Love, Privileged Bodies, & Happiness

by Michelle M

 In the following interpretation of the politics surrounding love and happiness, a viewpoint is expressed to encompass some the oppressions endured by capitalism. Focusing on desexualized bodies versus privileged bodies, I identify oppressions within both as capitalism creates a sense of “cruel optimism” for the privileged and the oppressed. Tackling the problem of cruel optimism within capitalism is the first step, as the promise of happiness by the obtaining of objects is so engrained into capitalist minds. A shift from this instrumental happiness to a virtuous happiness is essential for the navigation away from capitalist ideals within love. Love is further explored in this realm through social ecology; and an interpretation of the positives and negatives (presents and problems) of loving. In pursuit of higher forms of love and creative social processes, I argue that oppression is very diverse in that it can happen to desexualized bodies and privileged bodies, and that a pursuit towards virtues that do not restrict individuals within the fear of capitalism can re-establish the most important values to living the “good life” with good love.


This may sound like an extremely privileged philosophy; however, I would like to argue that any type of marginalized and oppressed body can embody this thinking, and perhaps even more so. As mentioned above, love usually brings happiness or is equated to happiness, so the ability of oppressed subjects to challenge their desexualization and then progress from their radical reverse discourse into a subject of high intellectual capacity with understanding of pain and suffering while at the same time, understanding that they have the ability to feel happiness and love in pristine form is a complete possibility. Love and happiness, therefore are still offered, just through greater strife. Perhaps, though, this strife enables more virtuousness, thus revealing higher forms of happiness and love. In Ahmed’s (2008) re-interpretation of Bending It Like Beckham, she links the cases of three marginalized groups to explain that joy must be killed for understanding and compassion to be felt. She criticizes capitalist society for pushing the oppressed groups out of privileged culture just for the sake of covering up the pain and suffering of these groups. The truth of this statement is unfortunately true, however, because the privileged live life without understanding this pain and suffering in such a degree, they are more in tune with capitalism and supporting of it, thus they attribute happiness and love to material objects, rather than to the achievement of a “good or virtuous life,” as pointed out by Ahmed by outlining Aristotelian thought (Ahmed, 2008). With this, the privileged also need to branch away from this oppressive way of thought. It is not so much a privileged right to find love, but rather a branching away from the idea of privilege. Virtuosity encompasses all humans as able to love, and sees them as able no matter what their situation. To view love as only for the privileged is not truly perfect love as it carries some of the problems as mentioned by Mickel & Hall (2008): prejudice, pseudo, permissive, possessive, and prideful love. Prejudice in that we judge without grounds and fall victim to stereotypes of desexualized bodies; pseudo in that intimacy is replaced with infatuation, like how reality is replaced with fantasy; permissive in that there is no shared common ground; pride in that you are nothing without me, a common individualistic identity of capitalism; and possessive in that there is manifested ownership, also a product of capitalism (Mickel & Hall, 2008). Thus for the privileged that perceive love in this manner, in my opinion, they are actually committing cruel optimism in a self-oppressive capitalist form (Berlant, 2006). In the Ahmed’s (2008) article, it is argued that marginalized people are pushed out of capitalism’s idea of happiness, but capitalist love and happiness that focuses around objects and shoving marginalized further and further really, to me, sounds like being too lazy to disrupt the monotony of capitalist rituals. In Berlant’s article, she brings reference to a character called “Cooter”:

fantasy isn’t a plan. It calibrates nothing about how to live. It is the action of living for him, his way of passing time, not trying to make something of himself in a system of exploitation and exchange that, in the political economy of his world, does not produce rest or waste, but slow death, the attrition of subjects by the exchange values of capital, which trade the worker’s body for a deferred enjoyment that those on the bottom of the class structure won’t likely survive long enough to enjoy, as his parent’s fate demonstrates (Berlant, 2008, p. 28)

This grim depiction of oppressed bodies, is challenged by Little & Frost (2013) and their position on desexualized bodies and social creativity within social ecology. Although they do agree that due to social sustainability, some groups just do not have the sustainabilities, they do say that public displayal being either mild or radical is the catalyst to opening up the social environment for those that have been labeled as desexualized (Little & Frost, 2013, p. 172-173). When Ahmed said, “we might even need to be prepared to kill some forms of joy” (Ahmed, 2008, p. 14), she was on to something, however, these killings should be re-conceptualized as rebirths of thought. Such positive ideas of love are represented as presents in Mickel and Hall’s (2008) article as: purgation, perception, praise, patience, and perfection. To understand love in its good qualities is essential to all humans. It does not completely matter whether you are privileged or marginalized by capitalism, it somewhat matters on your philosophy, thus having the ability to understand love for its problems and its presents and to work from there to avoid the negatives and embrace the positives could entail a path in opposition to “cruel optimism” (Berlant, 2006).

Works Cited

Ahmed, S. (2008). The Politics of Good Feeling. Australian Journal of Critical Race and Whiteness Studies. 4(1), 1-18.

Berlant, L. (2006). Cruel Optimism. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. 17(3), 20-36.

Little, B. R., & Frost, D. M. (2013). Aspects of love: Connecting, romancing, and caring. In M. Hojjat,

  1. D. Cramer (Eds.), Positive psychology of love (pp. 162-176). New York, NY, US:
  2. Oxford University Press.

Mickel, E., & Hall, C. (2008). Choosing to love: The essentials of loving (presents and problems). International Journal Of Reality Therapy, 27(2), 30-34.


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