Cartwheeling to Conclusions

September 7, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

This post was going to be about kids – what the heck is wrong with these kids today – their narcissism and sense of entitlement and how that’s all because their wealthy parents and schools are so overprotective and doting. giving them trophies for merely showing up and telling them they’re so great all the time.

I’m skeptical about that view – both its accuracy and its underlying values (as I said in this post about “Frances Ha”). But yesterday in Central Park there was this young dad with a $7500 camera.

I was reminded of something from a photo class I once took at Montclair. We were talking about cameras – this was decades ago, long before digital -  and the instructor Klaus Schnitzer said dismissively: “Most Hasselblads are bought by doctors who take snapshots of their kids on weekends.”

Now here was this guy with his very expensive camera taking videos of his 9-year old daughter doing cartwheels. And not just filming her. He interviewed her, for godssake - asked her a couple of questions as she was standing there (notice the mike attached to the camera) as though she were some great gymnast. This is going to be one narcissistic kid, I thought, if she wasn’t already. I imagined her parents in a few years giving her one of those $50,000 bat mitzvahs – a big stage show with her as the star. My Super Sweet Thirteen.

Maybe it was also because the dad reminded me of the Rick Moranis character in the movie “Parenthood,” the father who is over-invested in the idea of his daughter’s being brilliant. 

(The guy looked a little like Moranis. I’ve blurred his face in the photos here, but trust me on this one. My wife thought so too.)

But here’s where the story takes a sharp turn away from the millennials cliches. My wife, who had been a working photographer, went over to ask him about his camera. It turns out that he works for “20/20,” and ABC had asked him to try out this Canon C-100. It was ABC’s camera not his, and as much as he was indulging his daughter, she was indulging him – agreeing to do the cartwheels and mock interview for purposes of his work.

OK, it wasn’t exactly the second-generation kid working in her immigrant parents’ vegetable store, but it wasn’t the narcissism-generating scenario that I had imagined. 

The point is that my wife was a much better social psychologist than I was. If you want to find out what people are doing, don’t just look at them from a distance or number-crunch their responses on survey items. Talk with them.


Andrew Gelman said...


This post reinforces my existing belief that you should replace Arthur and David Brooks on the NYT op-ed page. You cover similar territory as they do, but much more thoughtfully

Jay Livingston said...
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