Judgment Call

Gen Z’s ‘main character syndrome’

Lilibeth Frondoso

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Gen Z’s ‘main character syndrome’
It’s the saran wrap that keeps them insulated, impermeable, and blasė to the world

I am often struck by the lack of apparent ego in the Gen Zs I work with. Hindi umeeksena. Hindi papansin. Are they really that grounded? Do they not like to put themselves out there? 

That quirk is in sharp contrast to another Gen Z trait – their flair for drama.

In an earlier Judgment Call, I talked about the propensity of Gen Zs to selfie while crying, or furiously finish a task while crying. There is even such a thing as scheduled crying. (Yes, they can be obsessive about their schedules.) In the days after I wrote that, I got calls from friends in my age bracket telling me about their own daughter/son, niece/nephew who exhibit the same bewildering behavior. (Read Gen Z, the babyless generation?)

But apparently, the drama is mostly in their heads, or in the privacy of their rooms, or in the company of close, same-age friends. 

In a casual chat with Gen Zs, I learned about their love affair with themselves – what they call their “main character syndrome.” 

“It’s all about you” is something we say to people who act like the universe revolves around them. But this is not just a case of generational narcissism.

This generation is very much aware of their impact – on  the planet, on society, and in their own little social circles. But even when a simple act is not seen to create a ripple, they act like it does.

Gen Z see, or rather imagine, their world as a reel, and they are the main characters. If these snippets of the documentary in their heads make it to Instagram reels or TikTok, so much the better.

The script goes like this: Gen Z walks into a classroom or cafe, cool music is playing in the background, the sunlight/mood lighting falls on his/her/their perfect skin, he/she/them catches everyone’s attention, his/her/their clothes are effortlessly understated and quirky, his/her/their smile is stunning. He/she/them is someone everyone wants to date, or at least hook up with.

That’s why everything is done with attention to detail, with flair, with style, with the right aesthetics (more on this word later), and of course with feeling.

No wonder this generation feels right at home in the influencer culture – they understand the pricelessness of being in the moment and milking it of all the “feels” it can bring.

Is this something unique to Gen Z? Maybe not. Maybe every generation goes through this stage. What we do know is that Gen Zs own up to this syndrome.

And it ties up a lot of things we know about Gen Z: the attention to detail and obsessiveness with productivity, the love of quirky, and the aversion to conflict. 

They’re obsessive about their output because that’s how they see themselves as main characters – effortlessly competent. 

They love quirky because they can’t be run-of-the-mill or garden-variety. 

They are averse to conflict because they see no point in wasting time arguing with the movie extras, the NPCs (in gaming, a non-player character) – that’s us older folks.

They are obsessive about aesthetics because they’re not just the lead in their drama, they’re also the director and the set designer. It’s not about substance but form – raw, authentic, and unfiltered. Aesthetics is the greenscreen of the movies in their heads.

As our discussion wore on, they told me what they think it’s really about: main character syndrome is a coping mechanism. 

It’s the saran wrap that keeps them insulated, impermeable, and blasė to the world. They may be sad, devastated even, but that’s part of the job description of the main protagonist. And at least one psychiatrist approves calling it “healthy.”

It’s about creating the headspace that keeps them highly functioning while going through a lot. And when they fail to sustain the Netflix series in their head? Members of this age group dubbed “the sad generation” instinctively suspect they’re having an episode – a mental episode. (Read Unraveling the enigmatic, confounding Gen Z)

Back to our question: are they really that grounded? Why do they like to melt into the background? They’re not really out to impress you, the boss, or the senior colleague. If you do get impressed, that’s a byproduct of their largesse as the main character. 

They’re already the lead actors/actresses in their movie sets, and while it would be nice if you approve of them, they don’t crave your approval. The real world is just a big film set in their parallel plane of existence. – Rappler.com

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Lilibeth Frondoso

She currently heads Multimedia Strategy and Growth in Rappler.