Dubbed the “main character” trend, it started out as a challenge that calls you to take a risk! Seize the day! And all the cheesy cliches protagonists in coming-of-age films preach.
They take clips from moments in their life, edit them into a montage, slap a pretty filter on top, and post with #maincharacter.
But with the way the internet works, what started out as a simple self-care reminder has been, inevitably, overtaken by tongue-in-cheek parodies. A trend that has taken on a life of its own. People say it all started with 24-year-old James Ikin, who in August posted a video of himself “romanticizing his train journey.”
Ikin used the app’s green screen effect to superimpose clips of himself over photos of the London underground. In the video, he dramatically walks down the train aisle, making sure to show off his hipster tote bag. Sitting down, he whips out his camera and looks around to see if anyone has noticed how he’s just not an average dude.
Ikin’s video, which now has over 363,000 views, has inspired many others to play up their mundane daily lives. They walk around dramatically whilst trying to appear mysterious and cool. Because, apparently, that’s what the main character in every movie does.
The message: While we can’t all be Emily in Paris, we can sit in a university lecture and stare out a window longingly, thinking about the meaning of life.
Ikin told VICE that his video was inspired by music he loves.
“When you listen to Lorde or Lana Del Rey, it makes you feel like you’re in The Great Gatsby or something,” he said.
Over two months after Ikin posted his video, there are now over 38.2 thousand posts that have used the Lana Del Rey’s “Mariners Apartment Complex” for their own parodies. The hashtag #maincharacter has also racked up a total of 4.9 billion views on the app.
“I don’t think I’m better than anyone else and I certainly don’t have a god complex. It’s just poking fun at the idea,” he said.
At the same time, he said there is always a sliver of truth in all his videos. They’re like imagined versions of things he does in real life.
“When you put stuff online, it’s like an exaggerated version of yourself. The videos are just a way to make the ordinary everyday life a little more romantic,” Ikin said.
While the trend is new, the idea of seeing yourself as a main character is not. With or without a TikTok video, most people already do it.
“People already view themselves as the main character. When you post a picture of your breakfast on Facebook, you’re doing that,” University of Denver psychology professor Michael Karson told VICE.
Yasmine Sahid, 23, also makes similar videos. Her style mocks the “small town girl” archetype commonly seen in television and film. Think Rory from Gilmore Girls or Andrea in The Devil Wears Prada.
“I know a lot of people who move from small towns and go to these big liberal arts colleges in the city. Then they come home and they think they’re this whole new person. When in reality, they just went to a different college,” she told VICE.
She draws from her own experiences of living in Los Angeles after growing up in Milwaukee.
“I think we all relate to that humor of calling yourself out because I do admit to being that actress who moved from the Midwest to LA. I do get kind of in my head about it but so many people relate and it’s funny to see.”
Based on the hundreds of comments left under Sahid’s and Ikin’s TikTok videos saying they feel “exposed,” clearly a lot of people do relate to them.
“Frankly, everyone’s a little self-absorbed whether they choose to admit it or not. So, feeling like you’re ‘special,’ like a main character, is nothing too bizarre,” avid TikTok user Khaiqal Zulkarnaen Bin Malek, 19, told VICE. “[With this trend] people get to recognize how stupid they can be and just laugh at themselves and others.”
Karson, the psychology professor, said it’s healthy to view yourself as the main character in your own life, but not in others’. Doing the latter, he said, could make you miss out on “the collaboration, reciprocity, networking, and interdependence that makes us human.”
So while we’re all busy pretending to be the main character in our own lives, just remember that at the end of the day, no one is actually thinking, “Oh wow. That person is so cool,” as you cross the street.