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The Problem with the Main Character Narrative

Cover Photo by CÔPAL via Unsplash

If you’ve been on Tik Tok at all within the past few months (I certainly have), you’ve probably seen countless videos playing off the idea of being the main character. Whether it’s one of those terribly cringey “put a finger down” challenges or a snippet of someone doing something intriguing and slightly questionable to inform neighbors of their main character status, the notion is tossed around the platform in numerous forms.

To be honest, these videos seriously frustrate me. The notion that one would think about themself as anything other than the main character in their own life just doesn’t sit right. It feels degrading, relegating, faithless. It seems like a subscription to a culture that glorifies the unusual and the enthralling while scorning the simple joys of ordinary life. 

The whole main character vs. side character distinction sets up a dichotomy that is startlingly all-for-nothing. Either your life is chock full of attention-grabbing, cinema-worthy moments, or you’re a mere foil for someone more interesting.

I am compelled to mention that there’s nothing really wrong with side characters in themselves. (Let’s be honest, Ron Weasley was the true star of the Harry Potter franchise, after all.) My issue, though, is how this schema seems to promote that the lives of those who don’t have secrets or don’t sneak out or don’t dye their hair aren’t worth celebrating. Surely we could all use a bit more self-generated compassion in our lives, couldn’t we?

Perhaps my most deep-seated concern is how the main character schema conceives of mental health. Some challenges point to mental illness and/or strained familial relationships as token main character qualities. This genuinely irks me. It is true that many fictional characters struggle with some sort of internal battle that drives or complicates the storyline. Yet, I can’t see the usefulness in glamorizing severe mental health concerns. How is dressing up life-altering mental afflictions just to promote them as necessary conditions for an interesting life productive? It’s a mystery to me. 

Do I ever blast jazz music in my room at odd hours of the night? Why yes, I do. Do I own a disposable camera? Indeed, I own multiple. Do I have a “main character” playlist on Spotify? Yes, I do. (However, I’d like to defend myself by saying that this is an almost entirely satirical move. It’s a dump for all of those basic indie songs everyone loves to hate.) I’m not doing these things to prove anything to anyone. Instead, I’m crafting my own main character narrative, one that fills the shape my life is taking and is utterly and ultimately unique to my own journey. We are all deserving of self-love. That should always be at the core of our work. 

My disdain for the distastefully and detrimentally overdone main character narrative bleeds into a handful of suggestions. Lean into your own story and your own objectives. Reject the idea that the sole purpose of your life is to put someone else on a pedestal. Resist the urge to sink into a plotline that doesn’t feel like you, even if it’s what the traditional narrative is trying to sell. 

Are you equally fed up with the main character narrative? Let us know in the poll below. 

Cover Photo by CÔPAL via Unsplash

  • Is the main character narrative problematic?

    • yes
    • not really


Written by Megan Pontin

Enthusiastic word-collector, avid pancake-consumer, and experienced hammock-lounger. Student at Cornell University.

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