Tag Archives: anger

In Defense of Sadness

Recently, M and I sat down to watch Inside Out together and I live-tweeted it, which was fun.

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I was excited to see the film for the first time — the previews looked great and as I mental health advocate, I had high hopes for this film that would be all about getting to know your feelings. As I watched, however, I felt that, as a person who lives with a behavioral disorder, the film doesn’t really do anything positive for the representation of people who have mood disorders, who are introverted, or who are non-nuerotypical in any way. Given the positive reviews this film received from the mental health community when it was first released, I was surprised and disappointed to see that this film actually promotes several negative stigmas, particularly in regard to the character of Sadness.

In the beginning of the film, there exists only Joy — that is the first emotion to come into being inside the main character, Riley’s, newborn mind. Sadness joins shortly thereafter, in a serious reversal that I believe any parent would attest to: what newborn shows an actual capacity for happiness in their first few months, let alone moments, of being? Sorry, Disney, but most babies are just crying, pooping potatoes for the first few months of life, with nary a giggle to be seen.

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Oh yeah, that’s the face of Joy right there.

Immediately following the arrival of Sadness, the two characters are shown to be in direct opposition to each other. While Sadness seems to be largely indifferent to Joy’s presence, Joy is persistently trying to be rid of Sadness. Joy’s constant attempts to undo the presence of Sadness are troublesome. In the beginning of them film, Joy says that she doesn’t know what Sadness does, that it seems that Sadness to serves no obvious purpose (at least, compared to the other emotions), and that Joy has checked and “there’s nowhere for her to go”. That’s a very sophomoric perspective on the role of sadness in the human experience. Sadness is a very important emotional function — just as much as joy, fear, anger, or disgust. However, Joy’s complete rejection of Sadness’ utility is continually played out as she persistently bullies Sadness for simply existing.

The other emotions, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, despite being negative emotions, seem to meet with Joy’s approval because they each serve a clear and present purpose in the life of Riley. The filmmakers and writers obviously tried to increase the utility of Fear, Anger, and Disgust by having each of them appear to be multifaceted in their expression of emotional states of being. While Joy appears to embody only that which is effervescent and positive, the other Emotions are observed to act both as their functionary titles and with correlated emotions. The character of Disgust, for instance, not only represents a biologically programmed aversion to new foodstuffs, but also cattiness, sarcasm, and social acumen.

This approach by the filmmakers allows the audience a fairly intuitive grasp of the purpose of each Emotion. The character designs were carefully planned out to reinforce the correlation of the given emotion to the personified character. Fear is thin, anxious, and prone to surprise. Anger is short, stout, and blocky. Disgust is green, for crying out loud! But then, there is Sadness. Sadness is depicted as dowdy, short, and plump. She wears glasses and she’s extremely soft-spoken. Despite appearing to be well-meaning, Sadness is revealed to be a trouble-maker in the eyes of her cohorts, if an accidental one. In every way imaginable, Sadness’ character was designed to imply that she is undesirable. Additionally, by casting Sadness as the foil to Joy’s character, the writers reinforce a harmful societal value: that sadness, introvertedness, and introspection are wrong and therefore we must all strive to be happy, one-hundred percent of the time.

It’s disingenuous to portray Sadness this way. Many people, myself included, don’t experience happiness in the over-wrought, excited way in which the character of Joy is portrayed. For us, happiness comes from time spent alone, in introspection, gaining energy from our communion with ourselves. In that way, Sadness might be in my driver’s seat — but that doesn’t make me perpetually sad, and it doesn’t make me wrong. It is simply the way I best interact with the world. But instead of making her dynamic as the human experience, Inside Out’s Sadness is written as a witless castaway, unworthy of merit.

Meanwhile, Joy is clearly made out to be Riley’s primary and most desirable emotion — of course, considering the only four other options: Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust — Joy is the only character that doesn’t have a negative connotation to compete with. Of course you want Joy to be in charge! You wouldn’t want any of those other bad emotions to be responsible for your world interactions, would you?

This is heavily reminiscent to me of the way that I am often treated by well-meaning extroverts: Why would you want to stay home and be sad all weekend? Because I’ve had a busy week interacting with people, and I am out of spoons. Why do you listen to that sad music? It only makes you feel worse! No, this music jives with my soul, and it is healing me.

