The Narrative Fallacy Embodied

March 26, 2013 — 28 Comments

Is there a better example of The Narrative Fallacy (or, the Soundtrack Delusion or all the posts I’ve tried to write on this subject) than this photo?

Screen shot 2013-03-26 at 10.14.04 AM

Read the article. Compare it to the photo.

That’s the difference between the grandiose story of self-deception we spin for ourselves and the sad, pathetic reality of what we really are.

Buzz Bissinger is an amazing writer. In many ways, his article is brave and honest and commendable. At the same time, it is the perfect embodiment of the delusional image we project in order to cover up our own fears and inadequacies.

Fortunately, there is an antidote for this. Documentary photographs like this work quite well. You’re not awesome, you’re not a rockstar. All eyes are not on you–at least not in a good way. You look like an idiot. 

Just do yourself a favor and learn from examples like this, instead of by your own trial and error.

Ryan Holiday

I’m a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

28 responses to The Narrative Fallacy Embodied

  1. I’m having a difficult time seeing what Mr. Bissinger was trying to accomplish with this article. He’s obviously fabulously rich, but his problems move us less to pity or fear than to contempt. His story had the makings of a good tragedy, but it’s as though Hamlet ended not with corpses but group therapy. It’s interesting that after being able to afford the Divine Stylist and the Perfect Shadow, Mr. Bissinger has nobody who’ll tell him, “This article makes you look like a fool.”

    • Well, I think it’s a confessional. He’s clearly struggling with an addiction and writers know how to do one thing with their problems: write about them. That’s not really the problem here.

      • If he was attempting a confessional, then he mistook confessing for bragging. The structure of confessional writing–sin, confess, penance, become a better person–is missing the all important third and fourth elements, which is why his article is as satisfying as an unfinished sneeze. What Mr. Bissinger clearly wants us to believe is that he’s doing what he can to fight an addiction, and doesn’t it make him a good person, since good people fight addictions, even if they backslide?

        What he doesn’t seem to realize is that confession without penance is cheap grace. By closing his article with a splurge of Veuve Clicquot, he’s toasting to continuing this ridiculous life. He lets himself off the hook, but it’s pretty clear to any sane reader that he’s still hooked. Though he may buy champagne by the magnum, Mr. Bissinger seems determined to keep filling his cup of bitterness. In that sense, he has written a tragedy, though perhaps not the one he intended.

  2. People don’t learn Holiday. For such an avid reader of history you appear to fail at recognizing themes. There are few men who can tread above delusional ego gratifications. In a system where such a weakly constituted man can gain wealth and influence, it is obvious where greedy desire will take him. The higher man knows that authenticity is the higher measure of man, yet we do not live in a society that necessarily rewards first rate virtues.

  3. The picture of Ryan holding his hands to his face in the header perfectly matches my reaction. The only part I could remotely relate to is the natural reaction to consume when you have long periods of time with nothing to do.

    It’d be interesting to hear Ryan’s take on the clothing aspect, give his position at American Apparel.

    • American Apparel doesn’t sell luxury clothes so it’s a market I have no real understanding of.

      Clearly Bissinger has some deep deep issues (possibly bi-polar or mania).

      • But the point is we all do this to some degree. The way we see ourselves and what we do…and how it actually looks are rarely the same thing. And we’d be very humbled if we considered that perspective more often. To know that we could spend $600k on clothes and still look preposterous? Well, that takes you down a notch.

  4. This post is bang on. It’s also cruel.

    • I think some of the comments here have been cruel. I’m not sure my post was. My point is that we all do what the writer was doing. Rarely, though, is the evidence of it so clear and obvious. That’s why it’s worth staring at–even though your eyes want so badly to turn away.

  5. The Last Psychologist would be proud you’re taking these ideas a little more mainstream.

  6. Agreed on the turning away. I thought I was gawking at a car wreck the entire time I read it. That said- some people live with a loose sense of self and one day wake up and decide they’ve been fooling themselves (again). Hopefully if this ever happens to me I won’t have as much in by bank account.

  7. There’s a whole meme dedicated to this,

  8. There’s a bunch of memes dedicated to this, What You Think You Look Like vs What You Actually Look Like

  9. This is like the reverse of Seneca’s advice to go in public looking like a beggar… but maybe even more difficult

  10. As a matter of fact, on reddit today:

  11. Girl Passing By March 29, 2013 at 1:08 am

    My first reaction to stories like this is always cringing self-loathing. I am forever feeling as though I am just one step away from being this idiotic.

  12. Am I the only one who thought he didn’t look completely terrible? It’s the price tag that bothered me more than the clothes. $12,000 a jacket is a lot to pay to preserve your self-image, when the same look could be assembled from a thrift store for under a hundred.

    Hmm… Crazy thought: Could the price tag ITSELF be what’s preserving his self-image more than the clothes? If he saw the same jacket for $35, I suspect the author might not get it because only “luxury” or “high fashion” fits his self-image, and that image requires the exclusivity only a price tag can create.


  13. The GQ article is disturbing. It reminds me of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. It actually feels satirical. But yes, it’s disturbing because we all do it and it’s helpful to have an extreme example to illustrate it. It makes me never want to talk about myself again.

  14. Ah, you’re right Ryan. The other photos really hammer it home. Perhaps the amount of bad hipster fashion I see in the city has dulled my senses to how terrible that look is.

  15. Ha! Doesn’t he realise he is just an insignificant worm on an insignificant planet in a big bad universe. You can’t take your leather to the grave fatman. Leave your stories at the door. This is reality not some amusement park. He doesn’t even see it. It would be funny if I was less wise and didn’t see the tragedy.

  16. What’s the point of the article? For its readers to get to know Buzz, decide whether they want to pattern their lives after him, decide whether or not Gucci is suitable for the office? Or is it to actually get read, generate buzz, get shared, brand Buzz and Gucci as edgy, and so forth? Oh.

  17. I’ve often wondered where to draw the line when it comes to the idea of “positive self-image” and “believing in yourself”… On a purely practical level, there is nothing wrong with confidence and people that have an almost fanatical belief in a future (and better) version of themselves often go the furthest toward becoming a person that people admire and respect. Believing that you can be more and contribute more than you currently are, is not a bad thing. But it so easily evolves into a self-obsession, a totally twisted, narcissistic narrative with few anchors in reality (like believing that spending obscene amounts of cash on Gucci clothing has elevated your existence)

    How do we keep from confusing the noble intention of aiming high in life (in the best sense) with entertaining “a grandiose story of self-deception”? Ryan, you’ve obviously done well at many things in life and I am guessing you aim for constant self-improvement. How do you keep things balanced? Without slipping in to delusion.

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