Ever since I knew what the word “introvert” meant, I considered myself to be one. Basically, I tend to prefer to be alone although I do enjoy social interaction from time to time. I’m not necessarily anti-social as I have several good friends, it’s just that I thrive in a solitary environment. When alone, I am able to think more clearly and make important decisions levelheaded. I also do all my work alone, where it is quiet and I am unable to be bothered by the outside world. This assignment sparked my interest on what it means to be an introvert from the eyes of popular culture and the media in general. Before I started the assignment, I couldn’t really think of an example in the media where an introvert is either the protagonist or let alone portrayed in a positive manner. Usually when I thought of an introvert in a movie I almost instantly thought of someone like Norman Bates from Psycho (which, now that I think about it, I should used as a source but I didn’t for some reason). After concluding all of my necessary research, I can conclude that my initial preconceptions were right for the most part. Based upon my findings, Introverts in the media are portrayed as disturbed individuals with either a mental illness, extremely antisocial tendencies, an aptness for murder, or they have had a troubled childhood. As an introvert, I have experienced nearly none of those things. I find the media’s representation of introversion to be severely hurtful to the image of introverts everywhere as viewers may get the wrong idea and think of introverts the wrong way.
One of the first examples of an introvert being negatively portrayed in the media is Ricky from the movie American Beauty (1999). Ricky is seen as an extremely odd person according to his peers. At school he is bullied and when he starts dating his girlfriend, her friends advise her to be careful of him. He lives at home with his mother and father and the whole family is constantly at ends due to Ricky’s behavior. In his free time he enjoys filming abnormal things such as dead crows, plastic bags, and his crush Jane. Obviously, his activities aren’t exactly what a “normal” person would do. And in today’s world, randomly filming someone in secret would most likely get you in trouble with the police. On top of his creepy behavior he also is seen abusing drugs in order to get away from both his family and his peers. As a character, Ricky is an odd individual who is generally harmless, but his activities have warranted unwanted attention and thus he is seen in a negative light.
Analyzing Ricky didn’t really give any shocking results. In fact, I almost expected him to be portrayed the way that he was. However, looking at his character from a broader perspective made me realize that his importance goes way beyond just the movie and that he may have a more influential impact than what I first thought. I have come to realize that Ricky is one of the many representations of introverts that the media has come to think of us as. To put it bluntly, the media can sometimes inherently very racist, over assuming, or just down right false in their views of certain types of people that were being featured. Ricky, like many other introverts that I have studied, plays into the creepy trope yet the writers changed it slightly by adding in an artistic aspect to him to the movie can original. While I’m sure there are real creepy introverts out there (in fact, Jeffrey Dahmer comes to mind) however the vast majority of us are inherently decent people with normal lives and the media’s general perception of introverts is skewed towards a fantasy version.
Despite all the negative research that I was receiving, I vigorously strive harder in order to find a positive portrayal. To be honest, it took me a long time to think of one but the answer couldn’t be more clear… Batman from the Animated Series! Not only is Batman an introverted in the media but he also appeals to nearly every demographic, especially children. However, while on the surface Batman may seem like the almighty hero that catches all the bad guys, there are some negative traits that he exhibits that one can’t ignore. For example, first and foremost, he beats every nearly everyone who opposes just to get what he wants. While violence is an unfortunate aspect of police-like work, he could solve problems just as easily by using more amicable means. Another trait, and perhaps the most revealing of his introversion, is that he is famous for brooding alone over the loss of his parents. He took their early deaths to heart as that is the sole reason he became batman in the first place. The various villains on the show often make fun of his odd behavior (similarly to Ricky) and this often angers Batman even more which only fuels his violent outbursts.
Like Ricky, this portrayal of introversion can be quite toxic to the image of introverts. While the writers made Batman in order to appeal to children, his violent actions are actually quite graphic and even disturbing at some points. Now, what does this mean to children? It is believed that children often learn their values their parents, teachers, and finally television and movies. By watching Batman on TV, is is implied via the show that violence and melodramatic behavior is an acceptable way to accomplish their goals. Additionally, they are learn that introverts are inherently silent, stalking individuals with little to no friends whose troubled childhood caused them to act the way they did. At the core it, Batman: The Animated Series, while under the guise of being a positive representation, is essentially a poor portrayal of introverts and it only harms their public image and perception.
And finally, the last primary source the solidified my claims was the character Lars from Lars and the Real Girl (2007). In the movie, Lars is seen to be an extremely antisocial basement dweller whose quest for love eventually leads him to fall in love with a sex doll. While in his “relationship” he becomes deeply attached to it (whom he effectually names Bianca) and he treats as if she is a real girl. He isolated himself from the outside and he even ends up putting his friendships due to his behavior. During a visit to a doctor (as advised by his friends) he even claims that touching real people burns his hand. Which is a good indicator of how far gone he is from the real world. He continues this destructive behavior up until the very end of the film when he believes that Bianca is dying due to being unresponsive for unknown reasons. After her death, he decides to move on from his old ways and start interacting with the outside world again.
Lars can be viewed as the pinnacle of the representation of introverts in the media. He consistently isolated himself from the outside world, implied to have a mental illness, and is socially awkward. While the movie provode character development for him towards the very end, his initially behavior is consistent thought most of the film. This is probably the most harmful of the three characters that I studied because not only does he exhibit stereotypical traits of an introvert in the media but the movie is portrayed in a light-hearted manner. Lars and the Real Girl isn’t meant to be taken seriously but the fact of the matter is that his character is still harmful to some viewers.
In conclusion, it would seem that the portrayal of introverts in the media is heavily biased towards one side. Based upon the several sources that I have analyzed, it is easily to see that the media tends to represent them in a negative manner and as a result it is toxic to their image. Even when the representation is “positive” (i.e. Batman) the character still exhibits prominent negative traits that are integral to the character and in turn, turns them negative. With this in mind, we as the consumers are better able to recognize how the media skews the image of certain groups and that they are a mere caricature of them and not an accurate depiction of introverts as a whole.
Dini, Paul. Batman: The Animated Series, Season 2, episode 1-3, FOX, 1994.
Gillespie, Craig, director. Lars and the Real Girl. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2007.
Mendes, Sam, director. American Beauty. DreamWorks Pictures, 1999.