I’ve seen, in a variety of places, decrying of what’s sometimes called “Tumblr-speak,” especially targeted toward the term “feels.” “You should just say you feel something, not this ridiculous ‘I have feels’ thing,” the argument goes. But today I wish to step up to the plate and give a light-hearted defense of “feels” for a moment–bear with me!
My main argument is that “feels” are actually qualitatively different from “feelings,” and “having feels” is different from “having feelings” or “feeling something.” “Feels” is actually a
perfectly cromulent very useful word that describes a quite different emotional experience than “feeling” something. Specifically, feels are on the whole reserved for feelings related to the experience of fannish pleasure–in my experience, with an overtone of “a subset of extremely intense feelings that we all understand are linked to a fictional artifact.” I’ve never heard anyone say something like “I had a lot of feels at my grandfather’s funeral”–“feels” are reserved for Phil Coulson or the Doctor. I do see it used sometimes for a similar thing–emotions that are understood as fleeting but still crushingly intense while experienced–but on the whole it’s used most often to discuss reactions to people and things not part of our day-to-day lives (Katara, Robert Downey Jr.).
“Feels” is a handy shorthand that serves to delineate a specific kind of emotional experience: one marked by intensity and purity that transcends “day to day” emotions of happiness and sorrow (with their often-muddied, contradictory undertones).
It’s also a tongue-in-cheek way to downplay those emotions, to ironically distance yourself from them a little bit and make clear you don’t take them that seriously. They’re not feelings, they’re feels. It’s actually an incredibly useful and complex term, one that serves to mark a very specific kind of experience and to simultaneously elevate and disparage it. Feels are overwhelming, they blot out everything in a rush of emotion, either good or bad.
Feels are something to be savored and–at a certain level–enjoyed, even when they’re negative. Sad feelings are awful; but watching something that gives you sad feels has a certain hyper-real pleasure to it (obviously, or certain creators wouldn’t have such huge followings!)
The term is, far from being a corruption of the language, an elegantly precise word that serves a very useful function. So next time you feel reluctant to say something “hit you right in the feels” or to cry out “ow, my feels!” embrace your inner fan, let go of your inner grammarian, and go for it!
And with that, I humbly take my leave of you. Thank you for your consideration! Perhaps next year I shall try to parse and defend “I have lost my ability to can.”
“In Defense of Feels,” text ©mithen, originally posted on May 17, 2013