Society has a love affair with outsiders. With Divergent, we’ve built an entire movie franchise around a teen literally diverging from societal norms, and this summer, we’ll watch Peter Parker go from zero to hero in the third Spider-Man origin story in less than two decades. Hell, we’ve even elected a political outsider as our president.
But what if being an outsider doesn’t intrinsically give a person anything particularly unique or worthwhile to offer?
This isn’t to say that a fresh set of eyes can’t be a good thing. For example, it makes sense that a business might invest in a relatively inexperienced, younger job candidate over an experienced, older candidate if the former shows potential, brings new knowledge to the table and will likely stay with the company longer. They’re probably willing to work for less money, too.
However, if that younger job candidate is an art history major applying for a position as a nuclear physicist, then it doesn’t really matter how “fresh” their perspective is because it’s completely uninformed.
Perhaps we value outsiders because we tend to see ourselves as these same underdogs, even when we’re relatively well-off and connected with those around us. Maybe we’re all members of a mostly-functioning society, just waiting for others to recognize us for the Peter Parker or Beatrice Prior or Donald Trump we feel we truly are. And until then, we live vicariously through the outsider characters in books, movies and — occasionally — real life.