Like a Flat Tire

The top two thirds of the photo is just clear blue sky, with white sans serif letters over it that read, "A bad attitude is like a flat tire. You can\'t go anywhere until you change it." The bottom third of the photo is a navy blue muscle car (sorry, I can't tell the make or model, I don't know kinds of cars) with its hood popped open, with digital smoke coming from the engine. The car is pulled over to the side of a road in a flat landscape. A tan, thin, blonde person in a white tank top and jean shorts leans against the passenger side of the car (yes, sitting on the actual road, which seems inadvisable), looking dejected and frustrated. The source is Power of Positivity.
The top two thirds of the photo is just clear blue sky, with white sans serif letters over it that read, “A bad attitude is like a flat tire. You can’t go anywhere until you change it.” The bottom third of the photo is a navy blue muscle car (sorry, I can’t tell the make or model, I don’t know kinds of cars) with its hood popped open, with digital smoke coming from the engine. The car is pulled over to the side of a road in a flat landscape. A tan, thin, blonde person in a white tank top and jean shorts leans against the passenger side of the car (yes, sitting on the actual road, which seems inadvisable), looking dejected and frustrated. The source is Power of Positivity.

I don’t have a clear visual of both tires on the driver’s side, but this vehicle doesn’t appear to particularly lopsided.

And even if they were both as flat as pancakes, the state of those tires is functionally irrelevant in terms of forward momentum, because the engine is smoking.

It’s not the most convincing Photoshop on the smoke, but then again it’s actually comforting to know that it was added in post, in case this person was asked to pose in shorts on hot asphalt, leaning against a dark car in full sun. (It seems likely that they were also shot separately, but I am not an expert digital manipulation sleuth.)

The point is that all four tires could get changed as fuck, and this automobile would not be going anywhere.

I don’t think I could create a better representation of the characteristic gaslighting of Toxic Positivity if I tried.

See, this message insists that a specific thing has to be done, and done by the metaphorically stranded motorist that is you, at the expense of engaging with the more salient situational factor that you’ve clearly accepted is beyond your control.

(This is based on my interpretation of the driver’s look of defeated exhaustion as an acknowledgement that they aren’t in a position to fix the engine, rather than an indication of a bad attitude towards an unambiguously unfortunate circumstance.)

It may be that the creators of the macro, who probably just added text to an existing stock image, intended the driver to be an embodiment of a bad attitude. I don’t know.

But still, in that case, what the actual fuck does a different attitude accomplish in this situation?

Putting on a smile while you wait for AAA does just as much good as a changing a tire on a car that won’t start. Sure, it might feel better to do, and that’s enough reason to do it! But don’t pretend it’s going to solve the bigger problem.

I’ve been consciously avoiding gendered pronouns in my descriptions, which I generally try to do unless gender is central to my commentary, but that’s really the second elephant in the awkward room created by this macro, isn’t it?

(The first elephant, if you’re keeping track of elephants, is the fact that the folx who made this beauty couldn’t be bothered to find an actual image of a car with a flat tire, but also don’t think that this discrepancy should prevent you from accepting their feel-good life advice.)

Power of Positivity tends to paint with pretty broad strokes, and their consistent framing of whiteness and heterosexuality as default states of being is just the very tip of their victim-blaming iceberg.

So what the heck. Let’s make some irresponsible assumptions about gender, for old times’ sake.

Let’s suggest that we’re dealing with a conventionally attractive young white lady whose fancy hot rod broke down.

The image is basically a boring cis het dude’s wet dream.

Viewed through the lens of the straight male gaze, a lens I grew up believing was both normal and fine, I get the sense that this woman is meant to be seen as

a) helpless and

b) eager to smile when a thoughtful, helpful, handy man who just happened to be driving by informs her that she ought to change her attitude, and maybe also that she’d be much prettier if she just smiled.

