Marla: [noun, adj.] (mār la)- (pejorative) a “tourist,” someone who joins a group or organization to be associated and/or socialize with its members, but lacks the fundamental qualities that define the group’s identity. Synonyms: groupie, hanger-on, faker, poseur.
Background: In the movie Fight Club, the unnamed protagonist, played by Edward Norton, is trapped in a cubicle-dwelling, white-collar yuppie treadmill and suffered from severe insomnia. Early in the story, he makes an appointment with his doctor and asks for tranquilizers to help him sleep. The doctor, finding nothing physically wrong with him, suggested that what needed was “healthy, natural sleep.”
“Doc, I’m in pain!” he cried.
“You want to see pain? Swing by First Methodist on Monday nights – testicular cancer support group. That’s pain.”
So off he goes. When he said nothing it was assumed by everyone that he has testicular cancer too, and when the men paired off to cry on each other’s shoulders, Edward Norton joined in. He found, to his surprise, that the emotional release (along with the knowledge that he did not, in fact, have testicular cancer) was the catharsis that cured his insomnia.
“Babies don’t sleep this well.”
He quickly became addicted to this ‘fix’ of cathartic release and began to attend other terminal-illness/cancer support groups. Every evening, he would cry on the shoulders of people with bowel cancer, blood parasites, brain tumors and whatnot, and every night, he could enjoy the comforting sleep that comes with the knowledge that he was the sole healthy body in a room full of dying people.
This went on until he began to notice a woman named Marla Singer who began to appear in his support groups. ALL of his support groups. Including testicular cancer, resulting in one of the funniest voice-over quotes from the film:
”This chick, Marla Singer, did NOT have testicular cancer.”
Now with another faker in the room, he could not cry – and consequently started to suffer his insomnia all over again. After confronting her “Marla, you big tourist. I was here first - these are MY groups. I need this, now GET OUT!” he realized that he couldn’t risk letting Marla expose him as a fellow ‘tourist.’ In a subsequent darkly humorous exchange, they negotiated how to split up the groups (“I want brain parasites” “You can’t have the whole brain!”) so that they wouldn’t see each other.
(If you haven’t seen the film, I would highly recommend it – it is one of the finest examples of dark humor/black comedy produced in recent memory)
Because the protagonist was unnamed, “Marla” became the term used to describe the groupie/tourist/faker-type characters my friends and I encounter from time to time.
Usage: “Marla” is often prefixed with the group the poseur is invading. Commonly-used terms (and the individuals who belong in the category) include …
- Mexican college students who join MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlan) but can’t even speak grade-school level Spanish.
- Amy Tan – ‘nuff said.
- White guys who attend college AACF (Asian American Christian Fellowship) meetings. Could you possibly be more pathetically transparent that you’re there to pick up Asian chicks?
- Militant African-Americans who promote a “return to Africa” separatist philosophy (and usually demand to be referred to by an adopted “Africanized” name), but refuses to learn Swahili or any other African language.
- Former Christians who gravitate toward Zen Buddhism on account of its ‘exotic’ and ‘eastern/mystic’ qualities, but have no serious interest in living life according to Buddhist principles.
- Individuals who read/post on Slashdot but have never seen a command line in their entire life.
- Jon Katz
- 95% of the Marketing department in the average software company.
- 98% of the Associates/VPs in the "Technology" Group of major investment-banking firms
- 100% of the employees in Public Relations firms that represent “high-tech” companies.
Do you know a ‘Marla?’ Tell me your Marla story.