Let’s not bury the lede here: the histrionics over the NPC meme are absolutely ridiculous.
It’s ridiculous that those who promulgate it believe that they’ve uncovered a great truth about the human condition, because this is a long rehashed idea and the fact that it’s making any sort of headline is laughable.
It is also ridiculous that some people believe that it’s a weaponized political tactic.
Also, I’m a little bit jealous, because observing and satirizing mass trends in pop culture has been my bread and butter for years, and a lot of the ideas that have emerged from this meme have been jabs that I’ve taken many times.
It’s been 12 years since Mike Judge‘s Idiocracy was released in select theatres to little fanfare. After being shelved for two years after its production, the story of an average guy who is hailed a genius in a future full of idiots was only screened in a grand total of 130 theatres. Because of its scarcity it became a cult favorite, and like with many lesser known pieces of media it was held as some sort of banner of superiority by people who comment on internet articles. It was like the “band you probably haven’t heard of” always being lauded by hipsters.
These nerds took what is actually a very funny movie and turned it into a calling card for the insufferable Reddit intelligentsia. “I’m Luke Wilson’s character,” they all say, “surrounded by IDIOTS everywhere in my LIFE! People SUCK!”
It’s tempting to give into this mentality after watching the movie and hearing that the reason it nearly went straight to DVD was because it tested poorly with audiences. The fact that such a scathing commentary on American culture was disregarded by the masses can be seen as just another symptom of a dysgenic society.
There are many kernels of truth in the film, especially when seen from the lens of 2018. But parading around thinking that you are better than others solely because you enjoy this movie is unbridled arrogance.
The “sheeple” meme didn’t start with Idiocracy, either. Conspiracy theorists have long peddled the notion that only they see the true reality and all others are controlled by nefarious higher powers. Basically speaking, pretentious misanthropic hermits are old news. A sci-fi variant of this mentality was explored in movies like The Matrix and They Live. The art-house crowd got their version in the 2015 movie Anomalisa which also plays with the idea of society being a mob of faceless drones.
Let’s get to the truth here- all these movies are right, and it’s not a big deal.
This is an idea that transcends political alignment, race, class, gender identity, religion, and IQ. The simple fact of the matter is:
Most people are basic.
Most people do go through life without profound existential crises. They like keeping things simple and in line with their worldview. They want to stay comfortable.
Some people do venture into “deep thoughts” territory, but only breach the outer layers of it. Here’s another truth bomb: it’s because they can’t. They just don’t have the capability.
I’ve written about this already; originality is like any other trait.
Just like 90% of the population aren’t geniuses, professional athletes, philosophers, artists or self-made entrepreneurs, 90% of the population are also not exceptionally self-aware. It’s a talent, a skill that some are born with and some develop. And that’s ok.
The world needs the “boring” people – the NPCs – so the more creative ones shine brighter. Because let’s face it, it would be pretty tiresome if everyone actually was very special and unique.
It’s also not a black or white thing. Just like with every other single human trait in existence, originality is on a spectrum. You don’t have to be a big league athlete to compete in local marathons. You don’t have to be a member of MENSA to solve an algebraic equation. It’s not an all or nothing deal. There are varying degrees of originality.
So that’s why it’s funny that:
A) 4chan users have trolled left-leaning people so hard that they think this is an attack on their very existence.
B) 4chan users legitimately think that they are inherently better than their targets because of their political views.
An interesting facet of this battle is the fact that those who are genuinely upset about about it are, generally speaking, not the target. If they have the self-awareness to realize that they’re being criticized, then they have some degree of original thought. The real NPCs out there don’t give a fig about some internet weirdos posting a grey cartoon face to make fun of them.
Conversely, some of these trolls don’t get why they’re posting this grey cartoon face, and ironically are just as NPC themselves as their online foes. For every boring left-leaner who sincerely uses “#BlueWave”, “Drumpf”, or “#RESIST”, there’s an equally boring right-leaner who sincerely uses “#MAGA”, “fake news”, or “snowflake”. And boring people on both sides drop this:
People like to fit in. That’s the basis for civilization. Shared experiences and commonalities bring society together. So yeah, naturally there is going to be some overlap in ideologies and how users express those ideologies. That’s how memes work. And that’s where satire gets its fuel. If everyone was 100% original then satire wouldn’t be able to make humorous observations about similarities in social groups.
Can you imagine 7 billion extremely unique viewpoints? It would be absolute personality overload. There will naturally be those who are more simple and those who are more complex. Not everyone can be some super quirky individual, and not everyone should be some super quirky individual. Just like we don’t like 7 billion superstar singers or 7 billion Olympic runners.
But OK, let’s say you’re an NPC who has happened to stumble across this page and you are wondering how to gain self-awareness, how to think for yourself. You want to make the jump from basic to non-basic. It’s pretty easy: just ask why.
Why do you do the things you do, why do you like the things you like? Why do you present yourself to the world the way that you do?
Consider the first impression you make on others. What is the most important part of yourself that you present to the world? If it’s an intangible quality like a belief or stance, is it really the biggest part of your life? Because if you’re doing it just to fit in with all the others, then I’m afraid you’re stuck as a basic.
How incredibly dull do you have to be to trumpet a malleable and vaguely defined ideology as the most interesting thing about you? You are essentially stating that you do not have any traits worth mentioning other than a predefined and fluctuating set of principles.
It’s not easy running 1 km in 30 seconds. It’s not easy getting a rocket into space. And it’s not easy being a unique mind.