Real Introversion versus Hollywood Introversion--Part II

One of the sadder aspects of Hollywood is how many writers/ actors/ directors/ producers (but not all) assume that the whole world is like Hollywood.

This leads them to create characters that they claim are "normal, everyday people" reflecting normal, everyday levels of, say, introversion and extroversion . . . when in fact, their normal, everyday people are Hollywood normal, everyday people.

Which means, they aren't.

Below, I have listed some ways in which Hollywood (often) misreads introversion and extroversion.

1. They (this is the ubiquitous "they" as in "those silly people") assume that anyone who doesn't go clubbing is an introvert.

Many extroverts go clubbing. Many do not. Lots of people think clubbing is boring. Granted, introverts may be less willing to go clubbing than extroverts, but not going clubbing in and of itself means nothing.

The corollary to "anyone who doesn't go clubbing is an introvert" is . . .

2. Anyone who plays computer games and/or writes is an introvert.

Again, this is a logic problem. That many introverts play computer games and write does not mean, ipso facto, that all people who play computer games and write are introverts.

The mistake is assuming that interests are the same as introversion and extroversion. They aren't.

One of my favorite examples of this is from the book About a Boy by Nick Hornby. In the book, not the movie, one of the characters comments that the main character--who is an extrovert--is the best person to extol the virtues of being alive, NOT because he has some grand theory about the importance of life but because he enjoys the little things of life: watching Countdown, getting his hair cut.

Granted, Hornby is partly implying that the guy's life is a bit shallow. But I think enjoying the little things of life (being able to fall back on one's own resources) is a personality trait. Some people can be satisfied with a new DVD. I get excited when I unpack my books from the library (it's like Christmas!).

Some people need an event (I went to the beach this weekend!) or a party (we went clubbing) or a 3-ring circus to keep themselves occupied. I've always felt vaguely sorry for the last types. 3-ring circuses on a continual basis are hard to come by. Much better to be able to fall back on one's resources.

However, the fallacy "doing stuff at home=introversion" leads Hollywood ("them") to create characters like McGee on NCIS who is described as an introvert because he doesn't go clubbing but stays home and plays computer games and writes.

The snag is that McGee is as people-oriented as everybody else on NCIS. Personally, I'm convinced that Bellasario wouldn't know an introvert if one walked up and reprogrammed his I-Pod.

I say this because the most introverted character on the show, Gibbs, is rarely perceived this way.

Why? Because of fallacy #3:

3. Introverts are bad with people.

People who are bad with people can be introverts. They can also be extroverts. Being bad with people and/or not being charming is about individuals, not introversion or extroversion.

Gibbs, for example, is very charming and attracts women. The automatic assumption is that he is therefore not an introvert.

But Darcy and Spock demonstrate that introverts are considered quite attractive (even Data was pursued by at least two women although Data is an extrovert: yes, he is). Introverted men and women run the risk of being unfairly called "stuck-up," but that in no way impedes their ability to attract members of the opposite sex (or the same sex for that matter). And it doesn't follow that extroverts are automatically better at the task.

House, I would argue, is an extrovert, and he's terrible with people.

Actually, House is a difficult personality to pin down. House may live alone; he may claim to dislike/distrust human beings, but he is actually quite enamored of social interactions. He wants to understand them and spends a lot of time testing them out. He would start a conversation in a railway carriage.

Still, House is difficult to pin down. So, to play fair, I give you Ray from Due South, a total extrovert who is perfectly capable of annoying and misreading people.

However, House brings up an important fallacy:

4. Introverts are quiet.

This one is more likely to be true, especially in social situations. But introverts often like to talk. On the show Big Bang Theory (which pegs both introversion and nerdom most excellently), Sheldon is perfectly willing to chatter about his pet peeves, etc. to people who will listen. Sheldon IS an introvert; he may or may not have Aspergers (which is not an introvert or extrovert characteristic: see So Odd an Mixture by Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer), but he is definitely an introvert (remember, it's a mindset).

When arguing with Leonard or even Penny over whether or not to keep the Time Machine, Sheldon is extremely vocal. When stuck with Leonard at Penny's Halloween party, Sheldon complains to Leonard but to no one else and makes no effort to connect socially or to move about the party. When Leonard confronts Penny's ex-boyfriend, Sheldon makes zero effort to aid Leonard--despite his height (if he didn't slouch, he would be taller than the ex-boyfriend). He doesn't help not because he doesn't want Leonard to win. It simply doesn't occur to him that he could make the situation any better. He slouches behind Leonard and applauds his witticisms.

Raj, on the other hand, says nothing and gets a girl who claims he is SO easy to talk to! See #3 above.

Raj is a truly shy introvert.