Like, maybe she’ll be a little feisty at first, and maybe she’ll briefly show up Mr. Gosh-Are-You-Okay-Miss by having some advanced technical knowledge about what’s under the hood of this machine that dudes are always trying to explain to her, but you just know she’ll ultimately benefit from this totally-innocent-and-non-predatory-hashtag-not-all-men interaction.

Et voilà, I’ve just written Flat Tire, a new romantic comedy to be directed by Judd Apatow.

I assume you can figure out the other, wetter dream on your own.

At any rate, just a reminder that while it’s a good idea to be aware of what your own attitude is doing, the advice to focus on that exclusively is often a diversion from what’s causing your attitude to be “bad.”

And a reminder that context matters.

The place that’s pushing for you to buy tires probably doesn’t give a shit about your engine.

What You Feed Your Mind

[A cartoon image of two pink cartoon brains with faces and floating hands. There is a black line between the two brains to separate them. The brain on the left is grotesque and scary, with angry eyes and a frowning, open mouth that reveals pointed teeth and a long pointy tongue. The brain and its floating hands are covered with either spots of dirt or bruises. The floating hands are clutching a knife and a fork, and the brain itself is hovering over a plate of what appears to be a pile of excrement (although the illustrator held off of making it too visually unpleasant so that the pile is more like the poop emoji or a swirl of chocolate soft serve ice cream). The poo has the words "Drama, Bad News, Negativity" written on it. The brain on the right is clean and happy, with a big smile on its face and excitement lines coming out of its head. The position is the same - clutching the eating utensils and hovering over a plate - but the plate is full of fresh produce: apples, broccoli, and lettuce, as well as a banana that says "Positivity," a carrot that says "Discipline," and an avocado that says "Dreams." The slogan, in black impact font at the top, reads, "You become what you feed your mind." It has the letters "opw" at the bottom, presumably for an organization but I can't determine what organization it is, and the bad brain's knife has a copyright for "successpictures" running down the blade.
[A cartoon image of two pink cartoon brains with faces and floating hands. There is a black line between the two brains to separate them. The brain on the left is grotesque and scary, with angry eyes and a frowning, open mouth that reveals pointed teeth and a long pointy tongue. The brain and its floating hands are covered with either spots of dirt or bruises. The floating hands are clutching a knife and a fork, and the brain itself is hovering over a plate of what appears to be a pile of excrement (although the illustrator held off of making it too visually unpleasant so that the pile is more like the poop emoji or a swirl of chocolate soft serve ice cream). The poo has the words “Drama, Bad News, Negativity” written on it. The brain on the right is clean and happy, with a big smile on its face and excitement lines coming out of its head. The position is the same – clutching the eating utensils and hovering over a plate – but the plate is full of fresh produce: apples, broccoli, and lettuce, as well as a banana that says “Positivity,” a carrot that says “Discipline,” and an avocado that says “Dreams.” The slogan, in black impact font at the top, reads, “You become what you feed your mind.” It has the letters “opw” at the bottom, presumably for an organization but I can’t determine what organization it is, and the bad brain’s knife has a copyright for “successpictures” running down the blade.

Ah, yes, the two food groups: steaming shit and fresh produce.

Why feast on the disappointing Poop of Negativity when the Avocado of Dreams is within reach of the fork you’re using to eat the deconstructed mishmash of the salad that is life?

A powerful reminder, to be sure.

I might be overthinking this*, but fruit turns into poop, right?

I promise I understand that the image is meant to emphasize the contrast between the brains and their diets rather than depicting any direct correlation between them, which is why we go from poop to fruit.

But still…

I’m just saying that the contents of that shit pile used to be something else.

It’s the circle of life.

I feel like the Angry Krang recognizes that its dreams and positivity have served their purpose, and it’s only left with bitter, smelly remnants to work with, but is still committing to feeding itself with whatever’s on hand, so, honestly, that looks a little more like the face of resilience to me.

Sub-question: are the pointy fangs and lizard tongue practical evolutionary adaptations for a coprophage?

Like I don’t know much about what kind of ecosystems are happening in Dimension X.

Maybe Angry Krang is a predator who is also willing to scavenge?

I’m very interested in the morphology of Happy Krang, because if it’s got the same tooth and tongue situation, I just don’t think that fruit and veg plate is going to be a walk in the park.

I like to think that this is literally explaining that some brains are herbivores and others are predators, and showing how they developed appropriate adaptations over time.

I suspect that this may be a case of divergent evolution, and that this image has actually been shared as a picture on the page “Science Diagrams That Look Like Shitposts” in an alternate universe.

*I am overthinking this

Your Enemies Can’t Swim

A photo of mostly dark gray cloudy sky, with a turbulent sea at the bottom. White sans serif text reads, “I asked God, ‘Why are you taking me through troubled water?’ He replied, ‘Because your enemies can’t swim.’” The sharing source is “Purpose of Life.”
A photo of mostly dark gray cloudy sky, with a turbulent sea at the bottom. White sans serif text reads, “I asked God, ‘Why are you taking me through troubled water?’ He replied, ‘Because your enemies can’t swim.’” The sharing source is “Purpose of Life.”

Holy shit.

I’ve never loved that “Footsteps in the Sand” poem, but…

* spoiler for the Jordan Peele movie Us*

…but this macro is like encountering the twisted subterranean soul twin of “Footsteps in the Sand,” and then realizing that it was mainstream American Christianity all along.

A black and white photo of a shipwreck on a beach at high tide. The ship is in the bottom third of the image, and the rest is mostly cloudy sky. In the sky space, there is black serif text that says, "Ships don't sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don't let what's happening around you get inside you and weigh you down." The source is "Power of Positivity."
A black and white photo of a shipwreck on a beach at high tide. The ship is in the bottom third of the image, and the rest is mostly cloudy sky. In the sky space, there is black serif text that says, “Ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” The source is “Power of Positivity.”

Ships sink because they let themselves sink.

The Edmund Fitzgerald just wasn’t trying hard enough.

And don’t even get me started on the Titanic. 

Boo-hoo, poor me, my hulls are all breached!” 

But did it really think about the signals it was sending when that iceberg starting hitting on it? I think maybe somebody wanted to become synonymous with catastrophic hubris.

Rejected from Something Good

A black and white photograph of a staircase with the top brightly lit enough that it obscures whatever is there, with a human figure, possibly wearing a backpack, standing near the top. The black serif text reads, "As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better." The source is "Positive Energy."
A black and white photograph of a staircase with the top brightly lit enough that it obscures whatever is there, with a human figure, possibly wearing a backpack, standing near the top. The black serif text reads, “As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.” The source is “Positive Energy.”

If you’re not familiar, Aesop’s Fables is a collection of short moralistic stories that have had a surprisingly strong influence over idioms in the English language.

Sort of pre-macro pithy advice, really.

The Fox and the Grapes” is the tale of a very hungry (wait for it) fox who simply cannot reach the enticing grapes on a nearby grapevine.

So he gives up and says, “Pshhh, I didn’t really want those sour-ass grapes anyway.”

And hence we have the expression “sour grapes.”

This macro reminds me of that fox who determined that the unattainable grapes must be shitty.

Clearly, the moral is to devalue what you can’t obtain, because you’ll be happier if you don’t have to experience regret.

Gimme an A for Aesop!

This image choice feels strange for an inspirational quote. It’s a little on the eerie side.

I don’t have to stretch to imagine this as a poster for a horror movie, if it were just paired with an appropriately tattered or blood-drippy font.

“The Thing at the Top of the Stairs.”

Or even just, “The Stairs.”

“The Shining.”

But not that one.

Or, okay, I even could see it being that one.

And then again, in the end, isn’t this actually kind of a horrifying message?

Let’s examine that idea.

In a symbolic sense, it’s not hard to see how a long staircase represents the idea of being re-directed to something better.

But why is what’s at the top of the stairs assumed to be “better” than whatever is at the bottom?

