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Tell Me It’s Going to be OK: Self-care and social retreat under neoliberalism

But here’s the truly wonderful thing about neoliberalism — as it turns us all into paranoid, jealous schemers, it offers to sell us bromides to ameliorate the very bad feelings of self-doubt and alienation it conjures in our dark nights of the soul. Neoliberalism has not only given us crippling anxiety, but also its apparent remedy. It is no coincidence that as we become more nervous, “wellness” and “self-care” have become mainstream industries. Over the last few decades, workplaces have become ever more oppressive, intensely tracking workers’ bodies, demanding longer hours, and weakening workers’ bargaining rights while also instituting wellness and mentoring programs on an ever greater scale.

I was recently reminded of this article in The Baffler magazine after Tumblr started advertising a subscription-based mindfulness app through brightly-colored positivity posts. I don’t have anything interesting to say about this app or its advertising campaign that Miya Tokumitsu’s 2018 essay doesn’t already state with painful clarity, but seeing these ads gain tens of thousands of notes in less than two days made me so tired.

The essay also includes two hard-hitting paragraphs toward the end about positivity culture on Instagram that I’d like to excerpt:

Although people gravitate to social media in order to feel connected, social media, and Instagram in particular, has a tendency to make people feel worse about themselves. Instagram’s genius in distributing bad feelings across a vast social network is particularly revealing, as Instagram is typically considered to be the most upbeat social-media venue on offer—not the platform of massive owns and pile-ons. Indeed, the Instagram platform is host to a large crew of wildly popular posters of positive and reassuring content, such as pretty food and easily digestible poetry.

However, it turns out that this kind of content tends to make viewers feel alienated—by the ever-competitive logic of capitalist emotional display, even the feel-good content featured on Instagram breeds a perverse sort of invidious malaise, with each new post about an excellent meal leaving a powerful residual sense that the onlookers’ own lives are acutely lacking in the material to generate similarly celebratory posts. And yet, in another brilliant stroke of cloistral neoliberal mood marketing, the feelings of insufficiency that Instagram fosters in many of its users are exactly what make Instagram positivity all the more appealing to them.

“Positivity” continues to be something I struggle with a lot, to be honest. On one hand, I am not interested in pointless pablum about how “anyone can succeed if they try hard enough,” while on the other hand I’m so burned out from hot takes and monetized outrage that I’ve become extremely resistant to writing or drawing anything even remotely critical.