The Narcissist Decade

Article excerpt

Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 'Juno,' tells us why our culture embraces self-absorption.

In the past, I'll admit, I've enjoyed being compared to the protagonists in my screenplays. I'm tickled when friends say they Asee meA in spunky little Juno MacGuff--or even poor, bedeviled Tara Gregson from United States of Tara. But when my husband pointed out how similar I am to Mavis Gary, the antiheroine of my latest project, Young Adult, I was a little put off. It wasn't exactly a compliment. But was it true?

Mavis (played by the lovely Charlize Theron) is a bitter, 30-something Minnesotan who's dissatisfied, even disgusted, by her station in life. Initially it's hard to see why Mavis isn't happier. She's a tall, stunning blonde who has fulfilled her dream of writing young-adult fiction. She's more successful than most of the small-town folks she left behind (a fact of which she's comically aware).

However, Mavis's humble peers possess something that eludes her more each year: growth. They've matured into seasoned adults with perspective and humility, while Mavis continues to flail in a self-created hell of reality TV, fashion magazines, blind dates, and booze. When Mavis finds out via email that her high-school sweetheart, Buddy, has become a father, it sends her off the proverbial deep end--waterproof mascara in hand. Mavis abruptly leaves her condo in Minneapolis, jumps into her car, and heads back to her hometown of Mercury to break up Buddy's marriage and reclaim him as hers and hers alone.

Sounds like a nice lady, right? You can see why when my husband, Dan, said, AYou're a lot like Mavis,A I had hoped he meant physically. (Alas, I can be delusional but not that delusional.) Even though I created Mavis as I wrote the script, I always tried to keep her at arm's length from my psyche. Sometimes I bond deeply with my characters during the writing process; with Mavis, I deliberately kept a safe distance. Sure, I shared some of her qualities (hatred of baby showers, love of Diet Coke, and occasional bouts of stalkerlike behavior). But I was also repelled by her narcissism, her casual cruelty, and, most of all, her desire to unseat Buddy's wife and child as the center of his universe.

AI'm nothing like Mavis,A I said at the time, waving off the comparison with a laugh (and a silent vow to create an even more unflattering character based on Dan). …