Just as it can feel like you’ve conquered something scary when you achieve a desirable goal (i.e. getting to the top of the stairs), it can feel like you’ve chickened out or failed if your sights were set on an aspiration that you aren’t quite able to reach (i.e. staying at the bottom or turning around halfway through).

The fact that a person had to walk a long way to get to a destination does not make that destination any different, let alone better, than it would have been if it was closer.

It’s scary to confront loss and disappointment.

And there’s no doubt that it sucks to be rejected from something good.

But acting like the TOP of the stairs is better than the BOTTOM of the stairs is just rationalizing after the fact to make it feel like that long walk up the mystery stairs was worthwhile.

Who wants to admit that they hauled their ass up all that way for no real reason?

It sounds way more awesome when you’re like, “I committed to climbing these stairs with a purpose that I both achieved and exceeded! Hooray for stairs! Hooray for me!”

Compare that with, “I was probably just fine at the bottom of the stairs, and I wasn’t really sure why I decided to climb them, but I did, and I’m here now instead of there, and I am still fine because both places are equally fine.”

It’s pretty horrifying how the cult of Toxic Positivity pressures us to resist disappointment, ambiguity, and frustration by rejecting, avoiding, and reframing them rather than acknowledging and sitting with them.

This commentary on the limitations of the macro has no bearing on that fable, though.

Fuck those grapes.

Keep Going

A bright red umbrella obscures the face of a person wearing dark boots and a gray coat, walking on a snowy beach. The text alternates between red and black. and says, "Pray, when you feel like worrying. Give thanks, when you feel like complaining. Keep going, when you feel like quitting." The logo at the bottom says, "Power of Positivity."
A bright red umbrella obscures the face of a person wearing dark boots and a gray coat, walking on a snowy beach. The text alternates between red and black. and says, “Pray, when you feel like worrying. Give thanks, when you feel like complaining. Keep going, when you feel like quitting.” The logo at the bottom says, “Power of Positivity.”

I’d argue that there’s a difference between “reframing” and “denial,” and that this macro captures the importance of that distinction.

A reframe for “I’m worried” can be as simple as “I feel worried right now because I don’t have a sense of control over a situation that really matters to me. I know that this feeling will pass and that it will probably happen again.”

Instead of not complaining at all, maybe something like, “I want to examine the source of my irritation when I feel calmer to decide whether it was a defensive response or if it is really important to address.” It can be worthwhile to reframe the urge to complain, but it depends entirely on the situation. Sometimes complaints are necessary for change to happen, and in those cases people who offer gratitude as an alternative to frustration often want stasis, power, or both.

I might counter the suggestion to “keep going” with the words of one Kenny Rogers: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away.” Persistence without purpose isn’t necessarily laudable. A reframe might just be a pause: “If can make it through the next five minutes, I can check in with myself again.”

The message on the macro could be paraphrased as, “Don’t stress, don’t whine, don’t rest!”

That’s denial.

If you are experiencing a common response to a trying situation, STOP! Do something else instead.

That’s how you do healthy. 

Ungood feelings are definitely not appropriate responses to inappropriate circumstances. Your feelings are wrong and they need to be corrected.

If you haven’t learned to eliminate your human stress response by praying, then you’re really just asking for an ulcer.  

If you can’t solve a huge systemic problem by practicing individual gratitude, you’re really just an ungrateful leech.

If you haven’t managed to persevere in the face of overwhelming resistance, were you even really trying?

I just don’t know why so many anxious and depressed people miss these obvious solutions to simple problems.

Life is mysterious, I tell ya.

With respect to the image:

I don’t know that “Thank god I remembered to bring my big red umbrella today so I can finish this shitty winter beach walk” should really be the takeaway here, and yet it seems to be supported by the text.

It’s okay to give up on your walk that turned out to be windier than expected.

Choose Not to Find Joy

An image of mostly white sky, with some snow-covered pine trees along the lower edges and bottom of the square. The black sanserif font says, "If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow." It is credited to @mindfulfitness.
An image of mostly white sky, with some snow-covered pine trees along the lower edges and bottom of the square. The black sans serif font says, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.” It is credited to @mindfulfitness.

