Main Character Energy

My new column for The New Yorker.

Some personal news: I now have a weekly-ish column for The New Yorker website! It’s called “Infinite Scroll” and it’ll cover digital culture, the impact of algorithms on art, and the platforms that shape what we consume online. The first edition was just published; it’s on “main character energy,” a TikTok meme that also happens to be a great description of the intensity of social media in the post-pandemic moment as everyone posts every birthday, picnic, and social gathering as if to reclaim our places in the outside world.

We All Have “Main-Character Energy” Now — The New Yorker

For this piece I began by noticing just how manic Instagram had been feeling lately — there seemed to be a pressure to publicize everything you were doing, to document each moment like it never happened before. Which is true, in a way: After more than a year, we can finally go back to casually hanging out in restaurants and bars, convening large groups of people. The photos and videos cast you and your friends as stars in a movie, reframing previously banal moments into something glamorous and spectacular. Before, it wasn’t that special to have a birthday party. Now, we realize that it is.

That attitude — being the protagonist of your life — fits perfectly with a monologue that went viral on TikTok during early quarantine last year. The column is the story of that video, and what its creator realized about being a “main character” afterward.

Last winter, Britta Grace Thorpe was in bed at her parents’ home, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in the depths of a late-night TikTok binge, when one video broke the reverie. Soft harp sounds played, and then a female voice began a gentle but insistent monologue: “You have to start romanticizing your life. You have to start thinking of yourself as the main character. ’Cause if you don’t, life will continue to pass you by.” Onscreen, an overhead shot showed a young blond woman sprawled on a blanket on the beach, looking up at the camera, surrounded by friends who are oblivious to the lens. Sparkles from a TikTok filter bedazzle the footage. The woman gazes serenely skyward, as if wholly satisfied with her life.

Again, here’s my column on main character energy in The New Yorker. Hope you like it and also tell me what I should write about for the column!