Commonly used in internet chat rooms, comment sections, and social media is the term “special snowflake”. It is most often passed around by both trolls looking to offend and people legitimately being asinine, and is a way of saying that while you THINK you are unique, we are all garbage. Within the context of that use by a certain mind of people, it is an insult used in banter to bring people down and a way of looking down on those who they feel are being all “highfalutin” about themselves. Not only are they being the worst kind of assholes, but they are using the term itself in a way that it was never intended, and here’s why…
The term can be traced back to the 1996 debut novel of Chuck Palahniuk “Fight Club”, and the subsequent 1999 movie of the same name by director David Fincher. In the novel, and unnamed protagonist undergoes a startling transformation from working class slave to underground boxing ring leader and activist, both through the titular fight clubs, and through an extension of those known as project mayhem. The “fight clubs” are intended to be a release of primal male aggression, and project mayhem is meant to be a way of striking back at a society that ignores and enslaves them.
NOW onto the subject at hand: the term special snowflake is from a portion of the novel/movie wherein Tyler Durden states that we are not all “beautiful and unique snowflakes”, and that rather we are “the all singing all dancing crap of the world”. Taken at face value this does seem to mean that none of us are in fact unique, but when you explore further the themes of the novel a different explanation becomes clear.
When you look at his rants as a whole you’ll notice that he talks a lot about the promises society gives people, of being something greater, or the POTENTIAL to be something greater. Movie gods and rock stars (paraphrased), when in fact we all end up in menial jobs just working to get by. According to Tyler society stifles our creative potential, and that promise of greatness is and always has been a lie, a deception to keep us in our social and economic positions. SO when you look at the quote itself again, it is less saying “we are all garbage” (paraphrased) and more saying society promises us something greater, and let’s us down KEEPING us in a position of being garbage. We begin our lives with the promise that we can all be unique, we are told to always be ourselves, but at every turn when a person tries to do just that we are ridiculed and made to be pariahs.
In Project Mayhem Tyler broke down that training, a sort of radical deprogramming from the positions we are placed in in society. At first glance, it is cultish to the extreme and authoritarian, but its true purpose was to allow people to express themselves apart from the promises of society. The “space monkies” HAD to be mentally deconstructed in order to start anew and become who they were meant to be all along.
To reiterate: the term special snowflakes isn’t really about how we are all garbage, but more that we are PROMISED by society that being unique is possible, and then made to be outcasts if we attempt just that. His purpose wasn’t to bring people down, but to uplift them in a radical, and in retrospect misguided, way.
When I see that term passed around I think to myself “I’ve been reading Chuck since you were in diapers, and you are so off base about what he meant”. It is used to ridicule everyone from those in the social justice movement to those that are LGBTQ+. Most amusing of all is his exploration of the idea if subsequent novels like Invisible Monsters which heavily featured a trans character named Brandy Alexandra.
SO not only are these trollish characters being objectively awful, but they are missing the point entirely of the source material they are unknowingly quoting as a means to bring people down.