Discover more from Hot Chips
(alternatively, Big Depressive Energy; TW: mental health, mentions of depression, incels)
So the result of this Substack newsletter (welcome, my only fans who receive this in their inboxes) was a tweet (or two) I made.
Between discourse on hustle culture, mental health, and other keywords that really do the trick for search engine optimization/banger tweets, I thought I might want to explore what it means to me through two key pieces of media. This piece is magically very spoiler-free.
Everybody who knows me, knows that I am a massive Sopranos fan. I had a very revisionist poster where Paulie was pro-Black Lives Matter (he’s a racist boomer), and my parents objected to the f-bomb in that poster. But, of course, I used the “pandemic” card to put it up on my wall. The same card that I used to watch a six-season long show.
At a therapy session in Cold Cuts (S05E10), Jennifer Melfi, Tony Soprano’s therapist, says, “Depression is rage turned inward”. This isn’t a spoiler, and it’s not a view shared universally by all fans, but I’m of the opinion that Tony slowly turned evil. He might have been criminal, but you would likely say he was more grey than anything in the first few seasons.
But I saw him descend into each stage of hell with every season. Very similar to Breaking Bad, where goody two-shoes Walter White turned into a “don’t get high off your own supply” version of Gordon Gekko. And you wouldn’t necessarily say that it was inherent in him be a ruthless drug dealer. However, at every pivotal moment of the show, he took a step he could never come back from.
Months later, for the first time, I watched a ContraPoints video (and another). It was the one on incels, and of course I think it is a masterpiece (the other one was, of course, “Men”). But more than that, it is awe-inspiringly empathetic. Like, I can’t imagine the energy someone would have to be empathetic towards a class of oppressors.
But then I thought about the overlap between those two a little. Not necessarily in terms of incels, but in terms of the gravity-sucking hole of gloom men of all kinds share. I thought about the times I was going through a rough patch, how I reacted to my friends and family. The pandemic was a massive mental health crisis, but besides that, it was also a time where I found that I could truly work on it. I was forced to think about my personality, and the untimely things I may have said before to people. I was growing, but I could do much better.
Am I saying that a TV show became my source of non-linear growth? I’m tempted to say yes, but let’s not make uncalled-for leaps now :)
Emotion suppression often builds toxicity, not just for the self, but also for those around the self. I did that sometimes. I wasn’t necessarily depressed, but as a late teen, I was fairly reserved. I used the “introvert” card to justify that, and I think many do. It took me years to realize that I can’t keep things too close to the chest, and I need to open up to someone from time to time, be it friends who listen, my parents, or if need be, a therapist.
My solution to escaping depression or bad mental health episodes wasn’t necessarily working out, or watching more TV, or playing more video games, and I did all of those things. I tied that down to 2 core ideas: a) being honest with myself and at least two other people in life, and b) recognizing motivation wherever I get it. I cried more in my final year than I did for the 4 years that preceded it, combined. I watched more sports-related stuff in my final year than in the preceding 2 years of college (my soure of motivation, basically).
You know who didn’t do any of this? Tony Soprano. David Chase wrote the show keeping in mind his own depression, and his mother’s relationship with respect to that element. I’m fortunate to have a supportive family behind me, but Tony pretty much let Melfi attribute every shortcoming of his to his mother. I say he let her; I could have easily said she did it herself. What I mean is despite his lack of a motherhood, he was at multiple crossroads where he always had a choice. He took the darker path each time. Therapy goes both ways, but it’s very possible that Tony knew how to trick Melfi towards the end of their sessions. Given that he didn’t need to tell her his crimes, her explanations for his behavior became convenient excuses for him. To him, fundamental change was impossible. This is a view I don’t completely share.
I’d actually flip Melfi’s saying, too, because the obverse of that also makes sense:
“Rage is depression turned outward”.
I have never liked myself angry. If I had to describe myself, I’d say I’m often anxious, often restless, and mostly laughing. The few times that I have been truly angry, are the times I made nearly irreversible damage. And each time I have been angry, I was in some form of emotional stress. When I say angry, I absolutely don’t mean frustrated. In the latter, I don’t take any personal shots.
That’s when I realized: depression could have been the source of all my future behavior and actions if I let it subsume me now.
That idea is not new, either. It has always existed.
Remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012? Or Columbine? Remember Unabomber? He wrote this 35000-word manuscript which was published in the Washington Post under duress - otherwise he’d have blown up some place. I haven’t read it in its entirety, but the word “depression” finds 15 mentions in it. He lived very primitively after his doctorate degree (he was a math genius). In fact, there’s a noble man who illustrates my point about Unabomber perfectly in a favorite movie of mine. It’s bewildering when I think about it, that one clinically depressive man was cast to say this about another. Only one of them was a gem, and he used his emotional IQ to give his POV on an infamous American terrorist:
(I have a feeling that Robin Williams was cast not just because of his great acting, but also because he had lived experiences with severe forms of depression. Damn.)
Sure, you might say that these are extremities. But I’m sure you’d have definitely heard stories where someone’s partner did something very asshole-like, and tries to justify his actions with “I was depressed”. Which is alarming; The Sopranos is literally that justification throughout, but much worse. Tony tries to fill his depression void with some form of an extramarital relationship all the time, and that always turns toxic. He also vehemently rejects the progress he makes in therapy quite often. Except for outright alienation, incels are very similar. They share that entitlement (although one might say that the level may vary) over non-men as men who may get into relationships.
It scares me to think that at some point, we as men are one bad experience away from becoming shitty personalities. And I don’t mean usual misunderstandings in relationships, either. It’s like we never learnt how to cope. The rationalizing we do for those experiences is also weird, and it’s common among so many dudes that I doubt what would have happened to me in an alternate universe if I didn’t have a great support system. We would have likely seen a very dark episode of Marvel’s “What If…” (no, Disney wouldn’t allow that). And it ties down to that oft-heard thing too: men need solid emotional support systems. You have flatout objective people in life, people who validate you when you want them to, and people just to cry to.
It’s why I really like the ContraPoints video. Without assuming too much about her subjects, she brings out the possibility that men have traumatic experiences, too (primarily because of other men). But they use that as an excuse for alienation. And she uses her own experiences to talk about this phenomenon pre-transition.
A more desi example I like to use is the average early teen cricket/football gang of yours in your apartment or society. There’s a lot of fat-shaming, bullying, a lot of slurs being thrown around and at you. That creates another aura where you say girls can’t be part of your gang because they’re the “others” and they’re too soft. Sure, you can’t expect nuance from a kid, but that’s the very root of an echo chamber. The male upper-middle class kid, barely a teenager (or younger), who lives in a society, or goes to a nearby field to play a team sport. The funnel starts all the way from there, and your teen years are your formative years. I like to think that warriors are born in the sports arena, but so are victims who may or may not become the very entities that belittled them. Very little things too, like forcing someone who can’t run too well to continue being the goalie, though they might want to play in the attacking third.
I guess that’s also why when someone says that the current generation is a lot more depressed than the preceding ones, I counter with a small digression. This might be true. But also, we’re trying to be the most perfect versions of ourselves, and get rid of the burden that’s been placed on us through generations of unlearned deviant attitudes.
Anyway, if you haven’t watched either The Sopranos or either ContraPoints video yet, you might want to get on it! The Sopranos quietly became the biggest show of 2020’s quarantine, and the prequel movie comes out later this year.
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Until next time :)