It’s a vicious cycle, really. Living here in New York City, we see people rise to positions of power every single day, and we can never be quite sure if it’s because they’re genuinely smart and interesting or because their own vanity allows them to act in a way no other reasonable person ever would, with the shameless self-promotion and the inflated sense of self-worth. Hint: It’s usually the latter.
-img2- Gawking at Themselves: Emily Gould and Josh Stein
The crown prince and princess of blog oversharing took their perfectly banal office entanglement and translated it into cover stories for Page Six and New York Times Magazines, respectively. Should we blame the editors for giving space to such trifles? Yes. Does that absolve Gould and Stein? Not at all. (For the record, Gould’s was douchier, but she probably made more money.)
Clinton’s Final Campaign Speech, Deep Under the Earth’s Surface
Sure, everyone’s best friends now, but let’s look back to that night, Tuesday, June 3, 2008. Clinton needed a miracle landslide in both states (Montana and South Dakota) — she didn’t get them, and the game was over. Instead of giving the kind of graceful, inspiring concession speech that great politicians are remembered for, she proceeded to deliver the typically entitled boomer prattle we’d come to expect. The final tally: Clinton used the word “I” 60 times, compared to Obama’s 24. Oh, and she held the speech in an underground, media blackout zone, the campaign equivalent of covering your ears and going “blahblahblah.” Blah.
Graydon Carter Loves Macaroni
Well, he does edit a magazine called Vanity Fair, after all. Yes, it’s true, the cofounder of Spy has devolved into the very kind of self-important cultural nabob his first magazine so gleefully skewered with pre-Photoshop cut and paste, and scathing truth-to-power commentary. Now he hosts Oscar parties and owns restaurants and invests heavily in the Celebrity Industrial Complex. Goddamn Canadian magazine editors (you too Bonnie Fuller… hiss).
-img3- Truman Capote and His Diary
Writers have a dense, complicated vanity-insecurity feedback loop: they are vain enough to presume their innermost thoughts have public merit, but are terrified by what the public might actually think. Every now and then, though, vanity trumps all, as was the case with Truman Capote’s tell-all Answered Prayers. Undertaken with Proustian ambition, the never-completed magnum opus was to have been a sprawling true-life account of New York society, leaving very little to the imagination. But after early excerpts were published, the backlash was swift and total: all those society ladies (led by Babe Paley) who’d made Truman their beloved mascot summarily shunned him, forever. He never really recovered.
What would this city have done after 9/11 without Il Duce 2, who so bravely held press conferences and, uhh, walked around downtown? Who else would have set up the city’s emergency command center in, uhh, the city’s prime target? Who else would have suggested his term limit be extended because we needed his strong, forceful, rat-like, staccato leadership forever and ever? It’s Giuliani time!
The Gates of Hell Are Gauzy and Orange: Christo
Having a single name is a pretty good tip-off in the vanity department. Draping public spaces around the world with a bunch of cheap fabric is another. Installing dozens of safety-orange gates around Central Park using discount-bin material from Home Depot really just seals the deal.
-img4- Ryan Adams and His... Entire Life
We can get beyond the standard rock crit argument against Ryan Adams, which is essentially that he’s without a filter and works under the assumption that every single note of music he commits to tape is worthy of public consumption. We maintain that his batting average is high enough that it’s a sin that’s easily forgiven. Not so much with, well, any of the other things he’s ever done. From making all those YouTube videos about his breakup with ex-girlfriend Jessica Joffe and live-blogging the bleaching of his own hair, to dramatically swearing off the internet and then returning just a few weeks later. His entire life has become one long, brilliant moment in NYC Vanity.
Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself”, and then El Beardo keeps right on singing himself, for 15,000 words. If you try to enter a 15,000-word post into LiveJournal, you get a Server Error message that reads: “Oh please god get over yourself.” We get it, Walt: you contain multitudes.
And Moses Parted the Red Square
Despite recent attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of the man who destroyed Penn Station, Robert Moses’s legacy, plainly visible all over New York, is one of self-aggrandizement. Never has one man imposed so much of his will on the character of an entire city, but thankfully, one of his worst ideas never came to pass: running Fifth Avenue right through the Washington Square Arch and out the other side. But where would we play guitar?
Steinbrenner: The Boss
Like George W. Bush and that one friend of yours who nobody really likes but hangs out with you all the time anyway, George Steinbrenner perfected a teeth-gritting willful blindness to his own shortcomings and culpability in his failures. Firing the manager every time the best team your money could buy underperforms is something like the baseball equivalent to breaking a mirror when you don’t like the way you look.