You see, just because I experience the world differently from you, doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. I am just different. Please, allow me to be different without fear of reprisal.


 

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“Being sad reminds us how to appreciate being happy.” Yeah, no.


By the end of the film, we begin to see that Emotions can work in tandem to create memories, which is meant by the filmmakers to be a redeeming moment for Sadness and Joy. I felt less resolved, though. The film still hasn’t given Sadness a purpose except as a foil to Joy. This is a harmful dichotomy for a lot of reasons, one of which we actually see play out in the film when Riley’s mother asks her to be happy about the move for her father’s sake. The end result being that Riley internalizes her negative emotions about her family’s move (with help from Joy) until she detaches from her family completely, almost running away from home. It isn’t until Riley is permitted to feel sadness that she is able to synthesize all of the feelings she has and move on from them. That’s an important lesson for us all, but the filmmakers failed to represent it as such. Instead, we are shown that Joy fights Sadness almost to the point of obliterating them both (certainly to the point of obliterating several of Riley’s internal mental structures, memories, and processes), only to finally acquiesce to Sadness’ presence, while still failing to validate Sadness’ reason for being.

In real life (read: in all of our lives) sadness actually serves a very important purpose. Though not highly valued in our current culture, sadness and other “feel-bad” emotions help us to slow down, confront troublesome circumstances, and come to a deeper understanding of ourselves. Sadness improves your memory, heightens your better judgment, increases your motivation to enact positive changes in your life, and can, in some cases, improve your interpersonal communication. Perhaps this is why, in the film, Riley’s mother has Sadness in the driver’s seat — Sadness isn’t just about feeling blue, it’s about feeling, period. Sadness allows us the increased capacity for compassion, discernment, and responsible decision-making that makes life fruitful.

To say that Inside Out was entirely upside-down wouldn’t be fair. It’s a cute movie, it was well-animated, and it is definitely a powerful tool to give children access to the language needed to talk candidly about their feelings. But as a representation of the depth and breadth of the emotional landscape within each of us, it falls short, particularly in the eyes of this gal living with bipolar disorder.

Someday, when she is old enough to have this conversation, I will have to sit my daughter down and explain to her that Mommy’s brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s brain. I may even need to have a conversation with her, in some distant future, about how her brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s brain. This film does not give us an appropriate schema for that conversation. After all, what good does it do to tell someone besieged by sadness to “let Joy takeover”? That would not be helpful, and it would not be fair to disrespect their experience so callously. Instead, we might say, “Sadness in taking the wheel right now, because it’s a road you need to travel.”

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Early Morning Irrational Anger

Early Morning Irrational Anger.

That’s what I’m going to call it. That’s what it is. Not being much of a “morning person”, I get sucked into a lot. But today dun did took the cake.

I just don’t think I’m going to listen to Hudson and Scotty B’s Bizarro Morning Show anymore. And here’s why:

Listen, I don’t know a lot about radio shows, or how they are produced, or what goes into making one, or how hosts are (or aren’t) held accountable for what is said on air, so all of this is just my own opinion, said for my benefit (otherwise, I’ll just be bottled up and pissy all day, and that is not a pretty picture) and hopefully for your entertainment (my friends tell me I’m funny – I’m certain they’re just being nice). If anything that follows pisses you off, go write your own blog.

That being said, I think that before an individual of a certain authority (and let’s face it, even radio hosts have some sway) deigns to present something to the general public as a bonafide – or even as a supposed – fact, there ought to be a little thought, a little research, or hell, failing any of that, a little bit of human compassion to deployed to modulate it. Call me a softy, but I don’t think you should just get up there on your soapbox and start barking at passer-by, preaching as if it were the Gospel, oblivious (or uncaring) of who you might injure with your message.

Besides, I think these guys have cornered that market.
Besides, I think these guys have cornered that market.

So, I hop into the car at seven this morning and I don’t quite catch the beginning of what they’re talking about, but I quickly get the gist: the iPhone 6 has just been officially announced and people are all in a tizzy. Hudson and Scotty B are actually discussing people’s tendency to go so over-the-top-apeshit over these new devices that they will willingly drive themselves into debt in order to possess one, and how ridiculous the “buy-more-get-more” mentality has become in our culture. I’m nodding along as I drive, because I agree – I don’t really see the point in having the new “IT” device as soon as it is debuted. Truth be known, I swore off the iPhone for years and years thinking it an over-priced, over-blown piece of fluff technology. Now that I finally have one, I like it quite a lot, though I expect that I’m going to keep it for at least another five years, considering how much I paid for it.

