SSitting on the balcony while yearningly watching the sunset over the New York skyline from the window, or with Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey playing Summertime Sadness softly in the background. These are just a few examples of a TikTok trend that portrays teens into scripts and imagines themselves as a protagonist or “main character” in a fictionalized version of their lives – often based on movie clichés.
With over 5.2 billion views of the app’s #maincharacter hashtag, psychologists say this trend is gaining momentum because the feelings of lockdown and the isolation that come with it create a vacuum when clogged with social connection.
Social media users are now equal claiming to have been subjected to what they call “main character syndrome”“(Not an official medical term) with symptoms that every action of a person” fits into a narrative “as if it were written.
The recent prominence of the main character trend can be seen as a natural consequence of last year, according to Eddie Brummelman, an assistant professor who specializes in child development at the University of Amsterdam. “We know that the epidemic causes people to feel nostalgic, lonely and helpless, especially because of the deprivation of many important parts of their lives, especially social spaces,” he says.
Creating a story around you can be a way to fill that void or remove that feeling of loneliness. To imagine yourself as a protagonist not only gives you a sense of activism taken away from you by the epidemic, but also that other people are watching you or caring about what happens to your story. ”
Olivia Yallop, author of the book Break the Internet and director of the youth-focused marketing agency Digital Fairy, says this trend is “a tool to reposition and restructure your identity and make you feel stronger and the center of your own story”.
He says: “Being your own protagonist speaks in a way of self-expression, given the younger generation, especially the tools they have: a front-facing camera.”
Intertwined with the concept of the main character, “constant self-surveillance -” everyone always looks at me and I always look at myself. The main characters cannot exist without an audience. does not believe it is. “It’s interesting that the main character exploded in a moment when so many of them were isolated and longing for social bonding,” he says.
The idea for young people to feel like they’re performing in front of an audience or to create a narrative of their lives is not a new concept or an idea inextricably linked with social media. David Elkind, a child psychologist, coined the term “imaginary audience” in the 1960s and claimed that adolescents who experienced this concept thought their actions were the primary focus of other people’s attention.
Seeing yourself as a main character might at first glance be overlooked as a product of unhealthy individualism, but some claimed to have benefits. According to Michael Karson, a psychology professor at the University of Denver, seeing yourself as the main character of your life is a positive thing, as this may result in “being more likely to put energy into actions that can make your life better.”
“However, if you consider yourself unimportant even in your own life, you are more likely to take a passive approach to what you can do to make things better,” he says. But central to Karson’s point of view is that the aim is “the main character of your own life, but not the main character of others’ lives.” “The other extreme is that you think you’re the only one that matters,” says Karson.
Although the trend has become popular recently, Yallop says he avoids suggesting that the # maincharacter is anything new. “This is an evolution of previous internet iterations of self-confidence through digital documentation,” he says. “Like any viral trend, the main character mythology has since collapsed into itself: it went viral, then it became a meme, and then it was taken back from that meme. I’m sure the emotion will quickly turn into something else. “