This is a rather unique Literary term article, as it will make use of two terms rather than one. The reason is that both borrow from the same source but then divide from there. Rather than repeating information again, I will simply discuss both in this article.
Today we are tacking Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRG) and Cutting Off Reflected Failure (CORF).
When I originally did this article, I had given a great deal of research to this. Since that time, I have learned more as a writer and expand this article further.
I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.
First thing to understand about any of this, like many other topics I discuss on this site, nothing is set in stone about this. As people are rather complex from one to another, what is true for one person isn’t always true for another. This topic has some controversies because of that fact and studies have been unable to get an exact understanding of this.
This topic relies on hypothesis and generalization, which is no means a hard fast rule you must use in your writing, but certainly something to consider.
BASKING IN REFLECTED GLORY
Well start off with BIRG (or BIRGing when used as a verb). As stated above, it is Basking in Reflected Glory. The technical definition is a self-serving cognition whereby an individual associates themselves with other successful people, to the degree that the successful peoples accomplishment becomes the individual’s own accomplishment.
Simplistically, you take a personal sense of satisfaction of others successes as if they were your own. People have a tendency to latch on to people or groups (sometimes places) and sees any success they have as an extension of themselves.
It’s not just being proud of your sports team or your friend winning the lottery, it is an act of self glory. One feels more accomplished in some way and wants to celebrate. Now the individual may be directly linked to the accomplishment. This is known as Personal BIRG. They may also not be directly linked, which is further called, Outside BIRG.
NOTE: Personal/Outside BIRG are terms I created and are not official terms.
Personal BIRGing deals with having a direct connection with an individual. This may be a family member, a friend, or a work colleague. A parent may have a bumper sticker for their child who is on the Honor Roll, or a friend winning a competition.
Outside BIRGing deals with having no direct connection to the successful individual(s). This could be a sports team, or even a political party. Maybe even an actor/actress winning an award. Whomever this person is, you have no direct connection to them, yet feel a personal sense of pride when they do well.
Our need to BIRG is a component of Social Identity Theory, which is how an individual defines their self-concept derived from perceived membership of a group. People tend to imbue their self-concept from those they perceive as better than themselves, even if in a false sense of reality. Attributes seen as desirable are: high self-esteem, attractiveness, prestige, competence, skillfulness, popularity, and being morally good.
This can affect people’s endocrine system. The endocrine system produces and releases hormones for various functions, and in the case of BIRGing, it affects serotonin and testosterone (mostly in males). I wouldn’t be surprised if it increased oxytocin in our bodies. The fact that we have a release of serotonin or testosterone is an indication that this is as much a physiological process as well as psychological. This can be seen as a positive experience, but can lead to a negative one.
Most people have those they look up to. Sometimes this is just a general fandom, that doesn’t really move them to change. Others can be so inspired by someone they look up to, that they change themselves for the better. Such as Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz, whose uncle gave him a pedal police car when he was young, and he looked up to his uncle, who was in the police, giving him a sense of self. Although, he later learned his uncle was corrupt which caused him to never touch the toy again, he never lost sight in how he was transformed.
To a degree, BIRGing is on par with Self-Serving Bias. It is used to counter threats of self-esteem and help maintain positive social connections. Our need for happiness is a powerful force, as well as our need to not feel bad. In many ways, we using this to try to find ways to either dull our pain or increase happiness, and BIRGing is one way we do that. To this effect, happiness is a drug (I will say this a lot), and our Self-Serving Bias makes sure that we always stay happy and protect our ego from harm.
And what’s wrong with that? We all want to be happy. That alone is not a bad thing, but with anything, when something is taken to an extreme it can lead to self-destruction, as the person creates a delusion of their idol, that they feel they can never live up to that. This extreme only happens when someone’s success (or likely a series of successes) leads someone to hate themselves in the process, as they feel they can never have that.
It’s always unfortunate when this happens, as people shouldn’t base their self-worth on what others think of them or accomplishments. It happens all too often though.