5. Introverts are lonely.

This is probably the biggest fallacy. It is perpetuated because (as stated in my post below), extroverts misunderstand introverts. They conflate introversion with shyness, and they conflate shyness with a personality flaw.

Hence, 20 billion Hollywood movies and episodes which focus on getting a character to come out of his/her shell by going to a party. She went to a party--she's happy--problem solved!

To be fair: dealing with people is an important part of being alive. And making connections (however it is done: in person, by phone, over the Internet, etc.) can help people find purpose and enhance their emotional, mental, and physical survival. Sheldon is better off because of Leonard. Evolution alone demands that we be social creatures.

But being a social creature does not mean going to parties. Going to a party is not a cure-all. The assumption seems to be that the poor introvert really wishes that he/she was the center of a bubbling cauldron of social interaction; only shyness or a lack of opportunities keeps him/her from that Nirvana.

I have a number of acquaintances and a few close friends. I'm also part of a work, family, and church network. I teach, go out to dinner or lunch with a friend about once every two weeks, email my family and friends more often, see family members now and again, and go to church. And that's about as much as I can handle. In fact, if the teaching, going out to lunch, seeing family members, and church attending happen all in the same week, I consider I was busy!

And, if you parse my life on a spectrum, for some people, I was!

For some people, I didn't do anything at all.

There's nothing wrong with doing more or less; the mistake is Hollywood assuming that everyone wants "to have a life" in the sense that everyone secretly wants to be a Hollywood actor being chased by reporters and attending all-night parties. "They" think people who say, "I'd rather be home with a good book" are faking it.

For this reason, characters who would be introverts on television are rarely allowed to stay introverts (again, Big Bang Theory is the exception here because Leonard & Co. are so much more interesting when they are playing Halo and trying to engineer stuff than when they are trying to "be like everyone else"). In many ways, Hollywood is just like high school--these are people who honestly believe that all people are just dying to go to their 10th high school reunions and network on Facebook.

Consequently, there are few real introverts on television or in the movies. Just extroverts pretending to be introverts. For this reason, it was extremely difficult for me to come up with decent examples.

What I can prove is that Hollywood extroversion is not exactly what it purports to be either.

For example, take DiNozzo from NCIS. I'm going to show why, despite his ultra-extroverted behavior, he shares many introverted characteristics.

Why DiNozzo could actually be an introvert:

1. He does much of his work in off-hours when people aren't around.

2. He creates strong personal relationships with a few people and finds it difficult (I would argue, emotionally impossible) to build new relationships; if you pay close attention to the script, this actually makes sense. DiNozzo is not Riker, who could easily go off and start a new life on another starship. DiNozzo found a boss/father-figure who tolerated him and is going to hang onto that relationship at all costs. It is one of the few alpha-alpha male relationships I completely believe in.

3. He demonstrates an awesome knowledge of film minutiae that could only be acquired by someone spending far more time alone than DiNozzo is willing to admit to.

Okay, why he isn't:

1. He gets distracted by personal interactions in the office because he always wants to be involved.
2. He spends his vacations around people.
3. He dislikes staying on his own.
4. He would start a freaking disco in the railway carriage.

The point is: DiNozzo is typical of the Hollywood fear of introversion. He will do just about anything to prevent anyone perceiving him as introverted. Except for the movie references, DiNozzo carefully hides his less extroverted qualities. This is in keeping with the character, but I also think it is pure Hollywood. If introversion can be cured, Hollywood is going to do it!

But, I say to them, that isn't what introverts want.


Joe said...

I don't disagree with much of what you say except that quite often introvert/extrovert isn't even part of the argument. Shy is sufficient and obvious enough for dramatic reasons. In truth a movie about died in the wool introverts would tend to be quite boring (though I can think of one case where they arguably pulled it off; Spy Games where both lead characters are arguably introverts.)

Here are some introverted characters in a stream of conscience way:

Angel is arguably an introvert, as is Giles. Malcom Reynolds is somewhere in the middle. Jonathan Creek is definitely an introvert as is Fred Derry and Jack O'Neill.

How about James Hackett? And Joe Banks? Rick Blaine? Mad Max? Calvin from Ordinary People is definitely introverted. So is Shrek. Thomas Crown (99)? The Terminator? Dexter? Mary Shannon? Patrick Jane? Linus Larrabee? Smilla Jasperson?

Johnny Depp seems to played several introverts (and seems to be quite introverted himself.)

Not fiction, but on Mythbusters Jamie Hyneman is textbook introverted while Adam Savage is textbook extroverted.

And what about James Bond?

Kate Woodbury said...

Yeah, I grant that most shows/episodes aren't primarily concerned with exploring introversion/extroversion.

