It was sometime in the early ’80s when I began using “happiness pills” as a term of disdain and derision. It came from a phoner I did with screenwriter Ed Naha, who later went on to co-write Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (’89). Ed was nice and obviously bright, but a little too euphoric and positive-minded. Alpha, alpha, gimme-a-break alpha. Like he was scared of even glancing at the sardonic or cynical or battle-weary side.
It got to the point in our conversation that I started to mutter to myself, “Is there anything in the world that you’re not fucking delighted by or blissed out about, you relentlessly Pollyannic fuck?” I complained about him later with a friend, saying that he must have been swallowing great handfuls of happiness pills. Ever since then I’ve used this term whenever I meet someone who overdoes the cheerful. Because it feels like a kind of cover-up. It feels strenuous. Like Sally Hawkins‘ Poppy character in Mike Leigh‘s Happy Go Lucky (’08).
And yet oddly, I haven’t been feeling this way since I stopped drinking.
Happy fascists are still a drag but they don’t bring me down and make me want to run out of the room like they used to. It may not sound deep, but happiness is a choice, I think. You do have to say “I’m not going to be the mildly judgmental, vaguely pissed-off guy…I’m going to be kinder and gentler and more turn-the-other-cheek about stuff and see how that goes.” Which I’ve been more or less doing. A friend told me the other day that I’m less crazy and less funny without the Pinot Grigio. Maybe.
But I still can’t abide the kind of happiness that seems to come from a place of fear and/or avoidance.
From four and a half years ago: “Hawkins’ Poppy character epitomizes a sort of person I’ve never been able to tolerate — the emotional fascist who’s relentless about being happy, smiling and sparkly, but who also insists — here’s the problem — on forcing her bubbliness upon others (acquaintances, strangers, anyone) with the ultimate idea of converting them to their way of looking at life, or at least giving them a contact high to take home.
“What’s especially oppressive and dictatorial about smiley-faced brownshirts like Poppy is their determination to gently bully you into submission. If you don’t get on board with the mutual-alpha, they’ll interrogate you like Laurence Olivier‘s Zell (the Nazi character in Marathon Man), looking at you with a quizzical grin and asking, ‘Are you happy?’ or ‘Having a bad day?’ Speaking from experience, I can advise that the best response is ‘I was feeling pretty good, actually, until you asked me that.’
“The term ’emotional fascism’ was first coined by Elvis Costello in the ’70s, and it’s real, you bet. There’s a scene when Poppy’s friend Zoe says, ‘You can’t make everyone happy’ and Poppy replies, ‘There’s no harm in trying that Zoe, is there?’ I am here to stand up and say that yes, there is harm in it, and would all the Poppy girls of the world please refrain from ever doing so again in my presence? It’s like being beaten with Mao’s little happy-face book during the Great Cultural Revolution.
“There are many of us, I’m presuming, who look upon cheery, cock-eyed optimists as people you sometimes have to speak to at parties — sometimes it’s better just to suffer quickly and get it over with so you can move on — but if you see them coming down the street do cross over to the other side and duck into a book store or something, and then stay there for a good 15 minutes, just to be safe.”