That aside, the more the radio hosts talked, it came around to the subject of welfare or food stamp abuse – they started to discuss those folks who show up to the welfare office in a Mercedes or whom you see in the line at the grocery store using food stamps, dressed to the nines, hair done, nails manicured, with the newest iPhone or Android device, and how it just ain’t right that these people, who are living on tax payer dollars mind you, possess any kind of luxury. They even had a caller, formerly from Virginia, whose wife had worked in a state office passing out the checks – and don’t know it? She saw at least ten or fifteen of these blatant welfare abusers everyday!

And that was when the (internal) fight started.

You see, that whole mentality just pisses me off. Who the fuck are you to judge these people? I said to my radio. You don’t know the first thing about who they are, where they have come from, or what they have lived through.

Tell me how your long-distance observations have justified the extent of your knowledge regarding what turn of event put them in a position to be in the welfare office collecting benefits? You don’t know if they were recently working for a very profitable and successful business that suddenly crashed and had to close its doors, and they lost their six-figure job. Now they, along with their five kids, are living in Grandma’s basement trying to make ends meet on just that one welfare check. Not only might they be adjusting to living on a quarter of the income, but consider this: if you lost your livelihood, how willing are you to immediately abandon your very way of life in that time of insecurity? Few people are going to go ahead and give up on the ways of life and the things that they did before immediately following such a disruption, and crippling, lose-your-home-your-savings-your-will-to-live debt can come upon a person very quickly.

Frankly, if I lost my job tomorrow, I would not sell my nice, reliable car nor my fancy smart phone in order to make ends meet. I would be using that car and that phone every day to try and land another job to support my family. I would also (since I’m a sign language professional) spend the money to get or perform on myself a damn good manicure, thank you very much. It’s called a professional persona, and that is how you differentiate yourself from hundreds of other qualified applicants in an overly saturated job market. I would then do my hair, put on whatever I had in my closet that looked the best, go down to the welfare office, pick up my check, and go back to job hunting, you stuck up, judgmental turd!

The presumption by laypersons that individuals who receive benefits are somehow taking advantage of the system is not only cynical, it is downright diabolical. Rather than making flash judgments and immediately putting each other down, shouldn’t we be empowering one another and lifting each other up? Here’s a thought: instead of, “Oh, I bet she uses her welfare money to buy booze and cigarettes…” change it up to a more compassionate, “Hm, I bet she came on real hard times real fast to end up here. She must be trying hard to get back.” A little bit of compassion will go a long way, and trust me, it will save your soul.

Because, honestly, how dare you? I don’t mean to say that there aren’t people that take advantage of the system – certainly, there are. But you know whose job it is to weed those folks out? The case workers and government employees that accept and approve applications for assistance. Period. End of discussion. It is not up to you or me or Joe Blow in the supermarket to pass judgment on another human being that we have never even spoken a passing word to. If you tend to look at a person who receives benefits and assume that they have an ulterior motive or are misusing tax payer money in someway, that says a great deal more about you than it does about the people in the system.

For me, this issue hits close to home. My family doesn’t receive any kind of assistance – though it would be helpful, I won’t lie. My husband and I work four jobs just to keep up with the cost of living in the state of Hawaii. I wasn’t raised on welfare either, but my four older siblings were (that’s them in the featured photo, I’m the shiny forehead with fringe). Our mother was only able to go back to school and get her nursing license because of the welfare program in the state of California – a program that, at the time, many people wanted to have limited to just one year, when the nursing program took two to complete. I probably would have had a very different life if things had turned out differently, and for that I’m grateful.

Anyway, I think I’ll start listening to a different morning radio station, to be perfectly honest. Hudson and Scotty B are cool, and most of the time, they really made me laugh. In this instance, they said that they weren’t trying to be “preachy”. But if that was the case, guys, (I hate to say it, but): Epic. Fail.

Next time on “Irrational Anger” see “Evening News Irrational Anger” when we talk about the “Homeless Problem” and how increasing numbers of metropolitan areas try to solve the “Homeless Problem” by making the condition of being homeless illegal.