We can look at BIRGing within the scope of Freudian Psychology, namely in the Ego, Id, and Super-Ego. As we learn in my article on it, that the Super Ego is a representation of our idealized self, and our conduit to socialization. Our Ego, which keeps the Id and Super Ego in balance, is our real self, that which we often keep buried from others.
When it comes to idolizing others and basking in their glory, or wanting more popularity by associating with those who are, BIRGing is seen as a function of the Super Ego, and may even overwrite the Ego if taken to an extreme.
When the Super Ego dominates the Ego through BIRGing, this can be seen as deindividuation. Deindividuation is a psychological state characterized by a loss of self-awareness (partial or complete), diffused responsibility, and apathy of maintaining social norms. This is often caused by being a part of a group, whether voluntary or forced upon a person.
Basically, a person loses sense of who they are as the participate in group activities. As they become more involved with the group, they begin comparing themselves against higher standards that they may or may not be able to achieve. If it is obtainable, it can be enough for a person to lose who they are, as the group and their goals is their only concern.
This can be seen as cult behavior. We often tell children that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, which is partially true. It is comparing ourselves to what is considered normal behavior within society that regulates our behavior, and without it, can lead to erratic behavior. It’s one of those: too much of one thing or not enough of a thing, is bad. It’s a happy balance.
Our desire to be in said group and becoming a part of the group is an example of BIRGing. When one person in the group succeeds, the group itself succeeds, and when the group succeeds, the individuals within the group feel they’ve succeeded.
The individual loses their sense of self as they participate in the group’s activities and choices. Deindividuation involves a loss of self-awareness which is essentially the degree to which one’s attention is focused on the self, resulting in comparisons against meaningful standards. When spectators become deindividuated, their self-awareness decreases and they cease to compare their behavior against these social norms. The group’s norms become their only focus, and therefore the social norms. Consequentially, situational forces are more influential. Without the comparison process of self-awareness, behavior is more likely to be inconsistent with attitude.
(Wow, that was a lot of big words)
An interesting example of BIRGing is Brand Loyalty. It has been shown that people who purchase a product, will often only buy that from the company that makes it. A good example is Apple. Those who buy one Apple product, such as the iPhone are more likely to buy a MacBook, or even an iPad. Even if there are superior products on the market, noted individuals will even defend the shortcomings of products, highlighting some other aspect as the reason their favorite is superior.
This is seen in the show Penn and Teller’s Bullshit for organic foods. In a side-by-side taste test, many felt the superior tasting product was organic, and were wrong. More than that, many still defended organic as being superior in face of their initial assumption of being wrong. They quickly relied on the health benefit, which makes up for the lack of taste.
NOTE: I’m not here though to debate on the benefit of organic foods.
When it comes to Brand Loyalty, BIRGing can lead into another phenomenon known as Conspicuous Conservation (or Prius Effect). This is where people will engage in or purchase products, that are seen as environmental friendly, but do so not because they care about the environment, but because it popular to do so.
Conspicuous Conservation came from Conspicuous Consumption, where people will buy products for social status. In both instances, people purchase products not because they need it, but because they want the glory of owning them, believing that people who have these things are in someway successful or superior in the ways they desire. If a famous actress owns a purse that costs thousands, some women will buy a knock-off of that purse just so others will see her as successful. This is an example of BIRGing.
CUTTING OFF REFLECTED FAILURE
We know that BIRGing is seen as a function of Self-Serving Bias, as a means to keep us happy. Part of keeping ourselves happy is to remove anything that would cause us sadness or stress. This is where CORFing comes into play.
CORFIng is where people are quick to disassociate from those of perceived lower status in order to protect their own reputation, in fear of being linked to failure. The process in which BIRGing happens is the same for CORFing. Like BIRGing, there is Personal CORFing and Outside CORFing. Unlike BIRGing, Personal CORFing can both be Direct and indirect.
