By: Sayeh Adil Youssef
By: Sayeh Adil Youssef
Morocco World News
El Jadida, Morocco, July 16, 2012
A question has been persistent in my head for a while: What makes us do things that we believe will make us happy? Are we really happy when we do them? While trying to find an answer to my question, I thought about why we do things in the first place. Is it out of conviction, belief, need or convention? Certainly a person would eat if they feel hungry, and that would be out of need. But eating is not necessarily out of need. I may have an ice cream or a piece of chocolate and that would be a pleasure, not because I have to eat. This is secondary after necessities. I would recite my prayers because I believe that is a right thing to do. But how are things done out of necessity? How do they make us happy?
When a child is born, it starts imitating its parents to learn new things. It is through imitation that we first learn. We do things simply because others do them and because they are conventionally accepted. These actions are not questioned simply because they are conventionally accepted. But what makes these actions conventionally accepted—such as habits, customs or culture? What makes the media accepted?
Media plays a great role in influencing our behavior. It is a powerful ideological institution. If well manipulated, it can manipulate people’s choices and their conventions. Lets look at the past five years for example. The number of Turkish and Mexican soap operas on Arab televisions has increased enormously, especially the former, which has become a fashion nowadays. Every girl is chatting over “Mohaned”, “Fatma” or the Moroccan fashion “Kholoud.” These television shows revolve around the same themes: love, passion, money, happiness and family matters. They differ in degree from one program to another. The apparent equation these serials projects is that love and money equals assured happiness.
The meaning of love here should be defined, since love takes many shapes. In these serials, love is the one that is between a man and a woman according to western norms. It is not the one that has existed between my mother and father or their parents. No, it is a globalized form of love that media tries to mythicize. By mythicize I mean Barth’s concept of myth, not to turn it to a myth like in Greek mythology. Barth claims that a word has two meanings: a denotation, which is just one, and a connotation, which can take many shapes from one culture to another and even from one person to another. It is by making of one connotation the only possible meaning that the image or the concept is turned into a myth. Being married and a father myself, I find happiness in my marital life. To say how, I would act as media does and impose my own vision of thing. It is up to a single individual to find meanings in things.
The definition of terms like “happiness”, “love” or other words differs from one person to another. Which one is true, no one can justify since truth is just a matter of belief. No one has ever seen God. His existence is held to be true solely by belief–this is among the five pillars or Islam. So, it is enough to believe that one is happy to be happy. This takes us back to the point of departure. What makes us believe that we are happy? Sometimes, we create images and we believe in illusions to give meaning to our existence. But when these are created for us and held to be conventionally true, they turn out to be powerful means of control. This is a tactic employed by the media. By presenting a globalized version of what ought to be true and holding it as the only accepted truth, the media creates a myth. It is by giving one vision of being “happy” and holding it as the ultimate truth that media makes of it a myth.
Its target is the category of people that act through conventions. One has to have a vigilant eye, a critical eye, and a questioning eye. Nietzsche once said that no one could learn from things more than they have experienced. I am not pro-Nietzschean philosophy but I agree with him on this point. It is through experience that one learns new things. Experience does not mean doing the same thing over and over. It means experiencing new things. The diversity of sources gives richness to the mind. It is their experience that makes people learn from things more than what is conventionally held to be true. Experience, is it gained through readings or experiencing different kinds of love for example, demystifies the myth. It makes a person question the meaning of being lovely, lovable and loved; this redefines conventional norms and creates one’s own feelings. This holds other forms of truth for specific people, in a specific time and place; it changes and reestablishes all conventions accordingly. It is these kinds of people who learn through experience to have a vigilant eye that questions and re-questions conventional norms and reestablishes others.
To be or not to be, I would not say it like Shakespeare, that is the question, but I would say that that is a matter of belief. To believe that being so and so, or doing so and so would make you happy, you are happy. But what makes the difference is the person himself. Just think carefully of what pushes you to believe that eating in a certain restaurant, or going to a certain place would make you happy. I am not saying that doing so is wrong. But I am trying to awake our consciousness to our choices of things and how we perceive them to be conventionally true.
 Here I am talking about Barth’s concept of myth.
 Nietzsche, F. 2004. Why I am so Wise. New York: Penguin Group