A friend of mine told me about an email sent to Imperial College students – there will be farm animals and a bouncy castle on campus this term to help deal with exam stress. We had a good laugh about this – we’d just been to a fantastic discussion on Mental Health and Post-Fordism as part of the Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working series – and now here, Imperial had given yet another example of the ‘privatization of stress’ that Mark Fisher had been describing. I love petting animals as much as the next person, but it was the ludicrousness that petting some animals for an afternoon would address 3-4 years of mental torment, as we labour under debt accumulating to tens of thousands of pounds. Student anxiety, depression, stress, suicide could be dealt with by providing students with some farm animals, ignoring the alienating, destructive, intensely pressurised, and increasingly privatized education system which creates such feelings. Through the seemingly innocuous petting of a cow or session on the bouncy castle, students’ mental health issues are decontextualised and seen as specific to individuals and therefore the ‘solutions’ are similarly individualised and superficial. Petting therapy is certainly easier than an overhaul of the education system and also gives Imperial another ‘student experience’ selling point – “your time here will be shit, but you’ll get to pet a rabbit.” Facing £9,000 a year fees and perpetual examination, too right you’d expect some farm animals thrown into the deal.
(My friend also expressed sadness that the petting zoo is a one day event, rather than a more long term feature of Imperial, as they had been lead to believe.)