Friday, January 22, 2010

My Melancholy Face

I once read a short story about a man who lived in a totalitarian country where an arbitrary law was passed which stated that everyone had to be happy. The narrator, having been observed by a policeman in a moment of melancholy, got himself arrested. The opening sentence went like this:

As I stood by the harbor to watch gulls, my melancholy face attracted a policeman who walked the beat in this quarter.*

The story details the arrest, the beating, the humiliation and the interrogation. As the story brings you to its epiphany, you discover he has just been released from a five year prison term. His crime: a happy face. Unfortunately, new laws had been passed while he was incarcerated and this time he was arrested for his unhappy face.

This seemingly absurd story about arbitrary law is apparently becoming more than just a thought provoking piece of fiction. According to an article in Popular Science titled "Smile Police" (Feb. 2010, p. 56) a new smile scan software has been introduced in Japan. The computer reads facial movements and rates your happiness on a scale of 1 to 100. The new technology is currently in use in more than 100 Japanese businesses and organizations.
Don't worry. Be happy. Or else.

Remember 1984?

*My Melancholy Face, Heinrich Boll, translated by Rainer Schulte and Sandra Smith, 1967.

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