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Tuesday March 6, 2007 8:00 am

Is Tyra Banks a Sociopath?

Tyra BanksI’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist; my training in that department goes only up to and including my Psych 101 class freshman year at Cornell.  I’m just somebody who watches a bunch of TV, and watches clip shows like “The Soup” which boils down even more TV for me.  All this having been said however, let me say this: I think Tyra Banks is a sociopath.

That’s not a value judgment at all.  I guess it’s not technically a mental health judgment either because of my aforementioned lack of psychological training.  But here’s the thing: I’ve been watching Top Model for a few seasons now, I’ve seen many clips of her talk show (I tried sitting through a whole episode and I just … yeah, no), and something’s always bothered me about Ty Ty Baby and I could never quite put my finger on it.  Finally, though, when I saw Tyra salute herself on her talk show for being a trailblazer in African-American history (she was the first person of color to appear as the cover girl on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition), it all came to me.

She’s not just a narcissist; Tyra Banks has absolutely no sense of empathy.  Having no ability to empathize is what (many websites tell me) catapults someone from simple narcissism to sociopathy.

I’m not saying that Tyra’s going to go out and do something awful (other than her talk show, boom, rim shot!) to anybody.  She’s not dangerous at all.  In fact, what I am saying, is that all of the behavior that people chalk up to a variety of unflattering causes, well, it’s not Tyra’s fault.

Why do I think Tyra has no empathy?  Well, for example, she often does rating stunts on her talk show wherein she’ll dress up as somebody she’s not (homeless person, stripper, a man) and she’ll be utterly astounded at how this new character she’s portraying sees the world.  I mean, the closest I’ve ever been to being homeless is being locked out of my apartment for a few hours, but if you asked me whether or not being homeless sucks, I would vote yes.  I can imagine how degrading it must be to beg for food, how difficult it must be to live on the streets or even in shelters, and how heart-wrenching it must be to have your world turned upside down and live by a whole new set of rules.

But T. Banks?  She can’t imagine it.  When she pretended to be homeless for a day (seriously, a day), she was utterly astounded by the whole experience.  In other words, until she actually experienced homelessness, it wasn’t real for her.  By the way, the best part about the Tyra homeless adventure is that it occurred to her to do this after Will Smith invited her to a private screening of “The Pursuit of Happyness.”  I find that when I’m invited to screenings of films by Hollywood A-Listers, my social consciousness barometer shoots right up too.

The dressing up as a man, the imitating (and ultimately chickening out as) a stripper, all of these things can be seen as ways to experience new things and, for the first time, understand them.

Plus, “America’s Next Top Model” can be seen as Tyra’s ginormous pseudo-empathy village.  If Tyra has done something that the model/contestants are doing, and they react in a different way than Tyra did, Tyra is flummoxed.  She can’t quite accept that somebody wouldn’t react the way that she did.  In one of my favorite Tyra moments, she even transfers somebody else’s experience onto another model and … let me explain better.

Last season, the four remaining Top Model contestants all had to have their pictures taken in a very cold pool.  When the models mention this, Tyra says that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition models have had to do that lying in the snow.  Then she tacks on, “I didn’t do it, but the other models did.”  Basically, she’s saying, “I saw people do something like this, so why are you complaining?”

Also, last season, Brooke, the youngest of the contestants, got kicked off the show on the day of her high school graduation.  Brooke, understandably, says something to the effect of, “This sucks.  I could have been at my high school graduation.”  Tyra, in all her awesomeness, feels the need to tell Brooke about how many people would kill to be in her position right now.  Because Tyra didn’t go through it, Tyra doesn’t understand it.

So, no, I don’t know if Tyra has really crossed the border between narcissist and sociopath (can we at least agree that she’s a narcissist?  I mean, how many pictures of herself does she have to put up in every Top Model House to let me state that as fact?), but if she’s not over the line, she’s scarily close.  The new season of ANTM started this past week; only time will tell.

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