Monday, March 19, 2012

Bright-Sided

It's been very bright & beautiful here, but now a Thor's Day kind of thunderstorm is rolling in on a Blue Monday in the blog. Over the past couple days, I've enjoyed reading Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America, and she supports her thesis very well.

She's not saying that positive thinking is bad in itself. She's a remarkably cheerful person here, despite having had to suffer through the pink optimism associated with breast cancer, as well as the disease. What she objects to is the substitution of superstition and optimism for real information and real action in the real world, a world that remains complex despite so many people's effort to oversimplify it.

And if you are constantly told that you won't be cured unless you are blindly optimistic, that's a bitter pink pill to take. It's not that positive thinking might not indeed help the healing process! It's that if you are not cured, you would be blamed for that. Meanwhile, carcinogens still go into the environment, thanks to big business practices. Meanwhile, mainstream state-of-the-art treatments for cancer continue to pour toxins into the body, etc.

Ehrenreich acknowledges the real effectiveness of much positive thinking, so she's not blindly critical, either. She's just making it impossible to look away from the greed motives and ridiculous detachment from reality in much of the guru- and hunch-based motivational thinking of today, which relates to similar movements in history, all of which come back to bilking a blindsided bunch of wishful thinkers. She points to how the hugely successful megachurches are run with big-business motives, while, oddly, despite the surge of MBA programs, a number of companies are run by not very realistically-thinking guru types, who, she argues, helped push the country over the brink into the current economic abyss.

So I recently re-viewed Yes Man, to see motivational speaker Terrence, played by the charismatic Terence Stamp, and Baby Mama, to see business guru Barry, played with giggle-producing calm intensity by Steve Martin, in action as the kind of money-making manipulators who benefit from blindsiding those around them with the need to be positive. I love how both films gently mock the gurus while demonstrating their undeniable success.

One of the book's sentences that sticks in my mind as "Most of the money is made at the back of the room" (at motivational speaker events) is evidenced in the scene from Yes Man, where, even before Jim Carrey hears the great "Yes!" speaker, he's there buying books and DVDs in a labelled plastic shopping bag that continues the relentless promotion of positive thinking.

Comedy is such a great way to criticize society. The viewer gets to laugh and make her own choices.

12 comments:

Ruth said...

I hadn't heard about the book or realized the theme of those movies. It's an interesting dilemma: how to go after the big problems of society with a rational mind, and then not lose your rational mind in the process!

We have to change our habits, starting with ourselves. It's not easy, but as people change, so will society.

Lots of complexities to think about here. Great post.

Kathleen said...

Thank you, Ruth. Each of these movies has a personal quest/transformation theme going on for the main characters...and the guru types are side characters who serve as dubious mentor or catalyst, but they are both fun movies that bring up multiple personal and social issues in fun ways.

Kristin said...

I heard Ehrenreich speak once, a few years ago, and she was FABULOUS. She talked about how various people had given her meditative techniques that had her imagine herself at battle with the cancer cells--but she pointed out that the cancer cells are not alien invaders in the way the pink ribbon communities have you envision. They are your own cells, produced by your own body.

She had this wry laugh, and she said, "I have a PhD in Cellular Immunology, so I know these things."

In fact, I wrote about seeing her here: http://kristinberkey-abbott.blogspot.com/2009/10/seeing-barbara-ehrenreich.html

Thanks for reminding me of what a gift she is!

Kathleen said...

And thanks for the link to your blog entry on her!

Crack You Whip said...

I am going to read this book. I completely agree and have heard of her before, just never took the time to explore her writings further.

Well-written post!

Kathleen said...

Thank you. I always enjoy her writing.

seana said...

I'm a bit of a curmudgeon, so too much positive thinking irritates me--although too much negative thinking irritates me even more!

Kathleen said...

But you're fun, cranky or not, Seana. Hey, my candidate was evidently gerrymandered out of my district, I noticed at the primary today...

seana said...

For some reason, I am not getting comment notifications on your blog, but better late than never, I rather ruefully acknowledge this example of gerrymandering.

Kathleen said...

Happy to hear from you any time you stop by. Sigh...and if I understood comment notifications, etc., I would make things easy for you and all who visit. But that little ripple in my brain has not been activated.

Lin said...

Kathleen - I am late to the party, as usual, but here it is. This post about Ehrenreich's book couldn't have been more timely. My brain has been full of a sneaky irritation about all of the glossy feel good stuff I'd been seeing and reading lately. It was driving me nuts that I couldn't put a name to it and here is your post and my neurons started firing away. Your blog always makes me think - and adds a chuckle and often an insight. I hope you don't mind, I referenced your blog and Ehrenreich's book in a post. Thank you!

Kathleen said...

Enjoyed your post, Lin, and your connection of irritation to pearl! Yes! Sometimes the irritation, the complaint, the truthful confrontation with a negative thing...is of remarkable value!!

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