Maybe I’m just a highly evolved person. Or maybe I’ve watched too many Jerry Springer episodes. But I have a hard time grasping the idea of jealousy as a motivating emotion.
I feel like I don’t get jealous. Yes, I’m one of those people. Although if I analyze the times when I feel standoffish, or intimidated, or curmudgeonly around other people, I’m sure I could ascribe those feelings to some form of jealousy. Or maybe they come from some other scarred and socially-unacceptable part of my psyche. Like I said, I have a hard time fully grasping the essence of it.
I think my confusion started with Jerry Springer. I saw too many episodes that started like this: A 300-pound man walks on stage wearing a pink micro-mini dress with peekaboo panels to show off his hairy belly. The audience boos and acts disgusted. He waves his finger at them and declares, ‘Y’all just jealous!’
‘Y’all just jealous,’ has become the rallying cry of anyone who refuses to accept the slightest bit of criticism (or good sense). To these people, haters are everywhere. Always drinking they Haterade.
Haters think being 16 and pregnant is a bad idea. Y’all just jealous
Haters won’t ‘leave Britney alone.’ Y’all just jealous
Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate.
They refuse to congratulate.
In fact, jealousy has become such a ubiquitous, expected thing that sometimes its apparent absence is viewed as an insult. Consider the following exchange:
“Sia has such a pretty singing voice. Don’t you think so, Brenda?”
“Aren’t you jealous of how talented she is?”
“You won’t admit you’re jealous?”
“No, I won’t say I’m jealous of Sia. I’ll say I admire her, but not that I’m jealous. That context is too negative.”
“God, Brenda, I don’t even know why I hang out with you.”
In a post-Kimye world, it’s not surprising that anyone would develop an overly-sensitized and cartoonish notion of jealousy. And this is a problem for me because, as a writer, I’m supposed to render any character’s emotion, no matter how vile, as realistically (If not relatably) as possible. So where can an author turn for an example of a character that is truly, undeniably jealous?
Cain, for one. He was probably the original hater.
Or Iago? He is considered one of Western culture’s greatest villains. And no, I’m not talking about the animated parrot. I’m talking about Shakespeare’s character from the tragedy ‘Othello.’ Iago’s plots make him the epitome of jealousy. If Cain was the original hater, then Iago was the first ‘frenemy.’
Except both of these examples exist in a sort of heightened, poetical reality. They’re not necessarily relatable.
How about the narrator from John Knowles’ novel ‘A Separate Peace?’ Here is a more conflicted, more ambiguous type of jealousy. The narrator, Gene, becomes good friends with Phineas, who is perfect at everything. Gene is impressed and intimidated by Finn, and eventually his jealousy manifests itself in one impetuous but devastating act. I like this portrayal of jealousy, because it is paired so closely with remorse and self-loathing.
And maybe that’s a good way to look at jealousy. It’s a catalyst emotion, it’s a ‘companion’ emotion. Anger and self-consciousness and resentment can all stem from jealousy, or jealousy can color those emotions. John Knowles has an excellent grasp of this. And he wrote a book that is read in tenth grade literature classes across the country.
Now, aren’t you jealous of him?