Granted that joy is just a lifestyle choice that’s unconnected to circumstance, I still kind of wish that @mindfulfitness didn’t have to flaunt their joyfulness all the time.

You’re joyful. I get it. Keep shoveling. 

Unless there’s a possibility that joyfulness isn’t any more of a lifestyle choice than sadness?

And that real people who experience real joy in their daily lives are actually less likely to make a big deal about it than aggressively sad people?

And maybe really joyful people aren’t secretly trying to get everyone to fall in line with their nefarious pro-shoveling agenda?

And real people who experience real sadness, frustration, and apathy can actually just not be super into snow without channeling their misguided and possibly jealous resentment toward their more joyful neighbors?

Shit.

That kind of holds up.

Maybe it’s okay to talk about your joy or sadness and it doesn’t necessarily mean you made better or worse choices than anyone else.

But then how am I supposed flaunt my emotional superiority?

Adjust Your Attitude

A picture of a hand reaching out and upward, with a yellow swallowtail butterfly just above it, and a blue sky with fluffy clouds in the background. The black serif font says, "Remember, most of your stress comes from the way you respond, not the way life is. Adjust your attitude, and all that extra stress is gone." The original source is  "Positive Outlooks," but the attribution was cut off.
A picture of a hand reaching out and upward, with a yellow swallowtail butterfly just above it, and a blue sky with fluffy clouds in the background. The black serif font says, “Remember, most of your stress comes from the way you respond, not the way life is. Adjust your attitude, and all that extra stress is gone.” The original source is “Positive Outlooks,” but the attribution was cut off.

I’m gonna try to be funny, but I honestly almost burst some blood vessels when I first read this.

Just so we’re clear, my right eyeball nearly exploded because I am bad at having responses to things that exist.

Not because of the way that this image macro is.

The fact that it’s possible for humans to persevere in the face of unfavorable circumstances is inspiring.

And it’s fair to remember that our knee-jerk responses to upsetting situations do not always dictate the most reasonable course of action.

But it is a slippery, slippery slope that slides us from “be mindful of your reactions” to “if the way life exists around you creates negative feelings inside of you, then your feelings are the real problem.”

The latter interpretation is especially popular among folx who want to rationalize the inevitability of structural and systemic issues like poverty.

“Those people who are struggling are just having bad responses to normal circumstances, and people who are successful have better responses!”

Right.

Across all situations, any dissatisfaction you ever feel is just a problem with your feelings-haver.

Let’s practice.

Sexism isn’t limiting your career. It’s your rage about patriarchy that’s holding you back! So relax.

Climate change isn’t stressful. Your house just happens to sometimes get in the way of naturally-occurring disasters, so you should really be grateful that you have a house! Just breathe deep.

Homophobia isn’t preventing you from adopting children. It’s your choice to prioritize your own life goals over the unfounded anxiety of random straight people! Go ahead and chill.

Your poverty isn’t preventing upward social mobility. You’re just poor because of your choice to not cope more effectively with your chronic depression, which is unrelated to your poverty! Smile for once.

Racism isn’t making people call the police on you for existing in a public space. It’s your conscious decision to not have a better attitude about the possibility that those people might have to want to call the police on you for co-existing in their space that’s really the problem! Ease up.

Image from KC Green's comic "Gunshow," featuring a yellow cartoon dog with a small hat sitting at a table with a mug of coffee, saying “This is fine,” while the surrounding house is actually on fire.
Image from KC Green’s comic “Gunshow,” featuring a yellow cartoon dog with a small hat sitting at a table with a mug of coffee, saying “This is fine,” while the surrounding house is actually on fire.

The picture here feels like a Photoshop tutorial.

Like, “Find a background and two images, and combine them!”

So, as an outcome of an exercise like that: “okay job, Photoshopper!

Some of those edges are crisp, and I am comfortable pretending that the butterfly isn’t sitting on a flower!

Good thing you didn’t stress about it too much.”