With the prominent presence of social media today, it’s become quite common for people to build up a reputation for themselves through the content they post and the introduction of their profiles. People can be confident when they’re online. They can build an image that they would never be able to show in front of people they know in real life and create quirks or habits for their persona that make them recognizable. A brand, so that people know who they are.
It’s not a completely negative thing to do. “Fake it until you make it” is common advice for people with low self-confidence, and having a confident online presence can help boost your actual offline attitude. But maintaining your image and constantly keeping up with the trends to preserve your structured online persona can be extremely exhausting. Faking it until you make it can only go so far.
In Mob Psycho 100, we see an entire group trying to fake their way into confidence and happiness in the form of the (LOL) group. The series depicts this organization as a non-violent agency made up of people who are hypnotized by Dimple, a powerful ghost who wants to be elevated to godhood under the worship of his brainwashed followers.
Dimple’s platform for seducing people into joining his cult-like group is very simple: even if you’re feeling down, no matter what you want to achieve, you will be happy and successful as long as you can smile and laugh your problems away.
Dimple ropes people in with the promise that laughter is the best medicine, and he encourages the masses to keep an upbeat and positive attitude despite the hardships that they’re going through. His message to the people is that good vibes and harmony with others is the secret to achieving peace and prosperity.
This seems like a harmless concept, but Dimple’s approach is very questionable. He specifically targets the mentally and emotionally weak because they are susceptible to his psychic powers. He makes his lackeys hold his targets down when they struggle against the group, and then has his victims wear a mask that forcibly makes them smile. Dimple tells his followers that his intentions are good (he’s lying) and laughter is the true way to salvation, but what comes out of the mask is manufactured and hollow: someone who laughs only because the rest of the crowd is laughing rather than of their own volition.
But for Mob, can forcing himself to fake happiness really pave the way to true happiness?
Mob’s answer is a straightforward “No.” Not necessarily because it’s wrong to pretend to be happy when you’re not, but because he doesn’t understand why he should pretend to be happy when Dimple’s group is unable to give him the kind of results he wants. Mob wants to be a better student. Mob wants to be a better athlete. And just smiling alone isn’t enough to satisfy what Mob thinks is lacking about himself.
In the end, the only emotion that Dimple has brought out from Mob is anger. Mob cannot view the methods of the (LOL) group as a valid way to happiness, and forcing someone to do something against their will is far from appropriate, regardless of the intention.
Society as a whole might be fine with how it functions through people masking their true feelings with placating smiles or structured personas, but Mob is fundamentally incapable of share these kind of emotions. It’s rather ironic that even though his nickname is “Mob”, Mob himself is unable to become part of the mob mentality. He can’t read the mood, he won’t laugh along with others when he sees something that he doesn’t think is funny, and he willfully keeps a lid on his feelings because he’s afraid of what could happen if he lets himself do otherwise.
When Mob approaches Reigen for his thoughts, it’s interesting how Reigen’s adult perspective boils down Mob’s social anxiety issues to one thing: Mob is young and he doesn’t have enough life experience. Being good at reading people takes the kind of common sense you gain through living with people. You obtain common sense through the accumulated knowledge from social interactions in everyday life. And not only is Mob still a middle school student, but he’s also been purposely keeping himself at a distance from others because he doesn’t want to hurt them. He doesn’t get the need for social cues because he’s too young to understand them and has purposely made his exposure to social environments very minimal.
There’s also the possibility that Mob is just too dulled by emotional repression to ever actually learn the ability to read and integrate with people well. It might work for some, but Mob cannot fake his happiness. He can’t build a fake identity for himself in the hopes that one day in the future, it will become real.
And there isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s just not within Mob’s nature to pretend to be something he’s not.
So when given the chance to change a part of himself for the better, Mob chooses to run with the Body Improvement Club, looking for a kind of growth that’s present and tangible. While Mob’s powers are incredible, they will never make him smarter or make him better at talking to people. Even if almost everyone tells him that not using his powers for personal gain is such a waste, Mob would rather choose a physical form of improvement over using his unseen abilities to further his status because at least with a better body, he knows that what he’s working on is improving his true self.