The Happiness Hat

Behold Lauren McCarthy’s amazing Happiness Hat. It’s knitted hat that digs a spike into the back of your head when it senses that you’re not smiling.

happiness hat from Lauren McCarthy on Vimeo.

It’s amazingly creepy and perturbing. I was reminded of how women in particular are often expected to smile or look actively happy. But further than that, a sort of relentless pressure for self-improvement. McCarthy’s video of the Happiness Hat didn’t make me think, “Oh, if I smile more I might be happier”. Instead it reminded me of the concept of hegemony as “the gun inside your head”. Police your thoughts… or else your conscience will prick you – along with the scary hat spike!

Lauren McCarthy has made a lot of other cool stuff. Take a look. From her bio: “Her work explores the structures and systems of social interactions, identity, and self-representation. She is interested in the slightly uncomfortable moments when patterns are shifted, expectations are broken, and participants become aware of the system. Her work takes any form necessary: video, performance, software, internet art, interactive objects and environments, and media installations.”

4 thoughts on “The Happiness Hat

  1. Mary

    I was reminded of how women in particular are often expected to smile or look actively happy.

    On this subject, I was recently reminded of this excellent and funny post (note: the author subsequently died of the disease she mentions in the post, reading the archives may be upsetting).

    Thanks for that Liz, it’s a fascinating piece of art.

  2. Moynu

    That’s astonishing and scary.

    At the end, when she got her coffee, I thought she was going to say “thank you” as she took the cup. Her lips began to cease smiling, as they would have to in order to form those syllables. Being immediately pricked, she simply smiled and walked away. How perfect for Stepford! Women don’t speak, they’re simply smiling all the time.

  3. Laughingrat

    How chilling and insightful! Strikes close to home for me these days too as I run up against various Powers That Be who have trouble dealing with employees who have depression. You’d think depression hurts them more than it hurts the folks that have it, from the way they act.

    As a youngster, I was socialized to grin amiably at adults and, later, especially men. Otherwise, you know, people wouldn’t like me! It wasn’t until recently that I realized I had, in fact, been bred up to caper and bow to my social superiors. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that men don’t go around grinning at people, and that the men I encountered and smiled at amiably never met my eyes, never looked at me at all, unless of course I was wearing a figure-hugging top that day. They could stare me in the tits, you see, but not in the eyes; looking someone in the face means you think they’re a person, just like you.

    That was when I decided to stop smiling automatically. It’s been really hard. My psychologist friend could explain it better, but basically, the stuff we’re trained so rigorously to do so early gets ground into your automatic responses. Despite my best intentions, I find myself smiling ingratiatingly at strangers before I actually make the conscious choice whether or not to smile. I’m angry that my brain has been colonized in this way, and been colonized so deeply. I work every day to re-establish control over my basic interactions with human beings–to re-establish some kind of choice over how I approach them.

    There’s a lot of backlash against a choice like that. One of the insulting demands most hurled at women is, “Hey, baby! Would it hurt you to smile?” The answer, under the circumstances, is often “Yes.” But my experiences, and the experiences, I’m sure, of many other women, demonstrate that women’s compulsory smiles are not being met with gladness or sincerity by men, but rather as a sign of our cringing submission to superiors in the social order. After all, if it was really about human beings making contact with each other in a positive way, why would those smiles be mandatory? Why would it be so necessary for men to demand them from us when we don’t feel like giving them willingly

    To see a related kind of compulsory smile, one might seek out the racist images of African-Americans which proliferated, not coincidentally, from the end of Reconstruction to the mid-1900s. The dominant class needs its subordinates to look and act happy, or there will be consequences.

  4. Rosepixie

    In customer service jobs you’re required to smile constantly too. Dealing with the worst customer ever who just told you they considered you incompetent and called you names because of something that wasn’t your fault? Too bad, you have to smile at them anyway. Dealing with a splitting headache that’s making it hard not to vomit because you’ve been on your feet in bad lighting and getting yelled at for seven hours? Too bad, smile anyway. Dealing with a holiday rush where everyone is tired, including you, and you’ve just run out of the hottest item of the year? Too bad, keep smiling. Being subservient means smiling even when it makes absolutely no sense to do so.

    I love this video. It says so much in such a simple, elegant way. It’s brilliant.

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