Happiness of ‘the what’ fantasy

November 11, 2018

Through the history of mankind, there are two main alternative ways in which we can consider affects of happiness and sadness. Sara Ahmed differentiates it this way:

Desire is both what promises us something, what gives us energy, and also
what is lacking, even in the very moment of its apparent realization. There
can be nothing more terrifying than getting what you want, because it is at this
moment that you face what you want. For Slavoj Žižek this terror would be
because you don’t “really” want what you want; he argues that happiness is “inherently hypocritical” or a form of self-deception (2002: 60). I would say that
getting what you want can be terrifying because what you want is not simply
“ready” as an object; this lack of readiness is what makes the desired object so
desirable. Not getting what you want allows you to preserve the happiness of
“the what” as fantasy, as if once we are ready, we can have it. (Ahmed S., The promise of happiness)

The first one – often raised in philosophical works – “you may not really want what you think you want”. This dilemma was beautifully pictured – as only one of many aspects this masterpiece touched upon – in Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’, telling a story of a man that made it to the mysterious chamber in the ‘Zone’ to make a wish about his brother and left it to find himself in a world of success and luxury. It is indeed very striking to think of how confused we are as human beings if we may not even be sure of what we truly want, as some part of our consciousness is refusing to admit it.

Second notion is wanting something simply because of not having it. It is that peculiar feeling of happiness/sadness that I will focus in this text, as I see it very important in our post-modern times – where this type of affects seem to be deliberately used and distorted with a typically commercial-based manner.

Strategies of today’s commercialism are scripted to reuse advantage of this particularly human weakness. We cherish dreaming – even if we strive for fulfilment, we fantasize with great pleasure, we build up our own secret story, we hope and paradoxically, sometimes dreaming occurs to be better. Dream that comes true is not always as fulfilling as we expected it to be and, especially in the postmodern reality, there are still more dreams out there to reach for. The non-stop pursuit for ‘even better’, the lack of permanent satisfaction, that in the past might have been a drive for progress or flaw of just a few, has now radicalized to overall disease.

Commercial infrastructure envenoms this phenomenon for it is rapid in both fulfilling dreams and creating new ones. This happens through a process of dream simplification. Obviously, not only shallow dreams are being sold, but a massive amount of them are. By that I mean dreams so much focused on creating one’s identity through their appearances that they become terribly trivial: footwear, jewellery, raincoats, underwear, electronic devices, interior design pieces, labelled food. These can no longer give long-term satisfaction or content, unless they are being frequently replaced with newer, better, more fashionable. This reminds me of pop-song by Macklemore: “I’m an individual, but I’m part of a movement, my movement told me to be a consumer and I consumed it, they told me to just do it and I listened to what that swoosh said”.

These lyrics highlights how grotesque identity has become in neoliberal times – with all the freedom and diversity available first-hand. How individual an individual can if they are being constantly tricked and modulated?

It is important to clarify these statements are not complains about desire for material objects per se, but rather a call to reconsider identity (or even need for it) in commercialized reality. History knows too well appetite for goods humans seem to have in common (what communist theorists decided to avuncularly ignore), but it is in no way comparable to the commercial madness of XXI century. Marketing infrastructure is becoming more and more flexible, tolerant to fit as many different groups as possible and turn them all into superficially various, but indeed unified buyers.

05 / Kinga Zemła


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