I recently read Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book “Bright Side” which made me think of the recent “It’s better campaigns.” It’s this demand that we think about these horrible acts positively. While the campaign’s “heart” may be in the right place, it is impossible for me not to be angry at it. I think people are shocked when I say no, I don’t believe in that message, because you know what, it doesn’t necessarily get better, things won’t stay the same, that’s for damn sure, but better? It’s easy for big time celebrities to look down at these kids and say don’t worry… easy for them to say. Furthermore it takes away any chance for change or activism. The campaign isn’t saying go find your support and fight back, it’s saying just the opposite, “Buck up, don’t worry, it’ll get better.” What is more is that it is failing to address the actual issues that are occurring, the high rates of discrimination that queer kids face. In actuality, it turns the message back onto the kids, it’s their responsibility to get through it, to deal with the stress and the anxiety, and it does nothing nor says nothing to the actual problem – systemic homophobia.
I think this correlates directly with what Ehrenreich was talking about with the high rates of unemployment that we’re still facing. The message is to just keep trying, keep an open mind and a positive attitude and good things will happen. As long as you remain positive then things will change. Of course what this fails to do is discuss any of the systemic problems facing our crumbling economy, rampant racism, sexism, and classism that pervades every aspect of our society. This message of just “be positive” is destroying our understanding that there are a lot of really bad practices and policies going on and if we just ignore them and think positively we’ll get through them. What is more, is it turns it back on the individual, if good things aren’t happening for you, then that’s your fault, you weren’t thinking hard enough, trying hard enough, being good enough. What all this attention on positive thinking does is ignore the very real fact that our political and economic systems are busted and have been for an incredibly long time. It turns this systemic issue into something that can be eradicated by “positive thinking” and a “go-get-it” attitude, which is just plainly absurd. And it keeps any real action from being done in fear of being negative (i.e., realistic) because then you’re ostracized or considered a pessimistic and an overly critical person. When did being critical of the government become a bad thing? Sometimes we have to address the negative, we need not to be afraid of looking at it in hope of actually doing something about it.
I thought this book was successful because it addressed actual concerns that no one has really addressed. We learn in introduction to sociology that it is our job to debunk these taken-for-granted ideas and “commonsense facts” and the idea of positive thinking being the road to success is one of those tenets of societal vocabulary. You can’t escape it, from early education onto the working world these mantras are forced fed to us with the assumptions that if we don’t embody (or at least try to embody) these ideals then we’re somehow intrinsically flawed. So call me a Negative Nancy, but I think sometimes it’s important for us to see beyond the individual and examine these broader societal issues.