July 22, 2010

Up with introverts

My sister Kate has been discussing (part I part II ) the problem Hollywood has getting introversion right. Lately, though, in a few certain cases, it's at least been getting it less wrong. This dialog from NCIS perfectly sums up how extroverts misunderstand introverts:

CGIS Special Agent Borin: So what's your beef Gibbs? That I'm Coast Guard, that I'm a woman or that I managed to get the drop on you in that house?

NCIS Special Agent Gibbs: I don't know you.

That is exactly my reaction when strangers barge into my personal space with an assumed sense of instant familiarity: I don't know you. Don't presume that you know me.

Gibbs is a classic introvert. That business about him spending all of his free time down in the basement with his boat--perfectly content holed up in his cave--is such an introvert thing (and not because the introvert in question is lonely or depressed or otherwise psychologically impaired).

Women assume he's an alpha male extrovert. What they get is an alpha male introvert. For Gibbs, trying to "build" a new relationship just isn't worth it. He's a Darcy (or Seeley Booth), and if they're not Elizabeth Bennet (or Temperance Brennan), they're never cracking that shell.

Granted, this is a way of showing that Gibbs is "damaged goods." Otherwise he'd be like, well, DiNozzo. But that only proves the point. As C.S. Lewis has observed, the desire for solitude has become, in the modern world, a malady that must be "cured."

DiNozzo, in contrast, behaves like an extrovert and McGee behaves like an introvert, but as Kate points out, neither really is. (I don't know whether this is a purposeful mistake or not). My term for McGee is unselfconscious nerd. There's a big difference.

(David, by the way, is Gibbs's id, which I think is done brilliantly.)

Because extroverts, in Rauch's words, "have little or no grasp of introversion," they define introversion in terms of what they observe introverts doing (especially if it runs counter to their own tastes). And then treat that behavior as a marker for introversion in general.

The best example of this is Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. (This series is so right in so many ways I have to believe one of the producers is writing what he knows, or is an extraordinarily skilled observer.)

Leonard, Sheldon's roommate and fellow physicist, is a frustrated introvert who fancies being "cured." Because Leonard and Sheldon share the same hobbies and interests--professionally and personally--extroverts will assume that Sheldon is the same sort of introvert too.

He's not. When the rest of the world is not behaving the way Sheldon expects it to, he berates it and bosses it around, loudly and shamelessly--and often successfully--until it complies.

Sheldon is unselfconscious about himself in ways that make Leonard (or any true introvert) wilt. What is "introverted" about Sheldon--the same goes for McGee--is how he spends his time. As with Darcy, the "normal" interests of extroverts are boring, insipid, and beneath him.

But in situations where Leonard--and Darcy--would suffer in silence, Sheldon says so pointedly and leaves. Sheldon is not a "social" or "retiring" introvert. And not an extrovert. I would call him an "apavert."

The same way an "apatheist" has concluded that atheists care way too much about whether nor not God exists, for an "apavert," the distinctions between "intro" and "extro" are beside the point. The id and the superego are fused into an undifferentiated mass.

Many introverts grow up as apaverts until the cruel, hard world makes it clear that if you're not an extrovert, you're nothing. At which point they develop an introverted shell to defend themselves from noisy extroverts. Or become Garrison Keillor's "Norwegian bachelor farmers."

I am, but remain intrigued by the contrasts, so end up following the advice to "write what you know." The Path of Dreams is one long exercise in making a male romantic lead out of an introvert. And unlike Twilight, my vampires are introverts too. In chapter 28 of Angel Falling Softly:

Wolves lived in packs, far from the madding crowd. [Milada] lived alone, but alone among many. It amounted to more than the simple utilitarianism of keeping her food close at hand; that incalculable need to maintain the illusion of her humanness kept her at once insulated from the teeming city, yet cheek by jowl with the peopled world.

Frankly, it'd be pretty stupid for a vampire not to be an introvert (David Boreanaz's Angel gets this right). No matter how sparkly they are.

Related posts

Life is a sim
Caring for your introvert
Understanding Japanese women (and introverts)
Real introversion versus Hollywood I
Real introversion versus Hollywood II

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
I like the term apavert! I think Brennan, for example, is an apavert. As Jennifer points out in response to Part I, Brennan is "not-shy"; however, she also doesn't respond like an extrovert. Quite often, like Sheldon, she doesn't realize there is a (supposedly) socially appropriate way to respond to specific events.

This makes Booth the extrovert although I think Booth is more of a straddler. I think you are right, Eugene, that alpha males often get interpreted as automatic extroverts but that designation is completely off. Spock is alpha; so is Darcy plus O'Neill and Gibbs.

I wonder if this is less true of women. The monosyllabic 7-of-9 would probably be interpreted as alpha, but I'm not sure she is. Bones is, and she is also perceived that way. (In other words, is extroversion considered alpha in males while introversion is considered alpha in females? Maybe I should work on my introverted side more--hmmm, maybe not.)
7/22/2010 5:09 PM