Understanding CORFing can help us better understand BIRGing, in that people often seek acceptance by associating with those they see as successful, and distancing themselves from anyone who is not successful. This is usually an unconscious act, but not always. It’s nothing personal. People want to be successful, so they idolize successful people.
Direct Personal CORFing is when a person lets it be known they find a person undesirable. This can either be that they’ve always found them undesirable, or some recent event has caused this effect. The CORFing person may had a personal connection with the failed person, though not always necessary.
Direct Personal CORFing can be seen in schools were popularity is important. Popularity often builds a social structure, keeping people in key places, often not by choice, which can lead people to rise and fall. Breaking said structure, in the fact of talking to the wrong person can lead to public humiliation.
In the movie, 10 Things I Hate About You, Michael goes to Joey to entice him to pay a guy to date Bianca’s sister. Since Michael and Joey are in different social circles in school, Joey at first insults him, and tells him that he doesn’t care what he has to say. Since Michael doesn’t leave, Joey begins to draw a penis on his face. This is a perfect example of Direct Personal CORFing, as Joey seeks to humiliate Michael because he can.
Indirect Personal CORFing is a form of ostracizing. This can be seen as people stop hanging out with each other, often for social reasons. Nothing is ever said directly, it is just how things happen. Often, those most affected by it, don’t know why it happened, though the offender may pass it off as, it was done by accident.
Kenny in Can’t Hardly Wait eventually stopped speaking to Denise because he wanted to be with the cool kids. He didn’t directly CORF Denise, and likely didn’t realize he was CORFing her, but figured they grew apart.
Indirect Personal CORFing can also be seen as spreading rumors about someone as a way to get other people to cut that person off, that others share your feelings of said person.
In the Breakfast Club, Claire tells Brian that she wouldn’t be friends with him if she ever saw him around school. She goes on to say that all of them would do the same thing and none of them could be friends, as they each would try to protect their image. Furthermore, she believes Brian doesn’t have an image to protect as he looks up to people like her. While she is being direct with Brian, the way she would treat him and probably has, would be an example of Indirect Personal CORFing.
Bender began to yell at her, telling her that she was awful for doing that. She tried to turn it around on him, saying that he would do the same. He further yelled at her for her behavior and told her off that he basically wants nothing to do with her. Despite any connection they had made up to this point, he was engaging in Direct Personal CORFing.
Outside CORFing would simply dislike something you perceive as weak or a failing entity. Generally, you have no direct connection with said individual. Likely, you’ve never met them. You simply don’t like something and move on. If brought up in conversation, you might list a few details of what you don’t like about it, and may even try to convince others to feel as you do. For the most part, it is out of sight, out of mind.
Both of these seem simple enough, but it is rather complex. We are describing an instinct of trying to keep ourselves happy by either feeling proud of our selves when others do things, or removing that which makes us feel bad. We see this in many different ways.
Perhaps a great example of both concepts is when parents live vicariously through their children. This can be innocent enough, say putting a bumper sticker on their car (which people don’t do anymore), or mentioning their success as an extension of their parenting. However, it can easily go to an extreme.
Some parents see themselves as a success and figure that what worked for them should work for their children. They will often push them in this direction. What a child does on the road for this, is seen as a reflection of them, and may even use a guilt trip that doing this makes the parents proud. It may even be that the parents want them to do something they couldn’t.
This is best seen in Dead Poet’s Society, where Neil’s father tries to control his son and his school. All work and no play. His father has set a path for him to be a doctor. When his father leaves, Neil’s friend riff on him for not standing up to his old man, when Neil reminds them that they too are in a similar situation.
Neil’s father is using his son for his own glory, and constantly pressures him out of sense of family and what it might do to his father and mother. Neil’s father is BIRGing his own son.
In some cases, this can take a different path that a child chooses not to follow in the path the parent has chosen for them. In TV Tropes, this is called I Have No Son. In this instance, the child refusing that path creates a rift between parent and child, and can result in families not speaking to each other.
