Main Character Syndrome

January 15, 2021/ Leni Steinhardt

Superman, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen -- y'all ever take a break? Go to lunch? Wash your sheets?

In my attempt to fall asleep, I looked into the glow in the dark star stickers on my ceiling. My dad had spent hours trying to peel them off years prior but had no success. The faint glow stared back at me. I wondered if these stars were as bright as the ones outside my window, but I was too lazy to get up and check. Instead, I laid down and attempted to make false constellations out of the unorganized plastic stars. The stars were the gateway to the outside world, making the roof between my bed and the real stars transparent. However, the stars that hung above my bed were fake.

“You have to start romanticizing your life. You have to start thinking of yourself as the main character, cause if you don’t, life will continue to pass you by,” was the sound I heard when I turned my phone on to scroll through TikTok.

The words used to encourage others to romanticize their lives were used in more than 80,800 videos by the time I had viewed it. These two words, main character, can be comforting to some but equally toxic to others. Being this persona has quickly turned into a characteristic and lifestyle that Generation Z aspires to be- everyone wants to be a star in a huge galaxy.

By definition, the main character is the focus and has a major purpose or role in the plot. They regularly interact with the other characters. But the #maincharacter that has been seen by 4.4 billion people on Tik Tok is entirely based on having an audience.  These two main characters are entirely different concepts. How can you aspire to be something that doesn't have a concrete definition and is different depending on one's perspective?

People crave attention, whether it’s through posting a selfie to Instagram that gets over 300 likes or posting story after story on Snapchat of your time at Coachella. One can only make themselves feel like the main character if they know people are watching. You can’t be a star without an audience.

We take comfort in imagining that we exist as characters because we can only visualize our lives through the media or literacy that we consumed at an early age. We want to have a constant laugh track behind us every time we tell a joke or an uplifting but deeply emotional song play as we finish a major chapter of our lives. We want to go on random adventures, blast “Tongue Tied” as we dance down the street, and achieve our dreams as “Ribs” by Lorde plays in the background.

It’s this false sense of security that everything in life is going in a positive direction and that we are the stars and are in control of our own destiny.  However, these positive attributes are opposed by our inability to be vulnerable and show weakness. We can't expect to always be the superhero, ready to save the day.

We live our lives artificially based on aesthetics, which stops us from experiencing our candid and natural lives. We tell ourselves that we want it to feel like the movies, books, or television shows we watch.

When telling yourself that you are this main character, you are holding yourself to unnecessary and high standards.  The main character embodies being strong, courageous, reliable, fearless and daring. However, it’s okay to admit to being vulnerable at times and to not be the Superman in every situation.

There is equal importance in being a side character. Even though they won't share the same spotlight as the star, just like the moon and the sun, they shine just as bright. Without the side character, the main character would be nonexistent and the plot would not continue.

Would I finally feel like the main character of my own journey if I was actually laying in a field looking into the real stars as Electric Love by Børns plays in the background? Perhaps, but it’s just as okay that I am looking up at the glow in the dark stickers on my bedroom ceiling instead.■

This article was written as a part of Spark Writing’s first annual summer workshop series, Words With Friends: A Spark Writer’s Summer!

Graphic By: Juleanna Culilap
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