There’s a four part series airing on pbs called America in Primetime. Each episode focuses on a particular character type found in television shows: the Independent Woman (think Murphy Brown), the Man of the House (Dick Van Dyke), the Misfit (see below), and the Crusader (Marshal Matt Dillon).
Last night was the third episode: the Misfit. Being a television fan and a misfit, I, naturally, tuned in. And you know what? Turns out weirdos and oddballs and outsiders are a beloved bunch.
Characters like Louie De Palma, dispatcher at Sunshine Cab Company; Dwight Shrute, assistant regional manager at Dunder Mifflin/Scranton; Beavis and Butt-head; George Costanza. These maladjusted, self-absorbed, socially inept characters are heroes to us all. We love an underdog and, apparently, we love an oddball just as much.
I’ll be honest with you, though, that hasn’t been my experience. And I have a lifetime of first-hand, insider knowledge. Being different is hard.
I mean, no one would choose to be a misfit, the odd man out. There’s no glory in being a brown shoe in a world of tuxedos. The unconventional and non-conformists among us aren’t hailed as champions, but as troublemakers. They don’t fit the mold or follow a pattern or ask for permission. Not because they refuse to, but because it never occurs to them. Such oversights come at a cost — socially and professionally.
We may love them on television, but sitting in the cube next to us? Uh, not so much. Misfits tend to be awkward and flaky and temperamental. As a rule, they’re not very good at small talk or joining in. They don’t have many social graces or a charming wit. What they do have is a single-minded curiosity and an urge to follow their heart instead of the rules.
So, here’s to us, to the ones who don’t fit. To the tongue-tied, the blushers, and the brainiacs. To the dreamers and wallflowers and mathletes. Take heart, we’re making progress.
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