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The ME Decade:
Gender and narcissism in the late Seventies the beat that goes . . . Me . . . Me . . . Me . . . Me . . . (Wolfe, 1977:147).

Imogen Tyler

The word 'ME' filled the front cover of the New York Magazine on August 23rd, 1976 (26-40). The New York led with Tom Wolfe's influential article, 'The "Me" Decade and the Third Great Awakening'. 'The 1970's', Wolfe declared, '[is] a period that will come to be known as the Me Decade' (1977:116).

The charge of narcissism became central to the dominant social, cultural and political commentary on the 1970s. In this paper I consider the way in which the concept or idea of narcissism was variously deployed to construct the 1970s as 'the Me Decade': a decade of national malaise, decadence, nostalgia and most significantly a decade in which people stopped being political and became self-interested and self-obsessed. I will focus on the use of narcissism as a key concept in the social, cultural and political evaluations and critiques of contemporary culture in the mid to late 1970s. Specifically, I will analyse the emergence of narcissism and correlative ideas of a national preoccupation with 'self' interest, in 'New Journalism', sociological literature, and political discourse, specifically Jimmy Carter's '"National Malaise" speech' (1979). I will suggest that the 1970s were a period of intense struggle over the meaning of 'masculinity'; in particular there was an anxiety about the traditional social roles of 'men' and the diminishing social role of the family. In considering the relationship between masculinity, narcissism and 'the Me Decade', I reflect on the effects and prominence of feminist, gay rights and racial equality movements. I argue that narcissism was most centrally a rhetorical means of both individualising and denigrating the claims to identity and equality of women in the Seventies.

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