Friday, February 10, 2017

Miserable Company

I just read Joe Ollmann's Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People, a collection of short story comics. As you might suspect from the title, the stories are generally about sad people living miserable lives. It's well done, and I recommend it.

But it made me wonder--why do we read books, or see movies, or plays, etc., about people in misery? