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What Tik Tok’s “Main Character” Trend Taught Me About Myself

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mich chapter.

Every story needs a main character, but what qualifies someone for this role? In a literary sense, there seems to be an accepted “formula” for determining who the main character is. Although they drive the action of the story, they don’t have to be remarkable or even morally good. Main characters simply center the narrative by providing their perspective on the world around them. However, as the past seven months have given us ample time for self-reflection, this term has gained a new connotation. With the help of Tik Tok, Gen-Z has taken it upon themselves to redefine what it means to be the main character.

And no, it’s not just about romanticizing your life. 

Growing up, we all wanted to emulate the main characters of our favorite books and movies. They had the world at their fingertips- an especially appealing notion to readers who were young and lacked control over their lives. Sometimes, though, we glorify these characters so much that we forget the real reason they were featured: they were alone in their extraordinary experiences. Isolating individuality is what connects adored fictional characters like Harry Potter, Atticus Finch, Matilda and so many more. While social media has taken to glamorizing this role, oftentimes, being the only character in your narrative gets overwhelming, and all we want is to be a side character. 

So, while spending my first two weeks of freshman year in the Baits quarantine dorm did make me feel like the main character, it wasn’t in the way I would have expected. There’s nothing romantic about monotonous days spent wishing I could return to my cozy dorm room. 

Person waiting by window, sad
Photo by Andrik Langfield from Unsplash

Two thousand miles from home and still acclimating to college classes in a pandemic, I was overwhelmed. My family was far away, nobody was relying on me and my only job was to be a student. Really, my only responsibility was to take care of myself, which is simultaneously the easiest and most terrifying task of them all. Naturally, my worry only grew as I was contact-traced to a positive COVID-19 case and moved into isolation housing. In the outside world, I was exposed to other people’s storylines all the time. Sure, I would consider myself the main character of my own life, but hearing about other people’s experiences reminded me that this was all in my head. In a fully casted, unpredictable world, it’s easy to step outside of the spotlight, but not in quarantine housing. You are the main character all the time: a solo act. Even when you are desperate for a side character to step in and divert the attention away from you, they can’t. It’s all you. Living through my own biographical film, I watched my life play out in close-ups and bird’s eye view. 

After months of watching the world of Tik Tok partake in the “main character” trend, I finally realized how strange this phenomenon was. Here were regular people, compiling their most exciting life moments into fifteen-second videos to convince everyone else that they were the main character. Whether they were buying apples at the farmers market, frolicking in a sunflower field or enjoying a sunset swim, these people had managed to document beautiful scenes in their lives, making the rest of us anxious to do the same. 

My curiosity grew as I heard a story about The Truman Show Syndrome on my favorite podcast and noticed a striking resemblance to the “main character” trend. In the Truman Show, Truman Burbank’s life is constantly broadcasted for a live audience without his knowledge. Like any main character, the world revolves around him, and his peers are all paid actors who are hired to enhance his storyline. As reality television has established itself as an ever-present aspect of twenty-first-century pop culture, this phenomenon manifested into a psychological syndrome: The Truman Show Syndrome. Patients with the syndrome have claimed that they were being conspired against, had cameras implanted in their eyes, and were being watched by millions of people worldwide. While I did not experience any of these symptoms, much of my time in quarantine housing was spent over-analyzing. Without any distractions, I was hyper-aware of my own actions and tended to get in my head about things. 

The Truman Show Syndrome is an extreme, but it begs the question: is being the “main character” an innocent trend, or a serious byproduct of Gen-Z narcissism? Can this fixation on being the center of attention be dangerous? 

Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

In my opinion, having a “main character” mindset is similar to starting your day with positive affirmations: harmless. Before I knew that I was negative for COVID-19, I felt desperately alone and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself. I knew I’d done the right thing by moving into isolation housing but watching people around me not take this same precaution was disheartening. Still, in quarantine, I felt as though I didn’t brush past any part of my day; I was more aware of myself and my surroundings. It can be fun to pretend you are vital to the scenes of your life, even if you’re just going on a sunset walk around your isolation apartment. These two weeks presented themselves as an opportunity to know myself better, and in this time, I became the “main character” I’ve always wanted to be: strong, independent, and empowered.

Hello! My name is Rileigh Goldsmith and I'm a dual major in SMTD and LSA.