Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Americans love to root for the underdog. Our shared narrative fictions so often celebrate the underestimated antihero, the one who comes from meager beginnings, seemingly destined for a lackluster, go-nowhere life, who, through sheer grit and an unlikely wealth of inherent talent, blows all expectations out of the water. Most often the protagonist's rise is boosted by a delicate combination of brute effort, luck, and charm. There is little celebrating of what is more likely to help one earn success: studying and paying dues. I get it, that doesn't make for a romantic story. But have we internalized the more common trope too deeply? The underdog's arrival at domination goes against the odds, and therein lies the drama that rivets us. Ironically, this story is so common that it is now cliche. It should no longer surprise us, as it's been told so many times, and one might think it would no longer hold dramatic value, no surprise, no twist. Why does it still engage us? Do we really want to have great success without true mental effort? Initially, one might be inclined to respond, "of course, duh." What about all that we get out of the work itself? We keep coming back to it for a reason.