The distressing reality of “literally me” characters

Design: Fatima Jahan Ena

There's been a surge in the popularity of "literally me" characters, particularly among young men, in the massive hellscape of social media. Whilst it's definitely interesting to see some of my favorite protagonists finally getting the recognition they deserve, the reasons behind their popularity are depressing.

"Literally me" characters refer to a specific category of protagonists who resonate with specific audiences. These characters are not known for their virtuousness or their goodwill, but the gloomy picture they paint of themselves. They're unorthodox, exhibiting discontent with life, fighting their mental health struggles, and struggling to fit in with their peers – a far cry from the popular, stable, and happy protagonists we all may be accustomed to. These characters have made a resurgence, with personas like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Tyler Durden from Fight Club and Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver re-entering the limelight in recent years.

The iconic characters have maintained their relevance years after their debut, but for all the wrong reasons. Men's increased idolisation of these characters hint at a major problem: insecurity about themselves. A surge in loneliness and the prevalent social stigma regarding men's mental health are the instigators for this phenomenon. Insecurity stemming from unrealistic beauty and social standards have made men materialistic and obsess over their looks and appearances, whilst being depressed and empty emotionally — a mirror image of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. The fight to become socially acceptable is also seen in Tyler Durden from Fight Club.

The increase in enthusiasm for said protagonists also point at the dysfunctional system men use to cope with their mental health issues. As isolation and loneliness plagues the men of our society, they often turn to no one and bottle up their negative emotions, eventually bursting up and committing impulsive actions in the process. This is exhibited in Taxi Driver, which may explain men's fascination with Travis Bickle. Similarly. Patrick Bateman's feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem is the basis of his activities, killing his victims simply because they make him feel inadequate, a broken way of dealing with his neglected emotions.

The most unsettling part of this phenomenon, however, is its self-fulfilling nature. Loneliness breeds negativity, and with the healing system present being as debilitated as it is, this has led to the swirling mass of toxicity within this unfortunate group of people. Toxicity, misogyny, and general negativity have become a commonplace occurrence in the realm of social media, courtesy of a rapidly increasing faction of "literally me" enthusiasts. Often identifying as "alphas", these people have become the founders of various hate groups and cults promoting isolationist and virulent opinions, a by-product of their obsession over psychopathic and morally grey characters. Consequently, this has led to a surge in hate against men, who cope by looking for themselves in a "literally me" character, completing the cycle.

While many young men have become Patrick Bateman, Tyler Durden, or Travis Bickle aficionados, it isn't an indication of their intention to become murderers, nor does it suggest their interest in being one. As a user on Facebook put it, "I love him for the way he's been able to put my struggles into words." These protagonists are simply the product of their writers' mocking of dysfunctional and failing role models, a radicalised version of what it is like to follow the way of living of the "ideal man," which, ironically, has become the exact persona many men have led themselves strayed toward.

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