What a Piece of Work is Man

by The Cowl Editor on November 19, 2021

Creative Non-Fiction

granola bar
Image courtesy of pixabay.com

by Fiona Clarke ’23

In the summer of 2011, as our house in Michigan was compressed into cardboard boxes and plastic bins, sorted and taped and stacked and chucked into a truck, my sister and I, with great care, selected and packed up a box of our favorite movies to keep with us while we floated from rental house to rental house across the state of Washington. By Christmas of 2011, my sister and I had watched every movie in this box countless times and could—still can and still do—recite huge chunks of them to each other. Doubtlessly, this was often to the chagrin of the rest of our family, who, simply by saying one single word, might elicit a performance of an entire scene from The Scarlet Pimpernel or Muppets from Space. Our selection included a movie about a would-be criminal mastermind-superhero with a giant blue head: Megamind. This movie is great for several reasons, including a British-accented Will Ferrell’s unironic mispronunciations of common words—“revenge” as “re-vonge,” “spider” as “spee-yider,” and, best of all, “melancholy” as “melONcholy.” It’s an undeniably funny movie, but one of the reasons that it’s also so great is encapsulated in Megamind’s cry of despair about three-quarters of the way through: “I’m the bad guy! I don’t save the day, I don’t fly off into the sunset, and I don’t get the girl!” Man, I love it when I stumble across something that leads me right into a pet peeve. Much of Megamind’s problem is that from the extraterrestrial equivalent to childhood on, he has locked himself into being The Bad Guy. And so, my peeve is self-objectification. I’m not talking about sexual objectification. It’s possible to make yourself an object in another way, and I’m talking about making yourself an object for others’ comprehension or categorization. Self-awareness is a prickly bastard. Taken too far, it becomes the opposite of itself, because you stop living in your own life. You live your own life as if you were looking at yourself. You’re more aware of how someone else sees you or understands you than you’re aware of yourself. Now, for much of the movie, Megamind is actually The Bad Guy, kidnapping, murdering, looting, etc. But he likes being The Bad Guy. He does these things because he likes his Bad Guy identity. It’s compact, crisp, lightly flavored, and easily digestible, like a granola bar. 

But no person is a granola bar. Megamind’s “I’m the bad guy” is rooted in the same fear or sense of being misunderstood or misjudged as a classmate’s “I’m a nerd!” or “I’m an introvert!” Sure, these are at least neutral traits; what does it really matter if you’re a nerd or an introvert? Bad guys are bad guys, murderers are murderers, and on a scale of irritating to moral outrage-worthy, “I’m a nerd” and “I’m an introvert” fall pretty near the “irritating” end, but still, the principle is the same. How can you expect someone to understand you if you don’t make it easy for them? Wrong question. For crying out loud, worry less about someone understanding you and worry more about doing whatever the heck it is you need to do to get through the stupid day. All these little teabag-tag descriptions are revoltingly generic. There are lots of flavors of nerd, so which one are you? Why the heck are you shoving yourself into one little word? Do we really have such tiny attention spans, and such low expectations of others’ attention spans, that we’ll settle for a generic tag so as not to have to demand or express too much? Maybe this is something originating in or exacerbated by social media or consumer culture in some way—heck, I’m no doctor. I may well be entirely unqualified to say anything about anything at all. (But isn’t that why they’ve got me writing for a student newspaper?) These observations might well be the approaching deadline-induced remarks of a curmudgeonly snob. (There, I’m guilty of the sin I have just been denouncing.) As if it weren’t surreal enough that bell-bottom jeans are everywhere (a topic for another rant), we’re getting back to cliques and camps and clans and clubs based on self-identified characteristics. Someone might tell me: “You’ll like X. She’s a writer.” And the answer is no. I will not like X because she’s a writer. I will like X if I like X. A person is not a Muppet-man cobbled together from definable distinct personality traits. A person is more than the sum of his or her parts, more than the largest or most obvious part of himself or herself. For the love of all things holy, leave yourself a little mystery.