Greek philosopher,Aristotle, considered one of the fathers of the philosophy of happinessdescribed happiness as the highest goal of life. Around 2400 years ago hedecided to describe it with the term, “eudaimonia”, which literallymeans “good demon” which can easily be translated into “humanflourishing.” Aristotle was among the pioneers to identify happiness withvirtue and strong character.Building upon Aristotle’swork, philosophers and scientists are coming together to reflect on how truehappiness, while inculcating physical pleasure, may be about living a life ofintegrity, as explained by Canadian philosopher Mark Kingwell in his bookBetter Living: In Pursuit of Happiness from Plato to Prozac. The famous18th-century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, founder of a school of thought knownas Utilitarianism, said the best way to structure society is try to makepossible “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” meaning thatone person’s happiness can’t continually come at the expense of others. If oneperson finds wealth, success and a sense of well-being by cheating, orpolluting, that kind of satisfaction would harm the Earth and the rest of us inthe bigger picture. In popular consumer culture in which the mass mediastimulate people towards “immature desire,” Vancouver School ofTheology Prof.
Sharon Betcher, believes happiness rests in finding joy inrestraint. Changing our understanding of happiness could set the stage for atruly ecological age. Arguing that the endless pursuit of “more” hascreated both dangerous levels of pollution and of human unhappiness, McKibben(As noted American author Bill McKibben wrote in the February issue of EcologyMagazine) says – “We know, afterthe long experience of the 20th century, all the things that don’t work forhuman satisfaction (centrally planned economies, endlessly repeated ideologies,ever more accumulation). We know, from what the scientists now tell us weekly,what doesn’t work for the planet.”With authors dictatingto find oneself in the self-help section, with religious gurus issuinginstructions that happiness lies in morality, with cinema and social mediadoing propaganda for a ‘king-sized life’, it is natural to find oneself atcrossroads about which path actually leads to happiness. The idea of happinesshas undergone changes in the current scenario, emerging as a measurable,autonomous, manageable, psychological variable in the global middle-class culture.
The self-conscious, determined search for happiness has gradually transformedthe idea of happiness from a mental state to an objectified quality of lifethat can be attained the way an athlete after training under specialists andgoing through a strict regimen of exercises and diet wins a medal in a trackmeet. The objective of thepresent paper is to define happiness in terms of what it is not, by negatingthe notions constructed by the culture industry to manipulate the masses intopassive society through cultural articulations such as media and cinema. Asclaimed by the members of the Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno and MaxHorkheimer in “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as MassDeception”, culture industry utilizes the commodification of media toperpetuate simple and easy to digest ideologies. Media has become increasinglysimilar where the basic old formula is being recycled and recast over and overagain. The pacification of masses and simplification of media is predominantlyperpetuating the industry, which Adorno and Horkheimer claim, haunts America.
Commodities steal human focus and prevent them from reflecting on their own.Cultural products then begin to dominate the society and false ideologiesspread like wildfire, which also results in the homogenization of theindividuals since the messages disseminated by such cultural articulations are”stamped with sameness.” And if there is a homogenization of theculture and the masses, happiness to is homogenized, despite being a subjectiveconcept. After all, an individual creates his own definition of happiness fromcultural productions such as family, relatives, books, movies, educationsystem, etc. The goals and purposes to attain the ultimate aim of happiness isset up for the masses by the culture industry itself and these purported tasksare often specious, delusory and misleading as they convince an individual of afalse utopia to strive for, as the passive minded human joins the rat race toreach the non-existent destination.By drawing examplesfrom cinema, especially from the genre of romantic comedy of Hollywood andtouching briefly upon popular themes in Bollywood, the paper intends to explorethe construction of the myth of happiness as happiness becomes a copy with nooriginal. Thus, rendering the condition of human beings to that of AlbertCamus’s Sisyphus and leading one to wonder if imagining Sisyphus to be happy isenough to achieve happiness?In the liberal economyof America, along with the postwar prosperity, the shop-till-you-drop bingetook off with warp speed and has been cruising buoyantly ever since.
Hollywood’s part in supplying the fuel is familiar and acts like Marxiansuperstructure to justify the economic base. From Florence Lawrence (“theBiograph Girl”) to Angelina Jolie, the movies have rolled out a red carpetfor sleek felines to prance and purr in haute couture. In rom-com land, womensqueal, coo, and sob; men belch, grunt, and toss high-fives.
Women are bundlesof insecurity and anxiety about weight, work, and the tick-tock of theirbiological clocks whereas men are portrayed as clods, brutes, and horndogs. Asthe propaganda arm of the American Dream machine, Hollywood promotes a romanticfantasy of marital roles and conjugal euphoria and chronically ignores thefacts and fears arising from an awareness of the end, the winding down of love,change, divorce, depression, mutation, death itself. No matter how uppity thewoman or rakish the male, the romantic comedy affirms a picture of the Utopiancommunity in which sexual and ideological conflicts are magically resolved, afairy tale world where courtship and marriage formulations suggest that theUtopian ideal is possible only within the existing social framework. It is theleer of advertising, the power of a purchase to transform the mundaneexistence, and the promise of social salvation through consumer choice that hasanimated the popular culture.