content the author endured a couple dozen of his videos (including some of which were removed but reuploaded on other websites, one of which attracted international attention and will be discussed below), starting from his earliest videos and moving to his most recent.

The one positive thing that can be said about Logan Paul is that he encourages his young fan base to be active and exercise. The remainder of his ‘content’ guides his audience in an anti-social direction, and YouTube, as we shall see, is complicit in allowing this cultural parasitism to spread.

There is typical boyish, rebellious behaviour that is normal. But Logan Paul promotes and normalises to a young audience behaviour which is both socially unacceptable and on occasions illegal (or at least should be illegal). There is the encouragement of impulsivity (Logan’s podcast is even called ‘Impaulsive’), promiscuity, pranks which put himself and others in danger (or directly harming them, such as hitting friends with a stapler or putting ‘IcyHot’ on their genitalia), public nudity, stripping in the middle of Italy and jumping off a bridge to the ire of the public who were asking him and his brother not to, trespassing and other distasteful actions. Logan has removed a lot of the videos which caused controversy since he first started ‘vlogging’, and due to the fact that he has been a ‘content creator’ since 2007 it is not really possible to go through and document absolutely everything he has done.

However, one example we can give of just how far Logan has pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour is the case which brought him to international attention. In 2017, while in Japan, Logan went around the streets of Tokyo engaging in his usual behaviour of stripping in the middle of the streets, “throwing a huge Pokémon ball at random people in the city (including a Japanese policeman)” (Digg, 2018). But this was not enough for Logan and his friends, they decided to go camping in the infamous ‘Suicide Forest’.

There is a trail through the forest which is open to the public, then an area which is out of bounds for obvious reasons – Logan and his friends deliberately went off the path with their camping gear and their cameras. They knew very well what they would find when they wandered off the path and into an area of a forest known as the ‘Suicide Forest’, and they found it. Logan and his friends gawped at the body hanging from a noose, they filmed it, got up close to it, chuckled and smiled while feigning shock and horror. This ‘vlog’ was recorded, edited, and uploaded to YouTube where it was seen by millions of people. It stayed on YouTube on their main page for days until they finally capitulated and removed it. Scarily, Logan’s young fans defended him. The video is reuploaded on numerous websites, one upload has nearly a million views (Dailymotion, 2018).

His behaviour and shallow view of life is clearly leaving an impression on the youth, and there are many more people like him (and worse) who are on these platforms, who have young children ritualistically watching them on their TVs, computers, and phones. Normal TV programmes are being replaced by these ‘social media stars’ and their sociopathic tendencies are being normalised and encouraged to future generations. Over time this sociopathic behaviour has only increased in the youth, as Brummelman (et. al) have stated, “narcissism levels have been steadily increasing among Western youth over the past few decades” (Brummelman, 2015, pg. 3659). We cannot ignore the correlation between the content consumed by the youth (and the ‘stars’ they look up to) and their increasingly narcissistic behaviour, their demand for constant stimulation, their impulsivity, lack of responsibility and inability/unwillingness to control themselves. The media content has certainly had a negative effect on the Western population and will continue to do so unless we take a lead out of Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto and “overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society.” (Kaczynski, 2009, p. 6)

Conclusion

In this essay we have argued that the mass media (TV, cinema, YouTube, etc) has been instilling sociopathic traits in Western society. We explained what sociopathy was and how it differs from psychopathy, argued against the idea that media does not impact how people behave, and gave examples of media which has negatively impacted the public, focusing mainly on a ‘content creator’ with a large fanbase of young, impressionable children.

Bibliography

American Psychiatric Association (2013), Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.), American Psychiatric Publishing, USA.

Brummelman, E, Thomaes, S, Nelemans, S, Castro, B, Overbeek, G & Bushman, B 2015, ‘Origins of narcissism in children’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 112, no. 12, pp. 3659-3662

Digg 2018, Before Logan Paul Uploaded The Suicide Video, He Was Already Doing Many Offensive Things In Japan, Digg, viewed 28 May 2021, <https://digg.com/2018/logan-paul-offensive-japan-video&gt;.

Giddens, A & Sutton, P 2017, Sociology 8th Edition, Polity Press, Italy.

Hare, R. D. 1993, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, The Guilford Press, USA.

Hart, S, Cox, D & Hare, R 1995, The Hare PCL:SV Psychopathy Checklist, MHS, Canada.

Kacynski, T 2009, The Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and its Future, WingSpan Classics, USA.

Koerber, Brian 2018, Logan Paul wishes his fans were older. They’re not., Mashable Australia, viewed 28 May 2021, <https://mashable.com/2018/02/01/logan-paul-young-fans-demograpphic/&gt;.

Lasch, C 2018, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, W. W. Norton, USA.

Socialblade 2021, Logan Paul’s YouTube Stats, Socialblade, viewed 28 May 2021, <https://socialblade.com/youtube/channel/UCG8rbF3g2AMX70yOd8vqIZg&gt;.

Thompson, J (1995), The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media, Stanford University Press, USA.

Thompson, J (2020), ‘Mediated Interaction in the Digital Age’, Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 3-28.

Video Svastara, Logan Paul Dead Body Vlog ReUpload + Message, Dailymotion, accessed 28 May 2021, <https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6cr0op&gt;.

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