Pessimism porn

Pessimism porn is a neologism coined in 2009 during the 2007–2012 global financial crisis to describe the alleged eschatological and survivalist thrill some people derive from predicting, reading and fantasizing about the collapse of civil society through the destruction of the world’s economic system.

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Pessimism porn’s coinage is attributed to Hugo Lindgren when he wrote about the concept in New York in February 2009.[1][2][3] Lindgren wrote of the attraction of predicting and planning for economic collapse:

Like real porn, the economic variety gives you the illusion of control, and similarly it only leaves you hungry for more. But econo-porn also feeds a powerful sense of intellectual vanity. You walk the streets feeling superior to all these heedless knaves who have no clue what’s coming down the pike. By making yourself miserable about the frightful hell that awaits us, you feel better. Pessimism can be bliss too.[4]

The change in programming of news channels to infotainment has played a role in the spread of pessimism porn.[5] Instead of news programming designed to put the issues of the day in a context understandable to viewers, stories follow an “if it bleeds it leads” priority that increase people’s fear and anxiety followed by advertisements that offer a way to soothe those anxieties, such as ones for companies for investing in gold to hedge against economic collapse.[5]

Thomas P.M. Barnett, chief analyst at Wikistrat, has criticized apocalyptic predictions for the global economy as problematically short-sighted because “human history is progress, so if you’re constantly having to screen out the good to spot the bad, your vision will be unduly narrow….you must consistently discount advances as ‘illusions’ and ‘buying time’ and so on, and after a while, you’re just this broken clock who’s dead-on twice a day”.[6]

In her book Apocalypse and Post-Politics: The Romance of the End, Regent University professor Mary Manjikian linked Lindgren’s concept of pessimism porn to Frank Kermode‘s “eschatological anxiety”, which he wrote about in his landmark The Sense of an Ending.[2][7] Kermode argued that “worrying about the apocalypse is actually a feature of societies undergoing significant social and technological transitions”.[2]

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