Last week, inspired by former White House speechwriter and 1600 Penn creator Jon Lovett’s commencement address at Pitzer College, I wrote a piece for Slate about a strange consensus we seem to have reached with regard to tone in popular culture. Darkness, whether in the form of violence or unhappiness, seems to be considered more authentic than happiness, and worthier of cultural prestige. Now, there’s no question that, say, the execution of the drug war in Baltimore has a greater impact on the happiness of a larger number of humans than the romantic travails of a Manhattan advice columnist, but Leslie Knope arguably improves the lives of more people on a regular basis than Tony Soprano makes miserable. This isn’t a question of social seriousness or worth. It just appears to be a conclusion we’ve reached, and it’s something I’ve struggled with.
So I was gratified when someone who’s made a conscious decision to make art about happiness, How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor, who’s directed Happythankyoumoreplease and Liberal Arts, jumped in with some thoughts about why it is that we’ve made that choice, and why he’s pursuing a different one. I Storifyed our conversation:
I really do think there’s something to the idea that marginalizing or debunking happiness is a way to manage envy. Walter White is both more badass in a competent sense, and much, much more miserable than both of us will ever be. It’s a relief not to have his life, even if it means possessing genius. And if you’re angry at Hannah Horvath for stealing the maid’s money and presuming to be the voice of her generation, none of us would probably want her ruptured eardrum, her haircut, or Adam as boyfriend-cum-savior.