How to Capitalize on Being Sad
On being sad, watching yourself be sad, and making a shit ton of money off of it
By Josie Brandmeier
When I’m sad, I’m told there’s a lot I could do to fix it. I could “go to therapy.” I could “delete social media.” Yes, I could attempt to stop being sad. Or I could get something out of it.
I think it’s definitely better to get something out of it. Especially as a woman. Because while actually being sad is unbearable, witnessing yourself be sad is awesome, as long as you’re sad in a way that is gorgeous or hilarious or insightful. With a discerning eye, you can curate these observations for power on the internet, which is a huge money-maker these days.
The first step to make a shit ton of money off being an online sad girl is to define the art form itself. A lot of people with media careers are confused on what this is. Is it just a trend? Is it “an act of resistance?” Is it “fetishizing female sadness?” All those people might be right because I literally never understand what anybody is talking about ever (“The internet sad girl is over, now let’s get angry”...... okay don’t tell me what to do???). I don’t judge them for being wrong because it’s not their fault that we live in an economy where some people have to write online takes as a job. Just like how it’s not my fault that we live in an economy where the best way to be depressed is online.
To cope with your sadness (i.e., profit) you must figure out the best type of content to produce. This is different for every individual and changes depending on many factors: what city you live in, who you hang out with, etc. Are you funny? What’s your age/gender? The list goes on.
For example, are you a WFH millennial? You can have sadness with a little self-deprecating wink. A “drink more water” type of sadness. A sadness that normalizes talking about mental health with a Redbubble sticker. Perfectly timed, adulting sadness that’s a whole mood. This type of Buzzfeed sadness is actually the most chic. To not understand what’s cool on the internet shows a level of detachment that is very rich, very PMC (professional-managerial class).
Another option: are you depressed in Manhattan? Strive for it-girl sadness, downtown sadness, sadness that looks like Chloe Sevigny. A poisonous feminine sadness with an artfully disheveled desk, a lit cigarette, and a copy of The Bell Jar. Read My Year of Rest and Relaxation as a how-to guide.
Other considerations: what type of music do you listen to? What is your job? Is it summer or winter? Do you live in the Midwest? Do you have a Substack newsletter? Are you an empath? Are you beautiful? Have you considered what sorts of red flags you have?
Any interests you have can be curated in a way to make you into an idea instead of a person. And there’s lots of types. Both ideas and people can be “sad,” but only people can feel sadness, and only ideas can become IP.
But regardless of how you choose to represent your sadness, it should have a certain appealing factor. It should push the boundaries in a way that is evocative but still goes down easy; a sadness that is digestibly subversive. Macabre yet consumable. Funny yet tragic. Extremist yet relatable. Catharsis and restraint. Man-made sadness beyond comprehension.
I don’t think people should be judged for being sad online. To me, being sad online is simply a tool for keeping up in this economy. It can’t be judged on a moral scale because it’s neutral. Constant. Part of the human condition, which is an endlessly, infinitely monetizable asset. And if being sad is a necessary part of the endlessly monetizable human condition, we must find ways to profit off of it. It’s no wonder girls are manic-pixie-dream-girling themselves at unprecedented rates—they understand what’s happening in the trades.
We can’t get rid of sadness, so we have to incorporate it into our personal brands. We must go public with our sadness. It’s the only way.
This is the future of sadness. Online sadness is shared, it’s communal, it’s Spotify-recommended. It’s decentralized, democratized, backed by blockchain. Online sadness is a 10 but she’s spiteful, she’s contradictory, she’s an individual, she’s a clone.
This is the endgame of sadness. By creating online personas of our own sadness, we can become post-sadness, post-cringe, post-irony, (post-COVID!). Sadness for the dawn of the new age of Aquarius!!! This sadness is a vibe, it’s a mood, it’s out here, it’s God’s Favorite, it has brain fog. Nouveau sadness that’s a never-ending feed, always caving in on itself and reforming. Never deleted sadness, right-click-save-as 111222sadne555, constantly cannibalizing, devouring itself (like an ouroboros of sadness?)—no, like a mirror staring at a mirror, like a front-facing camera at a front-facing camera, infinite yet intangible, permanent yet it never existed—a sadness that cannot be killed in a way that matters.
John Berger says (long before social media), “A woman is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping… Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
In other words, we are inundated with our own image of ourselves as we move through the world as both the performers and the audience, watching ourselves be watched, creating our own self-enclosed, self-surveillance state.
The endgame of this is to not just embody this type of sadness online, but in real life.
As Susan Sontag said (also pre-internet), “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.”
By curating your own emotions for consumption, you can become not just a tourist in your own reality, but also your own sadness—the equivalent of watching your own Instagram story, re-reading your own tweets, taking a selfie while you’re crying, journaling as if other people might read it. It’s a practice of self-mythologizing. It’s rationalizing and romanticizing your own suffering through performance, whether or not anybody is watching, until the suffering (and you) never existed to begin with.
For example, the last time I cried in public was on the G train. Normally that would be embarrassing, but it was okay because I was wearing a decent outfit, and my makeup smudged in an evocative way. Next time, I’ll try to cry with an even better outfit, maybe wait till it rains, maybe smoke a cigarette, maybe sit alone in a church. If I put my 10,000 hours in of careful self-surveillance and reality curation, I think I’ll be able to rewire my brain completely to process emotions not as burdens but assets to be wielded for my benefit. A mental 24-hour livestream. Reality becomes content, and sadness becomes like money—real but imaginary, only valuable because we have decided it is so. Practice makes perfect.