Csnatching longingly out the window, watching the sunset over the New York skyline, or sitting on a balcony while Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness plays quietly in the background. These are just a few examples of TikTok’s tendency to see young people play out scripts and imagine themselves as a protagonist or “protagonist”
With more than 5.2 billion posts on the app’s hashtag #maincharacter, psychologists say the trend has picked up speed as the blockages and feelings of isolation that come with it have created a chasm that was once blocked by social connections.
Social media users already claim to be burdened with what they call “protagonist syndrome” (not an official medical term), with the symptoms being that every person’s action “fits into a story” as if it were written by the script.
For Eddie Brumelman, an assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam who specializes in child development, the recent emphasis on the protagonist’s trend can be seen as a natural consequence of the past year. “We know that the pandemic has made people feel nostalgic, lonely and helpless, especially young people, because they have been deprived of so many important parts of their lives, especially social parts,” he said.
“Creating a story around you can be a way to fill that gap or eliminate that lonely feeling. Presenting yourself as a protagonist not only gives you a sense of freedom that has been taken away by the pandemic, but also that feeling that other people are watching you or interested in what is happening to your story. ”
Olivia Jalop, author of Break the Internet and director of the youth-oriented marketing agency Digital Fairy, says the trend is “a means of repositioning and recontextualizing your identity to make you feel more empowered and the center of your identity.” history “.
She says: “Becoming your own hero speaks to the way the younger generations are self-promoting, especially given the tools they have: a front camera.”
She adds that what is intertwined with the concept of the protagonist is “eternal self-observation -” everyone always looks at me, and I always look at myself. ” The main characters cannot exist without an audience. “Jalop, who observes social trends as part of his work, does not believe that the timing of this trend is a coincidence.” Interestingly, the protagonist explodes at a time when so many are isolated and thirsty for social connection. ” she says.
The idea of young people feeling like they are performing or creating a story about their lives in front of an audience is not a new concept or inextricably linked to social media. David Elkind, a child psychologist, coined the term “imaginary audience” in the 1960s, which he uses to claim that adolescents who experience the concept feel as if their actions are the main focus of attention. the other people.
Viewing oneself as a protagonist may at first glance be dismissed as a product of unhealthy individualism, but some argue that there are benefits. According to Michael Carson, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver, looking at yourself as a protagonist in your life is a positive thing because it can lead to “being more likely to put energy into actions that can make life you go well.
“While if you consider yourself unimportant even in your own life, you’re more likely to take a passive approach to what you can do to make things better,” he says. But Carson’s main view is that the goal is to be “the protagonist of your own life, but not the protagonist of everyone else’s life.” “The other extreme is when you think you’re the only person who matters,” Carson said.
Although the trend has become popular recently, Jalop says she is wary of suggesting that #maincharacter is something new. “This is an evolution of previous Internet iterations of self-confidence through digital documentation,” she says. “Like any viral trend, the protagonist’s mythology has since collapsed on its own: it went viral, then it became a meme, and then it was restored by that meme. I’m sure the mood will quickly turn into something else. “