Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two Cent Tuesday: The Art of Self-Delusion

Last month I finished watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Netflix (I'm currently watching season 9 on FXX but season 8 has not been added to Netflix yet) and one thing the show really does is illustrate how delusional most people are about themselves.  (Even the show's title could be called symbolic of that idea.)  Because really almost every main character in the show is deluded about themselves in some way:
  • Dennis thinks he's handsome enough to be a fashion model and was like Van Wilder back in the day
  • Mac thinks he's a musclebound tough guy
  • Charlie thinks he's going to make "the waitress" fall in love with him
  • Dee thinks she's going to be a famous actress/stand-up comic
In reality all of those assumptions are completely wrong.  The only one who isn't delusional is Frank (Danny deVito).  He actually spent most of his life deluding himself into thinking he could be some wealthy social climber when really he was happier living on the fringe.

A Season 9 episode kind of reinforces all of this.  When "the gang" is in a convenience store during a robbery they all fantasize about a different scenario.  Mac's is like a big action movie with kung fu battles and pithy one-liners.  Dee imagines how the scenario will launch her entertainment career.  Dennis's fantasy involves sort of a "Million Dollar Baby" thing albeit with damage to a woman's breasts instead of her spine.  Charlie dreams up an "Up"-like scenario involving the waitress.  And Frank just imagines eating some hot dogs.  In the end though they just steal some junk food and run away.  (If you read the convenience store robbery scene in A Hero's Journey you'd know my scenario is to cower in fear and piss my pants.  "Up front she saw a fat man in a baseball cap cowering by a rack of potato chips, just as Marlin had said."  That's me!)

The message for writers should be obvious.  Most of us think we're awesome, when in reality maybe such is not the case.  (For you people. I really am as awesome as I think.  No, wait, MORE awesome than I think.)  On a deeper societal message, I think this type of self-delusion really illustrates the plight of the 99% in America.  It's the idea that all of us schlubs want to think we're special, we're better, we should be rich and famous--it's just The Man keeping us down.

That's the kind of delusion that's fueled reality TV for about 15 years now, people willing to make jackasses of themselves on TV because they think they should be famous.  Some of them, like the Kardashians, actually do get to be famous because of it while most others just get 15 minutes of fame that they'll be chasing the rest of their lives.

It's kind of depressing to think the characters in IASP are pretty good satires of regular Americans, in that they think they should be something, despite that they really don't have any talents or brains and not that much in the looks department (at least compared to TV and movie characters).  Yet there's that undeserved sense of entitlement, that ego that drives them to keep trying again and again despite all evidence that they should quit.  If you want I guess you could call that hopeful; I just call it sad.

It's like this commercial for a lottery game where people talk about the numbers they pick every day and think someday will come up.  It's really sad to think of these people who waste money every day and/or week for years thinking that someday their ship will come in.  What are the odds it will?  One in three billion or so?  Yeesh.  You might as well have just flushed that money down the toilet for all the good it did you.  Offutt will tell you that if you had just taken that money and invested in some decent stocks, you'd be much better off.  Which is true.

I think the problem's only gotten worse since social media came along.  Now everyone who thinks they should be a superstar can have a Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube account--or a blog.  So basically you can have hundreds of millions of people all making the same stupid jokes about Miley Cyrus, each person thinking how much cleverer they are than everyone else to come up with it.  And they can write and upload a book that is certainly better than any other book out there.

Anyway, I think amidst all my rambling the point is that you're not special.  You're just like everyone else.  And yet chances are even as you read these words, you will choose to disbelieve that, even as I disbelieve it when I write it.  Because it's always sunny in our world.

8 comments:

  1. I haven't gotten around to watching this show but our son thinks it's fantastic and has seen all of the episodes. We're finishing up with The Sopranos right now.

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  2. Well, all I can say is that MY stupid jokes about Miley Cyrus are way better than anyone else's stupid jokes about Miley Cyrus.

    Well-put; a good essay. My own take is that people who want that kind of fame -- reality TV show instafame -- are looking for an easy way to get rich. Like the lottery, the idea is that lightning could strike anytime. (I actually play the lottery from time to time. If you bet on sports, go to Las Vegas, play poker, etc., you gamble. My only real gambling is miodest fantasy football pools and the lottery).

    But the people who actually make it big had a combination of luck and hard work. I don't like to defend the Kardashians, but there are lots of women who've released sex tapes and lots of people who've tried to do reality shows; very few are as successful as them. While it's not "work" the way we think of it, it's time-consuming and they have to keep on pushing.

    Rock stars, writers, movie stars: the ones who make it big through years of hard work/stroke of luck far outnumber the ones who make it big because they once had a Youtube video hit. The entitlement mentality ("I am owed a top-10 bestselller/record contract/ millions") is pernicious.

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  3. A very funny show and it is sad how some over estimate their importance in this tiny world.

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  4. That's exactly what I think, Mr. Dilloway.

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  5. I suppose, though, that if everyone decided they were just average and quit trying then no one would ever make it anywhere. I mean, yeah, most people aren't anything special, but it's the push to become something that makes some people go beyond everyone else and become something "special." If that makes sense. It's like that one sperm that makes it to the egg.

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    Replies
    1. Aye there's the rub. Like the lottery, one person hits the jackpot so everyone thinks they can too. At some point you have to realize that it's just not going to happen.

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    2. The flipside is that if everyone weren't trying to be something they're not, it would be easier to identify the people who actually are something. I imagine that would also make things easier. Self-identification is not always accurate. I would use any number of TV singing competitions for evidence.

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  6. Funny how folks are so good and seeing the limitations of others - but not themselves.

    Funnily, I actually AM special. I'm just waiting for the world to notice

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