A great example of this is the Simpsons with Krusty the Clown, where we learn that his father, Rabbi Krustofski, wanted his son to become a Rabbi, as was a tradition for all sons to do. Krusty wanted to be a clown, which his father forbid. This created a rift between the two that last for many years where they never spoke to each other.
Because his father saw him as a failure for not following in his footsteps, he cut off his son from his life, which is CORFing, or more specifically, Direct Personal CORFing.
Another thing parents can do is favor a child over another. This is often inevitable and not personal, but in doing so, they hold higher expectations for one child than the other. Sometimes the child they favor is exceptionally good at something, while other times parents see something not there even if the less liked child is much better at something.
Parental Favoritism may come about in a few different ways. Such as Birth Order, Gender, Personality, or the difference between Adopted and Biological. This can play with BIRGing and CORFing, as the favorite child can do not wrong, and if they have, it is likely the fault of the other child.
In friends, Ross and Monica’s parents heavily favored Ross over Monica. This was due to them believing they couldn’t have a child, and then the birth of Ross was their ‘Miracle’ child. With Monica, much of the magic was gone and she was treated rather poorly. Any time Ross were to have done something bad, it would have reflected on Monica.
So we can see that their affection for Ross is very much BIRGing.
As we see, parental favoritism does create the Un Favorite. This child, no matter their accomplishments, is seen as a let down or disappointment. Nothing they do is right. Often times, the child may be successful themselves, but their lack of favoritism is due to their sibling being so much greater than them, it leaves them in the shadow. Or, it can be a combination of the two, that the unfavorite is successful, but the parents feel that it doesn’t compare to their favorite child, even when the favorite child’s success is of lesser value.
Perhaps the best example of the Un Favorite is Zuko from the Last Airbender. His father, Fire Lord Ozai appeared to favor his sister Azula. Ozai told Zuko he was lucky to be alive and fought him in Agni Kai, and upon realizing he had to fight his father, he refused. This led to him being banished.
Seeing his son as a failure, Fire Lord Ozai banished his son.
Tropes to Look UP
We would love to believe that we are noble creatures and would never do anything for our own selfish needs, and yet, we would. Protecting ourselves is important. Our happiness is what gets us from sun up to sun down. We do anything for happiness, and the last thing we want is to be unhappy.
Much of what we do in a day to day life is not a conscious thought. Often, our actions are dictated by subconscious desires. Much of what we do is not fully understood to ourselves. BIRG and CORF are two such examples. Most of the time, we don’t realize this is exactly what we’re doing.
In our pursuit of happiness, some of us can rely on life itself to make us happy. Most of us can’t. Some of us can get help, others can’t. Needing a way to be happy, there are those of us who turn to drugs. It is likely not only a way to be happy, but also a way to be less sad. Life is very tough.
Happiness itself is a drug, and barring artificial means of happiness, we as humans look for Happiness by Proxy. Those we know, those we cheer, their success gives us happiness. Not just out of pride, but in glory, almost as if we’ve done something great. You might think that you are not someone who has done this, but we all have in some way or another. Something to look at yourself and ask if you’ve done it.
BIRGing and CORFing make a lot of sense. We all want to be winners. Very few people seek to be losers. Those who want to be winners don’t want any association with anything that is a failure. Most of the time though, we don’t actively seek to cut people from our lives, often doing it subconsciously, as a means to get more ahead in life.
As bad as it seems, this is actually normal. When you set out to write your characters, remember that they all want to be successful, either in what they are doing, or doing something else. Part of that path towards success is surround themselves with successful people, or those that can help them get to a level of success. They will idolize someone they see as successful. They may even want to join a group in an effort to be successful.
Again, perfectly normal. The question becomes, what are they willing to lose in the process of doing so? Who will they hurt? Will they even know they’ve changed?
We all have idols and heroes, and get so connected to them, that we cheer in their success. We gain glory in their success. Often times, because it is the closest we’ll get to ever have that kind of excitement for ourselves. Your characters will do the exact same.
You want your characters to be good people, but remember, it is the negative aspects that most people can connect to, because there is something negative in each of us.