The Facebook news feed was introduced to provide users with a constantly updating list of stories from their social network. I am sure, however, that your news feed – much like my own – functions as little more than a digital cavalcade of triviality, solipsism, credulity and occasional outright stupidity. Always patronizing and invariably trite, few things highlight social media’s banal and vapid side more than the “inspirational” update picture. They are an insult to the intelligence of any right thinking person and a waste of otherwise useful pixels. The popularity of the inspirational picture perfectly highlights western culture’s propensity for shallow self analysis and obsession with immediate validation.
Far from the philosophical reflection espoused in the Socratic maxim that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” the inspirational Facebook picture points more to self-delusion than retrospection; a thinking worryingly divorced from reality and primarily based around mawkish platitudes. In much the same way that Reality TV programming cynically employs music to add a sense of gravitas to otherwise trivial scenarios, these pictures combine pseudo-philosophical captions with an monotonously saccharine image to create an undeserved air of poignancy to the most hollow and disposable of ideas.
During a surprise set at the comedy store in LA in 2009, the comedian Dave Chappelle voiced his reservations on the massively successful self help publication, The Secret:
This girl I knew sent me a book called the “Secret”. She was like, listen David, this is gonna help you, it’s called the “Secret”. You know, I started reading the book and I read like 5 pages and shit and threw it in the trash… Do you know what this bitch says the secret of life is? She said it was positive imagery! You gotta visualize things you wanna have, happening in your life… Positive Imagery? Bitch, fly to Africa and tell one of them starving children that shit. “What’s wrong with you [children]?”
“I have not eaten in 5 days.”
“What you need to do is visualize some roast beef, mash potatoes with some gravy… The problem is that you have a bad attitude about starving to death.”
The majority of the inspirational pictures currently populating the internet sprout from the same seed that made The Secret such a success in that both substitute the unpredictable uncertainties of actual life in lieu of a culturally skewed and assured view of “growth,” progress and personal betterment. To be blunt, it’s a crock. Inspirational, motivational, aspirational: rubbish, all of it bull and codswallop.