There is a portrayal in popular culture as introverted people being inherently strange and socially awkward and they are often cast in a negative light compared to their extroverted counterparts. To make things clear, when I say introvert, most people tend to think it is synonymous with shyness, when this is not the case. Nor is it the complete opposite of extroversion in that introverts never want to be around people at all. Introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum; a person can be closer to one side than the other but polar extremity is not usually the case. In television and films, however, introverted characters are pushed so far to the extreme that they are often imbued with psychological maladies to exaggerate their traits.
Let’s look at Dexter Morgan, a blood analyst and introvert who also happens to be a serial killer. He exhibits all of the traits of an introvert. He prefers working alone in his lab, as he thinks best when doing so. For the most part, he has only one close friend; his sister, which he considers enough to satisfy his social needs. A defining trait for introverts is their desire to be in minimally stimulating environments, whether this be working in a lab or having a hobby that avoids noise and people. One such hobby of Dexter’s is to go out on his boat and fish. He does this whenever he needs to clear his head and think (also to dump bodies). Dexter is an accurate representation of an introvert in that he is seen as charming and sociable by his co-workers and friends but secretly harbors a desire to be alone because interacting with people can be exhausting. He is often forced to pretend to be someone other than he actually is to appease more extroverted people around him. The misrepresentation of introverted people in general is that Dexter is also a pathological liar and killer. Introverted traits are repeatedly associated with serial killers in popular culture but in reality, there is no basis for this trope. In fact, as Susan Cain says in an article entitled “The Myth of the Killer Introvert,” she states that “introverted young people are less prone to violence and delinquency than extroverts are.”
The main character of the show is Will Graham, an introvert. Graham is a criminal profiler and psychologist who uses his vast stores of empathy to get into the minds of murderers and understand why they do what they do. Quiet and brooding, Graham is everything about an introvert that TV loves to exaggerate. He is introverted to the point of mental illness. It’s even implied at points that Graham has low-level Asperger’s syndrome, a diagnosis that has recently become synonymous in popular culture with innate genius . To exemplify his extraordinary introversion, he even lives alone in a secluded house with his only friends being a bunch of dogs.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
I figured I should provide an example from a show that doesn’t involve serial killers, so I picked the introvert everyone loves to hate: Larry David. David is a good example of being introverted rather than shy. Author Susan Cain explains in “Quiet,” a book about introverts that “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.” Larry makes plans with friends and hosts parties because he feels like he has to, and at the back of his mind, he is always secretly hoping the plans will fall through so he can relax at home by himself. Not because he hates people, but because he just gets tired of them quickly. Larry David is one of the more realistic portrayals of an introvert in popular culture. He uses his creative, solitary nature to create a successful life and one that allows him to be himself.
If a meme is the primary way that introverts express themselves in modern society, then Imgur is the introvert’s paradise. What started out as a simple image sharing site has now developed into a full-fledged community of people who feel their voice is lost among other social media sites. The site is filled with memes such as the “awkward penguin” one above, and obscure references to jokes made excursively on Imgur. Rating something “5/7” is actually giving it the best rating possible. There is an undercurrent of self-depreciating humor to the way many users make fun of their own antisocial tendencies. This is a popular trend among introverts: allowing the perception of extroverts towards introverts to control how they view themselves. The picture above was posted with the title “This is why I don’t go outside…” Simply put, Imgur reveals that the public’s misconceptions about introverted behavior actually affects the behavior of introverted people.
The Brain of the Introvert
What most of popular culture seems to forget is that the there are physiological differences between an introvert versus an extrovert. It’s not simply a matter of being shy around people. To explain the graphic above, here is a quote from Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, author of the book The Introvert Advantage:
“While extroverts are linked with the dopamine/adrenaline, energy-spending, sympathetic nervous system, introverts are connected with the acetylcholine, energy-conserving, parasympathetic nervous system.”
Basically, introverts need less external stimulation than extroverts because they are more sensitive to dopamine, and if they get too much, they will feel overstimulated and anxious (Laney). So, an extrovert will go to a party with loud music and plenty of new people to soak up all they can to feel stimulated while an introvert will go to the same party, listen to one song and talk to one person and feel the same level of excitement.
Knowing that there are real, physical differences in the brain of introverts and extroverts makes me as an introvert feel more comfortable with myself. While we tend to see this division as a fifty/fifty chance, in reality only about a quarter of the population is introverted (King). Perhaps this is the reason for the many misconceptions society has about introverts. There is an underlying attitude in popular culture that introverts need to “change” and make an effort to become more social and extroverted, when in actuality we are innately different and view society in different ways.
I think the thing that will stick with me the most from this class is how everyone saw a different result after searching online for the same thing. While I was aware companies such as Google were tracking peoples’ internet histories, I wasn’t aware the extent to which each individual’s internet platform was being catered to their desires. What bothers me the most about something like this is that I never signed off for anyone to track my web activities. Imagine someone from Amazon showed up at your home one day, set up a camera without asking, and videotaped your life in order to decide which products you would probably like. That is just as creepy to me as companies tracking your activity online.
The laundry list of negative impacts associated with reading and watching popular culture news was another revelation for me. As someone who flips through a news app a thousand times a day, I definitely took notice. Among other things, it inhibits deep concentration, it wastes time, and most important to me, it destroys creativity. As Rolf Dobelli says in his article regarding the news: “If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don’t.” Considering that looking for solutions to problems was one of the main reasons I had for reading the news, this really hit home. I know that after this class, I will spend more time searching for more “newsworthy” journalism and less time looking at sensationalist headlines, and hopefully, find better solutions to the world’s problems than the ones the media supplies.
Dexter: the first season, volume 1. Dir. Steve Shill. Showtime, 2008. TV Show. Web.
David, Larry, Jeff Garlin, and Cheryl Hines. Curb your enthusiasm the complete series ; one to seven. S.l.: Home Box Office , 2012. TV Show.
Fuller, Bryan . Hannibal. NBC. 2012. Television.
“Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet.” Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Laney, Marti Olsen, Dr. “The introvert brain explained.” Magical Daydream. 21 Nov. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
“Imgur popularity rises among Millenials.” UWIRE Text, 29 Jan. 2014, p. 1. General OneFile, 19 Feb. 2017.
Cain, Susan. “The Myth of the Killer Introvert.” Psychology Today. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Dobelli, Rolf. “News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 12 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
“Introvert, Shy, Socially Anxious: What’s the Difference?” Addiction Treatment | Elements | Drug Rehab Treatment Centers. N.p., 05 May 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.