Critical Analysis of Happiness by Steve Cutts

This work aims to critically analyze the videoclip entitled Happiness by Steve Cutts that can be found on YouTube. The short video of four minutes and sixteen seconds is a strong criticism to the contemporary world, where Cutts choses to represent humans by rats.

The animation starts with lots of rats running in a white background while the song L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird) can be listened and it  follows the whole video. The French song talks about how love is difficult to tame, making an analogy of the freedom of the bird and the difficulty to control love. The big irony of this specific song with the video can be interpreted as the difficulty of human beings to find love, they are always in a race to find love and pleasure, but this is not that easy as  I show  in sequence.

Reading films contextually involves seeing “[…] how the genres transcode ideological positions” (KELLNER, 2003, p. 103) and the animation is rich in details, it is almost impossible to follow everything that has been drown, but some things are repeated like medicine pills, cameras all over the place following the rats’ movements and people drowned in their cellphones. Among the advertisements that Cutts ironizes, there is consumption, alcohol, medicines and money; all those issues are approached as a way to find happiness in a contemporary world. I use the Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) approach, since according to Débora de Carvalho Figueiredo:

The current focus of the CDA is the analysis of the dialectic relations between semiosis (including language) and other elements of social practices. More specifically, the projects within this approach are centered in the radical changes that have been occurring in the social contemporary life, in the role of semiosis in processes of changing, and in the changes in the existing relation between semiosis and other non-semiotic elements from social practices network. (FIGUEIREDO, 2009, p. 740, my translation)

Cutts’ video highlights the effects of the mass culture changing social practices and the consequences of it on everyday life.

The first scene is set in a crowded subway station where signs show the way for “nowhere”, but the rats are still going and coming, it can be interpreted as no proposal in life and their expressions show anger, confusion and sadness while in the hole environment  there are famous advertisements making an apology to happiness. He replaced the name of famous brands such as Starbucks, Visa, McDonalds, Pepsi, Adidas, Coco Chanel, iPhone for Happiness but maintained the design. At 1:25’, there is a rat with joy because he bought lots of things, in a sequence at 1:33’ the Black Friday is happening and he simply forgot everything he had bought and fought for his life to buy more things that he probably  did not need. At 2:28’ the video approaches alcohol and again famous alcohol brands had their names replaced by Happiness. We can find a beer with the message drink, forget, smile; a whisky (Jack Daniels) written drink the blues away and a Vodka (Absolut) labeling absolute happiness, the purest happiness there is; all of them meaning that alcohol consumption is a way of finding happiness in a sad world. The rat starts to drink to find the promised happiness but it didn’t happen and he falls in disgrace while no one cares about it. After a while, he wakes up and decides to heal himself and again an advertisement leads him to the cure. At 2:52’, there is a big bottle of some medicine labeled happiness but with closer attention, there is,  in small letters, the name fluoxetine, an anti-depressive that the maximum recommended dosage is 60mg per day, but in the video,  the dosage is of 200mg a pill. After taking a pill, the rat feels happy and sees the reality around him magical, beautiful and perfect. The medicine holds him for a while, but since happiness cannot be bought and changed the reality around  ends, and even the overdoses of fluoxetine could not give him what he wanted.

To end the animation, Cutts brings the problematic of the money to the scene. As Deleuze said in his Postscript on the Societies of Control:

Marketing has become the center or the “soul” of the corporation. We are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world. The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters. (DELEUZE, 1992, p. 6)

The idea sold that “if you have money, you have everything” is pertinent, because in the contemporary world  . It is impossible to live in  environments such as big cities and be isolated of it , but the big insight is how to live without being caught in a trap, as it happened to the rat. Living to work is what happens to the majority of people and Cutts shows it in the end with hundreds of rats stocked in a rattrap searching for happiness in a place that is sickling their lives.

Even in the last few minutes, just to conclude the animation, Cutts shows again the word Happiness and a rat starts to eat the wire of the name that is shown with lights, a little electrocute happens turning the name off. It can be read as a thin line subject to nowadays happiness, as it is clearly seen in the whole video.



CUTTS, Steve. Happiness. Available on <; Access on Jul. 15, 2018.

DELEUZE, Gilles. Postscript on the Societies of Control. In: October, Vol. 59. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992.

FIGUEIREDO, Débora de C. Linguagem e Gênero Social: Contribuições da análise crítica do discurso e da linguística sistêmico-funcional. In: D.E.L.T.A, 2009.

KELLNER, Douglas. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, identity and politics between the modern and the postmodern. London, New York: Routledge, 2003.

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