Alec Baldwin is now well-known for his irritability and lack of impulse control.
In 2007, he was caught on tape screaming at his then-11-year-old daughter that she was a “rude, thoughtless little pig.” Later, in 2011, Baldwin battled with an American Airlines employee who insisted he power down his cell phone during a flight.
Over the years, Baldwin has also engaged in numerous physical and verbal altercations with reporters and paparazzi, including an incident just last week, in which he used a slur – an offensive way of referring to a gay man – when yelling at a photographer who was taking his picture.
I have never evaluated Alec Baldwin. There are many sources of irritability and impulsivity. They include narcissism, mood swings, alcohol abuse and even physical conditions like diabetes and subtle seizure disorders.
Sorting through the possibilities is work for Mr. Baldwin and a clinician, if Mr. Baldwin chooses to do that work.
But Mr. Baldwin may have revealed something key when he threatened to quit the entertainment business, stating, “If quitting the television business, the movie business, the theatre, any component of entertainment, is necessary in order to bring safety and peace to my family, then that is an easy decision. This country’s obsession with the private lives of famous people is tragic. It’s tragic in the sense that it is so clearly a projection of people’s frustration about their government, their economy, their own spiritual bankruptcy.”
Yes, Alec Baldwin seems to want to look anywhere but in the mirror, in an attempt to explain the trouble he is having.
Yes, he chose acting and should have known that success in that career would come bundled with intrusions.
Yes, he is an outlier—far more confrontational than most celebrities and far more ready to hurl slurs that hurt other people, deeply.
Looking in the mirror might lead him to wonder whether being an actor –and being famous – have allowed him to avoid the deep personal exploration needed to find the roots of his explosiveness. Narcissism can itself be a defense against inner feelings of having felt unloved, which keep erupting as disappointment, frustration and rage.
Alec Baldwin clearly needs some help becoming balanced. He has to figure out why he assaults people physically and emotionally, again and again. There’s something wrong with that—and with him.
But, Baldwin is also onto something - far too many Americans are, indeed, obsessed with the lives of famous people. It is their drug. It is their way of not being present in their own lives and, as Baldwin put it, a sign of “their own spiritual bankruptcy.”
He got it right when he connected America's obsession with celebrities with the “projection of people’s frustration about their government, their economy, their own spiritual bankruptcy.”
Because when people are disempowered by a government that infantilizes them and takes their autonomy away, as, in my view, the Obama administration seeks to do, they depart psychologically from their own hopes and goals and become viewers and fans, first and foremost.
Yes, millions and millions of Americans are now without a true center, depressed and getting high on celebrities and sex and drugs. But that center may also still elude Alec Baldwin himself.
My favorite author, the late Harry Crews, once wrote, “Men to whom God is dead worship one another.”
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.