There is a scene, an admonition, that I have witnessed on television, in real life and in my head. “Do not fetishize your sadness!” says some agent of 21st-century wisdom. “I don’t!” replies some deviant in denial. It makes sense that we young people would encounter this. Young people, like most people, have sadness, and as a result of our unformed identities, we are faddy, stylish, hip and posturing. We exaggerate for the pleasure, fixate for meaning; In short, we are fetishizers for certain. So as a result, we have this scene, again and again:
“Do not fetishize your sadness!”
Why doesn’t the latter simply say “So what!”? Why is the fetishization of sadness assumed to be so reprehensible? How much of our repulsion to this “fetish” is based in rhetoric as opposed to substance?
I think that this question often goes unanswered. To fetishize sadness is bad; it’s simply common knowledge. As we do with so many ideas regarding mental health, we assume this statement’s truth. Yet, there is hope after all, because there is another assumed truth held in high regard by our socio-psychiatric dogma: “Accept yourself.” Are these two commonly held beliefs not antithetical? To love your sadness is to accept yourself, but to love your sadness is also to fetishize it.
We’ve reached an impasse, and since these two beliefs are so commonly held, this impasse would seem almost universal. For all those indoctrinated into the common wisdoms of mob psychiatry, there is an ambitious industrialist, seeking to optimize sadness out of existence, and there is a hopeful determinist, who seeks to accept existence as it is discovered. To accept what degrades us is self-destructive, but to wage war on that which is essential is to erase our humanity. The contradiction is of mythic proportion, and it begs the question: What is essential to the human condition and what can change? What wins out: our acceptance of the self, or our hatred for our sadness?
Of course, this question is too impossible to be solved by an ignorant college student whose naïveté will be forever immortalized by the Wesleyan Argus archives. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best.
It seems to me that acceptance ought to win out because, what is so bad about fetishizing sadness anyway? Well, a lot, I suppose. There is an undeniable toxicity when a person identifies with their misery to such an extent that it becomes their social grounding, when their pleasure of life is resultantly self-denied. But I believe that we can cut around these edges and find an acceptance of sadness that is beautiful. What is this joyful workaround? Masochism!
Masochism! Masochism! Masochism! I think that this word is viewed as meaning something quite specific, perhaps something sexual, definitely something perverse. I disagree. On the contrary, I believe that masochism describes a wide range of essential human behavior. Ambition is masochism. Moral aspirations are masochism. Watching the news nowadays is masochism. (And of course, wanting to get beaten in bed is also masochism.) My point is that so many masochisms are allowed and accepted, if not encouraged, by society. Why should I derive pleasure from my academic drive but not from my sadness, from my sense of civic duty but not from my existential ennui?
I love my sadness. I am fulfilled by it. As a musician, I seek to distill it, to elevate it, to celebrate it in all its glory. There is a masochistic merit to sadness, and this merit doesn’t lie within the social performances, postures and fashions of which we are accused. This merit remains when we are alone. It exists in our consumption of sad movies, in the catharsis of a symbiotic and candid heart to heart, in the tears we shed for humankind. Someone might read this, and think,“Wait a minute, what you’re describing isn’t a fetishization of sadness; it’s something altogether different.” If this is the case, then good. I believe it to be a worthy substitute, the quinoa of sulking.
I write this opinion not as a sorry excuse for advice, but as an examination of a contradiction. Sadness, gloominess, misery, self-loathing, despondence [insert more synonyms here]—they take many complicated and devastating forms and cannot possibly be holistically understood by the embryo that is my nascent 20-year-old mind. I don’t doubt that I’ll disagree with myself within five years and quite possibly within five days. Even so, I felt the desire to express these current views of mine; regardless of whether they are right or wrong, I believe that they are not adequately considered. Furthermore, I share because I believe the issue at hand to be all-pervasive in the world of my fellow young people. I hope that readers of this piece will analyze the complexity of their own pleasure in earnest. I hope that they will examine the potential difference between pleasure and happiness. I hope that they will reflect on what this potential difference means for them.
Matthew Rubenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matthew Rubenstein is a member of the class of 2021.