Finishing my readings and sitting down to actually write my midterm essay this week was both challenging and fulfilling. It didn’t help that my first shot of the vaccine knocked me out for a day and a half the Friday before our due date, but I was still able to refine my outline and think about the topics I wanted to cover in between naps (I did end up dreaming about 90 Day Fiancé on Saturday). I had a lot I wanted to say about this show, and not enough time or space within the wordcount to do it. It’s been rewarding, now that I’m finished with the first step of the project at least, to have some deeper conversations about this show, reality television, immigration, and so on, with some people in my life this past week (friends and family in Brazil who aren’t as familiar with US immigration, and American friends, both born and naturalized, with varying levels of exposure to the topic). I find it really interesting to analyze topics or media that may seem mundane or ordinary, I think because it can be so digestible to people without a formal background in the field. Being able to hear thoughts from friends and family who have never studied media, but who of course have absorbed it and can identify trends whether or not I point them out through theory, is both enriching to my own understanding of the topic and also a lot of fun.
Happy Objects was a very interesting and relatable reading. I have definitely experienced being called, or implied to be, a killjoy over the years just for pointing out or questioning certain things. While tone can affect how defensive people feel about your comments, it doesn’t always guarantee you’ll be safe from the accusation — even when trying to phrase a comment like, “I’m not judging, just trying to help you because I can see how people may perceive this [sexist joke]” I have still felt an angry backlash just for implying the joke was not okay. As Ahmed mentions, “The exposure of violence becomes the origin of violence.” This rings true to me even beyond a social justice sphere — for example, pointing out potential flaws in a project can be perceived as a criticism of the project itself, as if you want it to fail, instead of being seen as a commitment to problem-solve so that the project can succeed. I can see how this ties to our discussion of happiness being over-emphasized in Western societies, to the point of becoming toxic positivity. Plenty of projects can be full of yes-men who refuse to acknowledge issues so that they “look like team players” and “don’t damage morale” — only for the whole thing to fail because no one thought it through. This doesn’t happen on its own or by coincidence; it’s encouraged and even enforced in the work culture, usually subconsciously (it’s not very rational to chastise problem-finders, since the practice can lead to improvements, and yet it still happens).
The idea of happiness being intrinsically superior to other emotions was definitely a core belief for me. Our discussion about it reminded me of the feeling of falling in love — something I also feel like is over-emphasized as a completely, solely positive thing. When I first started dating my now husband, I remember having felt absolutely overwhelmed with the feeling, to the point where it wasn’t just positive. I was constantly distracted by it, sometimes unable to focus on work or classes — things that objectively mattered more than, for example, whether I should check my phone every five minutes for notifications from him. I felt anxious, doubtful, even insecure (does he like me as much as I like him?). This part of the feeling was not pleasant, and so it led to a lot of confusion for me — wasn’t this supposed to be the best feeling in the world? Is something wrong with me if I don’t feel so great about it all the time? Since I wasn’t prepared for it, I didn’t know how to handle myself. In that way, it also reminds me of Ahmed’s comment about happiness receding or becoming anxious once we are aware of it. You worry about something going wrong — “this is too good to be true” — and the feeling going away. The anxiety makes sense when we believe the feeling is superior to others, and it only gets worse when we then become aware of the anxiety itself (“I should be enjoying this; this is as good as it gets; I can’t ruin it by worrying”).