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You are not the main character

You are not that guy. You are not Him. You are not a “girlboss.” You are not the main character. And that is fine. Neither am I. Neither is anyone.

Thinking of yourself as the main character in some sort of extravagant movie is a mindset that I find both annoying and problematic. But before I nail my 95 theses into words, I ought to explain the context before the student population of main characters motions to excommunicate me.

The main character trend finds its origin in social media on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, where influencers produce videos romanticizing their lives and encourage the audience to do likewise. Often, these videos follow the format of “a day in the life of a (insert occupation),” a mock public service announcement to do something or even self-help vlogs. More specifically, influencers call their audience to find seemingly mundane activities or routines and add a Hollywood-esque aesthetic to it. In essence, living as a main character in your own movie entails putting on the rose-colored glasses. Under this internet pretense, you might find yourself eating avocado toast inside a cozy brunch café on a sunny Sunday morning. You did it for the aesthetic. The phone eats first, right? Take a step back from your hypothetical seat by the window and realize what is going on. You paid $13 for two slices of avocado toast, though you do not like the taste of avocados. You queued 45 minutes outside sweating, waiting for a table to open. You along with every other main character seated in the café were independently engaged in a scene from their movie. Turns out you happened to be just like everyone else.

What I am insinuating is that the whole main character mantra is unrealistic — flawed. It suffocates the subscriber in a cloud of toxic positivity. “Your life is a slay. You ought not worry about what others say about you because they are simply haters, side characters, really. You only live once.” My life is, in fact, not a slay. There are struggles, disappointments, triumphs, frustrations and everything in between. It is vital to acknowledge both the good and the bad and contextualize their significance in the grand scheme of things. Although haters do exist, educated criticism is a healthy means of gauging, even regulating, one’s life. If I am acting foolish, I hope that my friends will hold me accountable on the grounds that they care for me. It is true that one only lives once, but that acronym carries a loaded connotation: glorifying haphazard actions on account of limited opportunities. I am not shooting down taking risks or doing dangerous things. I simply propose an alternative to YOLO, one that emphasizes a more focused attention to what really matters in our short lives. We ought to attend to our relationships because those really do matter.

Relationships with others and oneself is a concept that the main character trend jumbles. Assigning everybody but yourself the role of side character is not only a utilitarian outlook but also demeaning. Thinking that others only serve their purpose by their utility in benefiting your life is a flawed mindset. It has it that another’s value is inherently lower because the story does not directly follow them. Their lines are scripted and numbered. After they perform, a director pulls them off set and they vanish in relevance to the production. With respect to oneself, perceiving yourself as a main character tends to border on narcissism, a dubious outcome for a seemingly good intention. And I get it, people place their lives into a movie narrative because they desire to assert a degree of control over a chaotic world that seems uncontrollable. A movie is a structured form of media that has a plot characterized by exposition, rising action, climax and denouement. Attaching oneself to that sort of stability is a reasonable endeavor, a noble one at that, but I find assigning an inferior value to others truly problematic.

I pose a solution to the main character issue: Be real with yourself but more importantly, be real with others. This is quite the opposite of the fiction fairyland of positivity supported by this trend. Embrace authenticity, like when you find yourself cruising down an empty highway at midnight blasting music with your closest friends on a breezy summer night. Forget the Instagram story that convinces, in vain, your followers of your perfect lifestyle. Think about how grateful you are for life itself and that time spent with such close friends. That was not a main character moment, but it was a core memory shared among the people dearest to you. The accumulation of these times spent with other human beings is what we will ultimately remember when we lie on our deathbeds, not the multiple occasions of avocado toast dates with your phone.

And if you are the demographic that I have hypothetically targeted, I apologize for creating such specific hypotheticals. I invite you to think about the prospect that you can live a truly fulfilling life without being that guy, Him, a “girlboss” or the main character.

Jonah Tran is a first-year at Notre Dame doubling majoring in finance and economics and minoring in classics. Although fully embracing the notorious title of a “Menbroza,” he prides himself on being an Educated Young Southern Gentleman. You can contact Jonah by email jtran5@nd.edu.

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