Is Social Media Making Sadness Look Cool?

01.08.18

I’ve been spending more time on Twitter lately. Not as a user (I’ve never actually tweeted), but as an observer.

It’s partly because of Trump and Kanye. I just can’t bear to miss a single one of their 2am rants. But mostly because Twitter is addictive.

You see, Instagram is where you go to show people how wonderful your life is – including but not limited to: the aesthetically-pleasing breakfast you ordered, the Stable! But! Exciting! relationship you’re in, and the stylish re-usable bag you’re hauling to the farmer’s market to save the planet.

Twitter on the other hand, is where people go to indulge in their inner most darkness and broadcast their feelings. All in 140 words or less.

If Instagram is a Face-Tuned Açaí bowl, Twitter is an angry Yelp review.

Aside from Trump and Kanye, and crowd favourites like Chrissy Teigen and Mindy Kaling, there’s another category of people I’ve found myself captivated by on social media. The real-life Manic Pixie Dream Girls. For those unfamiliar with the term, which was first coined by film critic Nathan Rabin after observing Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the eccentric, free-spirited, often troubled but painfully beautiful, female character that inspires the brooding male character to “live a little”. In addition, the MPDG is almost always predisposed to a certain sadness. Think Natalie Portman in Garden State, Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer, Kate Hudson in Almost Famous and Winona Ryder in basically everything.

But those are all fictional characters. The ones on my Instagram and Twitter feeds are real. @SoSadToday is the cult-like Twitter account run by Melissa Broder featuring a stream of morbidly depressing but comically self-aware tweets that hit way too close to home for most of her 685,000 followers. Here’s a sampling: “what’s wrong with me: the musical“.  “live, laugh, love, diagnose yourself with fatal illnesses“.   ” *me flirting with someone* do you think I’m going to be okay? “. “executive producer of my own suffering“.  The truth in those tweets makes me laugh and my girlfriends and I often screenshot them to each other in solidarity, which is pretty dark in itself. Especially when you consider that Melissa started @SoSadToday as a way to process her depressive thoughts, anxiety and sobriety.

Then there’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s like Petra Collins. The beautiful, wiry and ethereal creative – who has also been open about her mental health and sobriety – has become one of the most influential photographers and artists of our generation by channeling her depression into projects like performances at MoMA, music videos for Selena Gomez and campaigns for Gucci, for which she has also modelled. She also happens to be friends with Melissa Broder and they recently collaborated on a short horror film starring Gomez. Collins’ work is instantly recognisable because it is almost always tinged with melancholy.

I’m not saying people like Petra Collins and accounts like @SoSadToday are glorifying depression – we can’t regulate how people choose to talk about their human experiences. I’m just observing it as a strange side effect of social media that Instagram and Twitter, platforms notorious for making lives seem better than they are, are now making sadness look appealing. That a young woman “in her feelings” isn’t a bad thing as long as she can harness that emotion for a miserable poetic caption or two.

Or maybe I’m just a self-indulgent millennial who likes to project her emotions and wallow in self-pity and therefore likes to keep company with those who do the same.

You be the judge.


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club