In a society that extols the rugged individual who, by sheer force of character and relentlessness of will, prevails to reach the top of a chosen pyramid, it’s not surprising that so many of us are afflicted with protagonism.
Protagonism is a syndrome where I see and present the world from a heroic point of view, with myself as the fascinating individual at the center of the universe, my own actions and feelings featured in sharp relief and those of others serving as mere background color. That everyone else may feel like the protagonist of their own lives, well, what do you expect?
In cultures that view the good of every one in the community as more important than the prosperity of any single individual, protagonism is an anomaly. People in those cultures work together for the common good. In our culture we commonly think of such people as fucking losers.
The rugged individual is a pretty shitty model for our ideal citizen, though. That person is self-centered, ruthless, devoted to self above all else. He tames the Wild West, sure, and amasses fabulous fortunes that will eventually fund philanthropies, sure, but he’s, most often, basically a prick you wouldn’t piss on if he was on fire.
Think of Samuel Colt*, inventor of the Colt .45, the Equalizer. What did this innovative gun allow one to do for the first time? Shoot dependably several times in a row, instead of one shot at a time. How was this an equalizer? It made the man holding the Colt the equal of several men who were about to rush him. Say these men about to rush you were slaves, bitter about their hard lives and not afraid to die to take you with them, and you were the overseer with the whip and pistol. Well, if you could only get off one shot, chances are these disgruntled slaves would kill you. But with the Equalizer in hand, well, “how many of you boys are willing to visit Kingdom Come on the off chance you’ll be the lucky one to watch me die? Hmmmm? Ah’m waitin’….”
Celebrity culture has a pernicious effect on us winners and losers down here in the cheap seats. Do you have something to say that reaches beyond your own personality and desire for fame and fortune and into my life? Lay it on me, something I can think about later, use in wrestling with my own mind.
Are you in it strictly for my applause and admiration? Well, then it’s on you to deliver something pretty amazing every time. A lot of pressure to be amazing, seems to me.
* During the American Civil War, his factory in Hartford supplied firearms both to the North and the South. Later, his firearms were prominent during the settling of the western frontier. Colt died in 1862 as one of the wealthiest men in America.
According to Colt historian Robert Lawrence Wilson, the “lectures launched Colt’s celebrated career as a pioneer Madison Avenue-style pitchman”. His public speaking skills were so prized that he was thought to be a doctor and was pressed into service to cure an apparent cholera epidemic on board a riverboat by giving his patients a dose of nitrous oxide.