I do think Patrick Jane is a definite extrovert. Damaged. Punishing himself. But an extrovert. He likes company (he sleeps at the station rather than at home, for example). He shies from getting too close but still makes an effort to maintain and even create relationships, and he closely monitors social interactions. He likes parties although he does prefer to create the conditions rather than to just enjoy them. (Hmmmm.) He finds social interaction a good way to collect data.

And, of course, there is his career before the tragedy; it's hard to imagine that an introvert could pull off the con-artist psychic role.

On the other hand . . . cons, actors, and actresses have notoriously fragile egos which propel them into playing other personalities/roles (which, one could argue, is necessary; can you imagine how completely ruined as an actor Cary Grant would have been if he'd ever received counseling for his ambiguous sexuality? Okay, good for him, but how totally horrible for film history). I imagine many actors and actresses in Hollywood are introverts, but not all of them have the guts to say so. They may not even know. I've several times encountered people who insisted to me that they were spontaneous, people-persons but, when offered spontaneous, peopled activities, shrank turtle-like into instant introversion. How they want to see themselves is at variance with how they really are.

I COMPLETELY agree about the Mythbusters' guys. Oh, yeah. :)

Joe said...

Creating relationships is not an extroverted task. While I'm profoundly introverted, I enjoy being with a very small number of people; it's large groups and bombastic people who want me to emote to them that I dislike.

Going back to the definition of extrovert/introvert, perhaps one definition is that extroverts feel compelled to emote to everyone and expect to be emoted at (which is the key) while introverts don't, though we will open up to a a small number of intimate friends.

This is why I put Patrick Jane in the introverted category, though agree with your points.

After thinking about it more, Calvin (Donald Sutherland) in Ordinary People is a genuine introvert and the character was both constructed and played that way, I think quite consciously. To a lesser extent, the same with Jack O'Neill and Jonathan Creek. With Angel and Shrek and most my other, perhaps erroneous, list, I think it's more accidental than deliberate.

Mary Shannon is an enigma. Despite her brusque personality, I peg her as an introvert, and despite his analytical intellect and mild manners, Marshall Mann is a definite extrovert. Could be wrong though.

Kate Woodbury said...

Going back to the definition of extrovert/introvert, perhaps one definition is that extroverts feel compelled to emote to everyone and expect to be emoted at (which is the key) while introverts don't, though we will open up to a a small number of intimate friends.

True! I'm forgetting my own definitions!!

I think this is the (rather subtle but important) difference between Jack O'Neill and John Sheppard. Jack, when visiting a planet, doesn't expect much more in return than what he throws out. John, who can be just as laconic, immediately starts expecting feedback and trying to winkle out not just how people are relating to him but why. (John Sheppard is a very sweet extrovert, rather like Bingley in Pride & Prejudice.)

This leads to a very amusing exchange in the pilot when Sheppard meets Hallings. When Hallings introduces himself, Sheppard immediately responds, "I don't know what that means." Sumner barks, "It's his name."

Granted, Sheppard is freaked, but his response to Teyla a few minutes later isn't substantially different. He is not only extremely charming, he wants her--and the whole room--to like him back. Sumner allows Sheppard to take over the introductions ("I like ferris wheels and anything that goes over 200 miles per hour"). When Sheppard grins at him for getting invited to tea, Sumner gives him a half-smile.

It's a pity Stargate couldn't/didn't get Robert Patrick full-time: he and Flanigan had a good semi-tense relationship where Sumner disliked Sheppard's insubordination but allowed that he had some useful qualities (such as meeting the "natives").

By the way, this definition also creates the probability that Rodney is an extrovert (and a good example of an extrovert who is bad with people) while Zelenka is an introvert.

Kate Woodbury said...

After some thought, Joe, I think you sold me on Patrick Jane as an introvert.

I came to this conclusion while watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Goren is, to me, definitely an introvert, but he comes off as an extrovert.

And I decided that he and Jane are the same type of introvert (though I will grant that Goren is creepier).

They are both highly intuitive men, almost painfully so. They have chosen professions which not only make this intuition useful but make communicating what they intuit necessary. Unfortunately, any kind of direct communication is rather painful for them. Plus, they don't always know how to make their ideas understood which is why they will fall back on action rather than explanations.

In other words, they adopt roles/parts. It's like being in disguise--out in the open.

In both cases, they have a female partner. She is not necessarily a romantic partner (unlike Bones or Kate Beckett). There are men who find it easier to confide in women than in other men. It isn't a gay thing or heterosexual thing. It's just a personality thing. Both Goren and Jane fall into this category. With their female partners, they can communicate their ideas and, more importantly, feel safe. And they feel absolutely no need to confide anything to anyone else outside of this one-on-one relationship.