Individualism and Invader Zim (Doom Song, Pt.2)

One of my favorite aspects of Invader Zim has always been its slapdash critique of bourgeois individualism; how humanoid agents interact, conduct themselves, and view themselves is depicted in Zim as a parody of ultra-individualist ideology. Even from episode one we can infer how this parody works as seen through Zim, Dib, and the Irken leaders, The Tallest.

Who is Zim? He is an egotist and a narcissist. He views himself as the best invader that the Irken military has to offer. Indeed, after he is banished, he quits being banished so as to return to active duty as an invader, somehow glossing over his grievous errors in laying waste to half of an Irken military planet-base. He think so highly of himself that even when he is clearly being taken as a fool, he believes himself to be taken serious, because, how could anyone not take him seriously—he is Zim, after all? All that the offending party need do to win Zim over is compliment him a bit or appeal to his ego; voila, you got yourself a new ally!

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Zim: the world’s greatest screamer.

Who is Dib? He, like Zim, is a narcissist. Seeing himself as the only force standing in the way of Zim conquering Earth, he views himself as a hero. Clearly fancying himself as an alien and monster hunter extraordinaire, despite never actually capturing anything on camera or film, Dib is the quintessential rapid fan: he is delusional, full of himself, and completely absurd. But he will stop at nothing to prove himself to humanity and make them see his talent.

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Dib in his natural habitat.

Who are The Tallest? They are feuding siblings. But they are also bumbling incompetents. They lead the Irken military machine as it conquers the galaxy, yet seem unable to disavowal themselves of a single renegade invader, Zim. So we may ask how they attained their leadership positions; the answer is amusing—they are leaders of the Irken Empire because they are the tallest. That is it. That single physiological detail commends them the might of a galactic imperium.

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Behold! The Mighty leaders of the Irken Empire!

If leadership material ultimately boils down to simply being taller than everyone else, then what constitutes an individual is clearly in crisis in the universe of Invader Zim. It is also a delightful parody. One reminiscent of dystopia literature where politicians are chosen solely on their good looks instead of their polices. It is comically absurd, and yet, it is seen in Zim and Dib, who are really simply two sides of the same coin—they are larger than life, in their own minds, but each incapable of fulfilling their end-game; their failure marking the limits of an ultra-individualist psyche.

It seems that Gaz, Dib’s sister, is the only character who realizes the hypocrisy of this kind of individualism. In a later episode, as Dib attempts to rally her to his banner in an offensive against Zim, Gaz casually remarks “But he’s so bad at it [worldly domination].” Gaz is the only one who sees through Zim’s egocentrism. Through her rejection of Dib’s plea of assistance, she also sees through the flipside to Zim’s egocentrism, that of Dib’s narcissism; she will have no part in the homosocial back and forth which Zim and Dib have erected in order to satisfy some semblance of physical communion.

If Irken and Earth society are merely mirror images of two different, yet similar, articulations of bourgeois individualism, that of egotism and narcissism, then Gaz stands apart as a dissident, somewhat proletarian, individualist who sets herself apart from the bourgeois individualist nightmare; by burying her nose in her game system, she refuses to participate in the charade and spectacle that is difference for the sake of difference’s sake.

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