Topic: Narcissism in the Voice Over Community – Part of the He Said/She Said Blog - Off
I never even knew what narcissism was growing up. Wasn’t aware that it all started with some Greek dude discovering his reflection in the water. Maybe because I grew up in a very modest agricultural town in California, just South of one of the largest Hippy cities in America.
My move to Southern California immediately after High School to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts was a real entrée to all kinds of personalities I had never really been exposed to. I pursued acting because I was passionate about the entire creative experience of self-expression through characters, superheroes, scarecrows and movie making, not because I was going to go find an audience who would satisfy my deep yearnings to be admired and adored. I loved the craft of it, loved sleeping on the wood floor of an old broken-down barn the night before I had to bring the character, Fagin, richly to life in the musical Oliver! onstage. I loved sitting at malls and airports, observing the bevy of characters and their interactions with each other and what their voices would sound like based on their body type and malocclusions (Oooh! Just discovered this word…look it up!). I loved to “collect people” and their tics, and then re-create them. That’s why I got into this crazy business.
As I’ve worked the past 20 years in the Voice Over world, I have met and worked with scads of talent who I would say were definitely drawn to this business for those aforementioned needs…to be adored. Full blown narcissism. Page 467 in the DSM. And now that I know how to identify it, I’m keenly aware of it. Unfortunately, I can’t get away from it. In fact, there’s a strange phenomenon at play in the sense that I magnetize narcissists as powerfully as I try to repel them.
I’ve been blessed to work on some great animated shows. Working as an ensemble with all voice actors in the studio on separate microphones, acting each scene together, is really the Holy Grail of VO work for me and Jessica. It’s also where you can have a room full of narcissists. One actor is constantly late, interrupting the flow of the work in the room when she comes in so everyone has to stop what they’re doing to guffaw on her. Then she proceeds to constantly miss her cues in the middle of the scenes because she’s on her phone…thus drawing more attention to herself, because everyone laughs with the “isn’t she cute, she missed her cue”…again!, but they would never have the gall to tell her to stop it. Another actor is so busy tweeting to the anime and video game fans he has made attending 50 anime conventions a year so he can have fans guffawing on him. I just want to shake these guys and let them know how incredibly lucky they are to have this job in the first place. Out of the billions of people in the world, you – YOU!!! – get to be the voice of (fill in the name of a famous superhero here)! You know how many people would give their little brother away to have that role! But then, if I actually did say that to them, it would only inflate that big ol’ head even more and feed the narcissistic beast within.
One of the main reasons that I am not active on Facebook is that I don’t need to see the narcissists boasting about what they are working on…to each other! If you browse some of these Voice Actor’s Twitter accounts, you’ll see literally thousands and thousands of tweets. Primarily these are to their adoring fans. So if they are working as much as they are boasting they are, when the heck do they have time to tweet? Oh yeah, WHILE they are working…thus disrupting the job they are supposed to be working on. (Side Note: Did you know that when Voice Actors were on strike with Video Game companies and studios, one of the items the studios brought to the bargaining table was that Voice Actors could not be on their cell phones during the recording sessions? That’s how bad the Tweeting was/still is!) How many hours of their day are they spending to feed those fans, who are in absolutely no position to give them VO work in any way…only feed their needs for adoration. Some may argue that the more followers you have, the more the production companies will hire you as Voice Talent because the company will get free publicity as you shoot out Instas, Posts and Tweets to your fanbase. (Another Side Note: We also work in Voice Casting and I cannot tell you how many times “Influencers” have been replaced by professional Voice Actors when the production companies discover that tons of Followers does not equal experience.)
What would happen if all the time spent connecting to fans was actually spent developing your craft?
Oh wait…I see the difference. It’s not about the craft for those selfie posers, it’s about constantly feeding the ravenous narcissist hunger that can never be satiated.
I could go off on this one for a while. I’ve been doing Voice Overs since I was 15 and I’ve never seen Narcissism as profound as it is in Social Media. But here’s the clincher, it really doesn’t need to be. Social media didn’t come with any rules. As soon as I could, I got out there and touted my latest bookings in the hopes that someone would see how much I was working. I got a couple of thumbs up and emojis, but nothing significant. Unless there is a teaching message in my post, I now stay far away from self-promotion. However, when I share something about one of my kids, or photos of us picking strawberries, I get hundreds of hits to my Fakebook. Yes, I just said that. But that’s a whole other Oprah that I’ll save for a rainy day.
Before Social Media, we, as VO talent, had to go out and hit the pavement. We had to make people aware of who we were. I always had drive. I even got dressed as a cow and ran into people’s studios with homemade BBQ sauce. I dropped off dumb little desk trinkets. As a self-proclaimed ‘Shameless Self Promoter’, I definitely got the attention I wanted. I got called into castings and became known. People spoke of my marketing for years. I loved bringing them things and I looked forward to the next holiday or celebration that would once again allow me to think and act creatively. I loved walking into those studios and seeing my gifts proudly displayed. I had made someone happy. Getting ahead of the 8 ball was important and I knew I had something special.
In the waiting areas of my various agent’s offices over the years, I would listen to actors speaking too loudly about what they were booking and it always pissed me off. Until I heard the expression, “Those who don’t know it, know it the loudest”. That sums up the waiting room of casting offices and agencies worldwide. These were the grandiose narcissists touting their self-worth for all to admire. And the narcissist magnets would fall prey to it every time. Even I would smile and nod gesturing to the loudmouth a hearty thumbs up. When I really meant to say, ‘Shut up Todd. Stop trying to make people feel inferior to your superiority, that is simply masking your deep-rooted inferiority in the first place.’ I learned that lesson early on, but it still bothers the crap out of me today. Only now, it’s taken a new form.
Social media unleashed many incredible ways to communicate, but for many of the actor narcissists, it gave them a forum to blow their narcissistic selves all over the world. Blowhards and it’s gross. It’s gross! Haven’t we yet reached the understanding that the internet is to share, to teach, to learn, to create, to buy, to help? It is definitely not a place for people to proselytize what they have yet to master. These days, it’s as if everyone is the foremost authority especially in the VO arena. Please come back to me when you have some experience and tout all you want. For sure I’ll listen and I’ll learn. But if you’ve only been doing this for a short while, shut your pie hole and find something interesting to share or give to the world. How about just reaching out to 3 of your friends for a check in? Picked up the phone lately for a voice-to-voice convo? I really don’t want to hear another one of your demos. Ask me to listen and offer up my opinion and I may be interested because you involved my opinion as a person. What good are you doing for the world? I don’t need to be told that we need to create a good Voice Over Rat Pack to succeed. Newsflash, having 800 non-friends on social media who also do VO does not create a community. We are still an every man for ourselves business. We have to be. I can’t rely on you to bring me work. It’s part of the individualistic and independent contractor game and we both respect that. I work hard in my life not to compare. I work hard to share my knowledge because I have gratitude and I can teach. But I’m cautious.
Narcissism is ugly taboo in this industry. It’s ineffective. There are those that are just born and raised with a personality disorder and know no different, and there are those who have narcissistic tendencies that they infuse into their world. They do have control. They know it’s ugly. I say, sell yourself. Tell me a story to remember you by. Let me know who you are, your ups and downs, the fact that your brawny sports kid has taken a liking to making bread during a pandemic, or even that you have struggles. I’m down. But, think for a second about touting how great you are because of something that you booked. It’s not WHO you are. It’s what you DO. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t share good news with people or your joy in your success, but beware of being humble in your pursuits. Ask yourself, “what good am I doing for other people at large with this message of me?” Humility doesn’t hurt. Narcissism, ew!