call me shallow
"When a narcissist's sense of control is challenged, he feels threatened, and responds as if his survival is at stake," writes Kristina Nelson in Narcissism in High Fidelity (2004, p. 19). This is Rob Gordon's existential crisis--his girlfriend has just left him and he turns inward because, basically, who is he without his conquest, without his companion, without his distraction... depending on his mood, of course? He looks back at his top five all-time breakups like they are the building blocks of his being. Well, them and all the music he's got catalogued in his head, in his record shop, and on the shelves that crowd his apartment.
And, he's not wrong. There's a realism in the horribleness of Rob Gordon. His obsession with music, his obsession with his sexual (and non-) partners, his obsession with himself--there is familiarity and believability there. His excessive voiceover is our ticket to something that rings true and may even ring biographically. I mean, we can sympathize, we can empathize, we can identify. We can certainly understand. He's stuck. Stuck in a life he (feels he) can't control. Stuck in a life where things don't go his way, but the same basic beats keep repeating with his top five talks with Barry and Dick, his need to get into bed with his various girlfriends--
(As his mother tells him on the phone, "You meet someone, you move in, she goes. You meet someone, you move in, she goes.")
--his conviction that his life isn't working...
Not unlike Phil Connors in that time loop. As Daughton (1996) describes Phil's plight: "Groundhog Day presents one man's metaphorical journey away from the stereotypically masculine pursuit of Power and agency, the drive to control his life and the people and events in it" (p. 143). Or Davies (1995) describing Phil's situation in Groundhog Day as "white masculinity in crisis" (p. 215).
And I'm talking about Groundhog Day and it's not even the 2nd of the month. Laura tells Rob, "You have to allow for things to happen to people. Most of all, to yourself." Rob doesn't do this. Phil doesn't do this. Too often in my life, I haven't done this. But, then again, it's like a cookie cutter, newspaper horoscope version of captain obvious: I fear change, I'm special, woe is me, I deserve a nice little movie about my life and my crisis nevermind people living with food insecurity, people living in war zones, people living with constant, ingrained prejudice and oppression. My life is special. Tell my story...
White masculinity in crisis? Not exactly. The "crisis" is imaginary. Any chink in the armor and the privileged panic. They launch into crisis mode. Phil Connors is trapped in a world grown finite, Rob Gordon is trapped in a world where the women in his life dictate things. You know, powerlessness for the powerful.
On the one hand, we love that setup because we want to see the asshole laid low for his assholishness. But then, we're there with him, and we want to see him fix it, become a better person, less of an asshole. Only less of. We don't want him to lose it entirely because then he won't be as interesting, as attractive. Phil Connors cannot lose his sarcasm even if he loses his cynicism. Rob Gordon cannot lose his self-absorption or his detachment, though it may turn a little less ironic. Han Solo cannot stop being a scoundrel. John Rambo cannot stop turning to violence. And so on. If they do, they stop being interesting, stop being worth the stories.
And, we need the stories.
And, we need the assholes so we can feel better about ourselves.
Or at least, so we can feel like we're not the only ones.
Or because we're privileged and want to be reminded that we're special.
Daughton, S.M. (1996). The spiritual power of repetitive form: Steps toward transcendence in Groundhog Day. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 13, 138-154.
Davies, J. (1995). Gender, ethnicity and cultural crisis in Falling Down and Groundhog Day. Screen, 36(3), 214-232.
Nelson, K. (2004). Narcissism in High Fidelity. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.