About Pith Rant

This blog began as an exercise in productive venting. 

It has evolved.

Pith Rant is dedicated to the critique of deceptively pithy image macros that propagate Toxic Positivity, and by extension, the unspoken, underspecified, and insidious ideologies of repression and oppression that this mentality enables.

What is Toxic Positivity?

You probably haven’t heard of “Reluctant Positivity” or “Unbridled Positivity” or “Fragile Positivity” or “Tenacious Positivity,” but you could guess what each one means.

On the other hand, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of “Toxic Positivity,” but you may have wondered what it means. 

“Toxic Positivity” isn’t just a pessimist’s definition of regular “Positivity.”

Toxic Positivity is placing so much emphasis on “good” feelings that other emotional experiences are treated as irrelevant, inappropriate, or even harmful.

It’s insisting on silver linings so much that you’re actually cheering for the storm.

It’s willfully squinting into the bright side until you’ve been blinded to the dark.

It’s wearing rose-tinted glasses to a funeral and insisting to the mourners that they look lovely in pink.

If optimism is an apple a day, Toxic Positivity is cyanide poisoning.

If happiness is a simple glass of wine, Toxic Positivity is cirrhosis of the liver.

It’s a matter of context and scale, is what I’m saying.

Not all of the posts here focus on Toxic Positivity, but it does appear to be the most consistent theme across the collection of messages I have in the queue at the time of publication.

Why Macros?

Image macros with pithy, inspirational quotes and simple life advice are popular for a lot of reasons.

They can be reassuring.

They offer the illusion of control in a chaotic world. 

They reinforce some of our most deeply-held beliefs.

When we hold them in esteem, they have the power to influence our actions.

They’re also handy vehicles for passive-aggressive shit-posting.

And for propagating the unspoken, underspecified, and insidious ideologies of repression and oppression that are enabled by Toxic Positivity.

The tagline at the top of the page uses the word “meme” instead of “image macro,” though – what’s the difference?

Honestly, I just think “meme” sounds catchier there.

“Image macro” is a broader term that basically just describes a digital image with overlaid text.

Some image macros are memes, but not all image macros are memes.

Memes are cultural concepts that are shared by way of imitation, replication, and evolution.

Some memes are image macros, but not all memes are image macros.

Image macro style memes are the probably most recognizable meme format.

An argument could be made in favor of using the terms interchangeably here, but I usually prefer the broader category label.

For one thing, the meaning of the word “meme” has shifted since it was coined, and memes are generally meant to be humorous. They’re purposely ridiculous, weird, and ironic. Pithy image macros, on the other hand, appear to be shared in a spirit of sincerity. 

Secondly, memes are an intrinsically evolving, dynamic genre. The self-referential reliance on replication with minor modification is key to understanding their in-group humor.

Although sunsets are ubiquitous in pithy image macros, there isn’t one distinctive sunset image that is consistently reused as the background for one or more particular categories of inspirational messages. The format is just “nice image, nice words.” The inspirational image macro template actually seems to resist innovation.

Sometimes I share screenshots from tweets or forum threads, and I have even less of a consistent policy for what to call those. Right now, I’m going with “screenshots of Twitter threads.”

If we all agree to pay attention to context together, I think we’ll be okay.

Latest from the Blog

Reach out and love

Content note: depression That stupid porcupine clearly doesn’t have any idea what it’s doing, so if it’s going to get its shit together, it clearly needs to be saved from itself by a concerned, selfless, innocent, absolutely informed, and incidentally adorable bystander. We don’t need to see the comic where the bunny cries at the…

Happiness is an Inside Job

Content note: ableism, transphobia, racism I Googled Barbara so you don’t have to. On one hand, this woman is just doing her thing and living her life. In this economy, we all gotta get paid. On the other hand, she’s a rich white lady who pays her bills by reassuring other rich white people that…

Special Bonus Rant: How Are You Complicit? (Academic Edition)

Trigger Warning: reference to sexual assault This isn’t the blog post where I’ll unpack issues with social media and blurry boundaries between personal and professional self-presentation, but I will lead with an acknowledgement that this type of blurry boundary is a complicated thing. (Says the relatively anonymous blogger.) I debated about whether to link to…

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.