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.

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.”

True Self-Care

Content Note: Animated Gif

Square image from quotecatalog.com with a cartoon piece of strawberry shortcake on a black background. The pink sans serif text reads, "True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don't need to regularly escape from." -Brianna Wiest
Square image from quotecatalog.com with a cartoon piece of strawberry shortcake on a black background. The pink sans serif text reads, “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” -Brianna Wiest

People who are well-off enough to periodically reject some of the many comforts available to them at any given moment are good about weirdly moralizing other people’s inconsistent access to comfort, at least partly due to a complex combination of projection and rationalization.

I am leaving that rat-maze of a sentence there, and barreling on to the cheese at the end.

For some reason, I haven’t seen a macro that says, “Don’t weirdly moralize other people’s access to and use of comforts you assume are equally available for everyone to reject in the name of self-righteousness!”

The rest of the article that this quote was pulled from does account for the fact that hygiene and food are not necessarily bad forms of self-care, but someone’s choice to pull the quote from that context speaks for itself, too.

The other squiffy implication of the framing “…the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from” is that you, cake-eaters and bath-takers, are wholly responsible for the stressful conditions that exist elsewhere in the world.

Probably your own shortcomings created the context in which you are mired in an exasperating, unsupportive, and/or dehumanizing workplace and/or life situation.

The infrastructures behind those exploitative systems supported by your employer / government / family / etc. are irrelevant here.

“…the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from” is just code for “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

The implication that small indulgences are “lesser” forms of self-care is grounded in the warped mentality that suffering and denial are inherently noble.

You built your own hedonistic little prison out of minor indulgences! For shame.

ME: Fix my problems, cake!

CAKE: Nope, sorry – you did your life too wrong to get to want things that are nice!

ME: (SOB)

        (NOMNOM)

        (SOB)

Decadent bath cakes will only shield you from the harshness of reality for a little while, without addressing the real roots of your own inadequacies.

This macro is the decontextualized quote version of the Onion article “Local Woman Authority on What Shouldn’t Be in Poor People’s Shopping Carts.”

I can’t stand the kind of petty assholes who judge the adequacy of another person’s argument based on adherence to arbitrary grammatical conventions. That is some classist nonsense.

But you know what?

I bet that the Venn diagram of “people who have shared this macro” and “people who pride themselves on correcting internet grammar” is barely two circles.

And so, I’ll go ahead. I’ll be petty right back. I can get pedantic about a rule that doesn’t really matter to me.

Show a semicolon some love, you independent clauses.

From a design perspective, who decided to use strawberry shortcake instead of chocolate, like in the quote?

“The background is black, so chocolate wouldn’t contrast,” you say?…

THE SAME PERSON WHO CHOSE THE GRAPHIC CHOSE THE BACKGROUND.

The creation of this image did not require a design team. Stick that in your back pocket.

Lastly, I feel like the point of the quote is to reject the value of the cake, because finding comfort in cake means that you hate your life so much that cake is an escape from it.

So if you loved your life more, you wouldn’t need to seek solace in, like, physical comfort.

Shouldn’t the picture be… I don’t know… not cake?

Being truly happy because of how right your choices always are is like eating cake in the tub all the time, but without the guilt of knowing that you shouldn’t be eating cake, because you actually aren’t.