Victimhood Culture is Lucrative
On profiting from disempowerment
Writing about being “gaslit” and “triggered” is profitable.
When you make a living out of writing about your experience of being a human in the world, “woe is me” is a tried and tested formula that yields sympathy clicks.
Most of us are softies and we cannot abide another human’s suffering. And we’re so keen to relate that we don’t always spot overwrought pathos designed to manipulate us into emoting.
“Life is unfair” is another overused trope from victimhood culture that posits we’re all entitled to the moon on a stick.
Has the personal essay become weaponized?
Here’s the thing: Life doesn’t care either way about any of us. Instead, it is a gift in the strictest sense of the term; we are given it.
But instead of treating it as the treasure trove of possibilities it is, we regard it as a competition against our peers. Worse, we convince ourselves other people are out to get us.
Spoiler alert: They’re likely way too busy thinking about themself to care about your existence.
Going through life with a chip on our shoulder is a choice.
As is turning this chip into a timber yard to get paid.
This disingenuous attitude takes many guises, such as grown-ups whining about “adulting.” The word is so redolent of phony candor and faux naïveté it seems out of place in the mouth of anyone over 21.
While our inner child lives on, it doesn’t get to run the show anymore.
If letting it come out to play as often as possible is fun and enjoyable for all, still throwing temper tantrums in adulthood is not. The latter reveals a lack of self-awareness and the inability to entertain and accommodate viewpoints different from our own. Worse, it shows that critical thinking is a skill we haven’t mastered yet, which may be why going through life feels so overwhelming.
And makes us complain so much about feeling put upon and hard done by. In a country where greed and individualism are all the rage, the commodification of human suffering has become normalized.
No one bats an eyelid anymore or indeed questions it.
Pick your scapegoat.
Victimhood culture thrives on pitching humans against humans, thus dividing us instead of uniting us.
Women blame men and men blame women for their respective predicaments; both sides preach at the other ad nauseam. As for those who don’t identify with either, they get left behind.
Fanning the flames of outrage makes for popular copy but it’s hazardous to society as it traps us into echo chambers of our own making; whether we produce or support this kind of writing, we’re complicit in furthering that which hinders us, i.e. disconnectedness.
As long as we refuse to examine our biases and prejudices, equality will never happen. And as long as we refuse to admit we’re furthering the status quo for profit, nothing will change.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call out deleterious behavior when we see it, it means the ways in which we do so aren’t serving society at large.
Instead, we’re putting personal gain before societal change.
Writing is service, not self-serving.
Aligning the two isn’t impossible: When you produce work that adds value to the lives of others then you could realistically earn a living from it.
But doing so calls for the willingness to disrupt the status quo with writing that provokes thought rather than panders to clichés.
For example, some of us strive to rise above our limitations while others espouse them and self-deprecate for clicks. Since chronic depression is my faithful sidekick, I could expound at length on my particular brand of insanity, pick a derogatory screen name that makes the most of the pejorative sense of “mental”, and still bill myself as a mental health advocate.
But how helpful is the work of someone who describes themself in terms taken straight out of the mental illness stigma playbook? How helpful is the work of someone who makes up innumerable excuses for their own shortcomings? How helpful is the work of someone who writes at us and not to us, cataloguing the many ways they’ve been let down, not how they overcame?
If anything, it makes us feel glad we aren’t them, tapping into our appetite for voyeurism and schadenfreude.
When it comes to our shared humanness, these aren’t our most flattering traits as they preclude the empathy we need to empower one another. Nurturing such traits is both reductive and exploitative, at odds with what good writing is.
Progress starts with better words.
How we use language impacts our perception of reality so why can’t we shun the kind of vocabulary that renders us incapable?
The passive form robs us of agency and reclaiming the latter begins with ditching the former. Instead of shortcuts like “gaslit” and “triggered”, why not take a deep dive into how reaction is always a choice?
How about unpacking the meaning of those words and the disempowering effect they have on anyone who writes and reads them? Espousing helplessness and exploiting human vulnerability for clicks weakens us all. Taking back control from whoever or whatever blights our respective lives means taking action.
When we use language that enables submission, we roll over with nary a protest.
And we end up perpetuating the very reality we decry.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.