its one of the most rich, robust and downright inexplicable
words Ive ever had the pleasure of using. Miserablism has
captured my attention, keeping company with a bevy of strangely
rough-hued "ism" cousins (including communism, Marxism,
masochism, criticism, racism, fascism and colonialism). Unfortunately
for scholars and students alike, the term doesnt even exist
as documented English vocabulary. That is, Merriam-Webster does
not consider miserablism a piece of the common English vernacular.
This is truly unfortunate, for the word has the depth and social
perception to easily share a locker with "Sturm
und Drang" or "constructivism."
Ive searched unsuccessfully for an earlier origin of the term,
I first came across miserablism when listening to the 1995 album,
Alternative, from my favorite musicians, Neil Tennant and
Chris Lowe (the Pet Shop Boys). Plain enough, Tennant and Lowe succeeded
in drafting a wonderful little tune celebrating rather sarcastically
the musical rise of a depressed, self-indulgent "state"
best defined as: world-weariness in order to appear thoughtful and
deep. Rare in distribution and downright catchy, the songs
title is Miserablism.
to Wayne Studer, author of Rock on the Wild Side: Gay Male Images
in Popular Music of the Rock Era (1994: Leyland Publications),
Miserablism is a song that Tennant wrote from the apparent
viewpoint of the public persona of former Smiths lead singer (and
later solo star) Morrissey. In the song, Neil reveals how little
patience he has for young people who adopt a self-consciously, perpetually
pessimistic or gloomy pose as a fashion or even a lifestyle. In
fact, he mercilessly lambastes it for being the pretentious, escapist
cop-out nonsense that it is, coining the term "miserablism" to describe
it. Further, he maintains that it's more than mere nonsenseit's
destructively self-fulfilling nonsense. As the vocoded voice in
the background repeats, "It's what you want, it's what you get."
further explain the birth of miserablism and its subsequent definition
and use, I found it best to go to the source Neil Tennant.
In the liner notes to the Pet Shop Boys previously-mentioned
album, Alternative (their double-CD collection of B-sides),
Tennant provides an intriguing glimpse into the songs background.
In particular, the primary chorus of the tune states, "Miserablism,
is is, isnt isnt." Heres what Tennant had
is and isn't isn't' is a quote from someone's father when they died.
It was the last thing their father said and it was taken to mean
that what is really around you exists and the rest of it doesn't.
In the song there's a bare statement of Miserablism: life's terrible
- don't even dream of a better future or a better life. As quite
often in the middle bit you get the real sentiment. It sounds a
bit pretentious, but it says 'but if is wasn't and isn't were, you
can't be sure, but you might find ecstasy'."
with this intriguing insight into an already catchy term, I believe
Tennant and Lowe gave birth to a word and definition that could
just as easily find appropriate use and analogy in todays
diverse artistic, political and social landscapes. Quite simply,
Id like to see miserablism rise to the ranks of Merriam-Webster
and enter this new century, where it would no doubt find many suitable
homes. Come, gentle readers, embrace miserablism and help lift it
to the status of common vernacular!
Im not positive that Neil Tennant was the first to scribe
the word and its subsequent definition my research to date
has yielded little evidence that the term was born prior to his
penning it in 1990 Tennants usage seems to make such
strong sense, (from a social and socio-psychological perspective)
that I cant help but find a home for it in my own vocabulary.
one of our readers has heard of or read the word and can attribute
it to an earlier inception if so, please drop me a line! Until
then, Ive managed to bring together an odd collection of resources
on the Web that make reference to the term (for better or worse)
in one form or another, though from where its derived for
each example, only the sites creators know.
choosing a different route on the way home, make a subtle change
in your behavior and adopt miserablism for a day see if you
too can find a home for this flexible, oft-appropriate term in your
- This chap has managed to bring together a number of interesting
quotes on art, society and life in general, as it relates to finding
and dealing with the state of miserablism
- This site is interesting for the mere fact that you gain an
intriguing glimpse into someones life that you would never
know and perhaps ever even want to know. Damn, the Internet is an
amazing monster realized even more-so after you see a page
like this. Check out the authors main page for perspective
- This blog, like the previous site, represents an intriguing
case for miserablism and yet delivers such sweet and basic humanity.
Its another glimpse into someones personal world; a
glimpse that perhaps very few have seen (or so the author thinks).
Check it out and read the first few entries. This stuff is golden.
- Im impressed that someone went to the trouble to document
their quick disillusionment with the University experience. This
truly is an excellent example of collegiate angst, manifested as
miserablism with a humorous tone.
- It appears that miserablism was also the subject of a quickly
axed comic strip
Someone at Total Guitar magazine seems to have a recipe for battling
the plague of the new millenniums torrid case of miserablism:
Sum 41. While the article isnt that grand, the mere fact that
the author relates modern "nu metal" as todays miserablism
leads one to believe that theyre on the right track.
- This chap seems to have it all together or so he thinks.
While he provides an interesting take on miserablism, he states,
"Rock critics a few years back coined the clever term miserablism
We know better.
- Until we find a solid explanation to the origin of the term,
we can assume that Eastern Europe was not known for miserablism
(at least not Neil Tennants miserablism). I believe the author
of this movie review might be attempting to refer to the word because
of the regions harsh, cold social bleakness.
Pet Shop Boys song Miserablism was recorded in early
1990, though it didnt see wide distribution until December
1991. It finally appeared as B-side on the single release of Was
It Worth It?, from the 1991 hits collection, Discography.
According to Tennant:
reason it wasn't a B-side for any of the singles on Behaviour,
was we always thought it might be a single. I still think it's a
good song. It's got a sample from Shostakovichs 12th Symphony
in the middle. Id entered my Shostakovich phase.
words took ages to write. It's sort of about if you have the style
of being serious, people assume that you are a serious artist. Something
like that, which was particularly prevalent in rock music at the
time. Obviously the whole thing is ironic anyway, it's a statement
of bleak realism...It isn't a very well known [track]."