You see it all the time: teddy bears, balloons, ribbons, wreaths and flowers — stacked along the side of a busy highway, in front of a burnt-down house, or at the scene of a crime. These are the mementos left behind to impart an emotional nod toward tragedy; a sort of self-therapy for folks who have a need for feel-goodism.
It was Rush Limbaugh who long ago coined that great term: "symbolism over substance". The symbolism of this feel-good cast of mind is one of "I'm sensitive; I care." The substance is non-existent.
Okay, so us humans are emotional beings. Sometimes we radiate emotions for which we cannot control the timing nor the intensity. Though strong emotions are not always inappropriate, students of philosophy know that most all philosophers, from the ancient minds to the present, discredit the overemphasis of emotions at the expense of reason. Nowadays, we see a society that is void of reason and overdoses on emotion. In fact, emotion has become some sort of a collective commodity, and the open display of its subsequent symbolism is worn on one's sleeve like a badge of honor.
To illustrate, it seems that each time a highway accident takes a life, an unsightly garden of feel-good items is immediately foisted upon the spot where the expiration took place. Or, an inner-city child loses his life in a house fire because the welfare Mom was out scoring drugs and/or men, and the house then becomes a sanctum for therapy worshippers to work their magic. And just let someone die of a "hate crime" — ribbons and candlelight vigils will abound.
I can never figure out what is accomplished by the flurry of attention given to these occurrences, especially when many of those throwing the emotional party are strangers to the deceased beneficiary of these deeds. So why the outpouring of such senseless emotional acts? What does it all accomplish?
It accomplishes nothing, of course. However, it seems that society has become awash in the notion that open, visual displays of feel-goodism are rehabilitative and necessary for the soul. You can turn on the TV at almost any time, and find a daytime talk show that turns out highly emotional scenes that attract viewers by the millions. You will spy people at functions, wearing "supportive" ribbons, supporting some cause somewhere, whether it be AIDS, children, abused women, or the cessation of racial profiling. Evidently, it makes people feel good to be emotional and supportive of somebody else's circumstances — even if the inheritor of such absurdity is a complete stranger. It's almost like we have become a society of group-hugs and forced therapy.
Notice, the death of a child or teenager these days always means that a team of psychologists will immediately converge upon the "affected" school to console any individual that may have known the recently deceased individual, talked to him, or even just spied him walking down the hall. After all, it can't possibly be that any child can properly be stoic or just plain unaffected by the death due to lack of attachment. Somehow, that's not allowed in a feel-good society.
If one dares to question this ultra-dramatic behavior, they are sure to be assailed for being callous and cruel. After all, they are supposed to go along with the masses, and feel affected and saddened enough that they succumb to the teddy bear and balloon syndrome. When they don't, they are condemned for stifling the drama in the therapeutic State.
Feel-goodism finds its heroes in Oprah Winfrey, sensitized males, child psychologists, and self-help books; TV talk shows, newspaper columnists, and the public school environment eternalize it. The nightly news shows feature each and every new "shrine" like it is the last great testament on earth. The mental floodgates have opened, and the feel-goodism is pouring out.
Being a rationalist and a person of substance, I have no place for such useless, emotional outpouring at the expense of the dead or injured. As a greedy capitalist, of course, I often wonder how profitable it is to be in the business of manufacturing these ribbons, balloons, and teddy bears.
August 20, 2001
Karen De Coster [send her mail] is a politically incorrect CPA, and an MA student in economics at Walsh College in Michigan.
Copyright © 2001 Karen De Coster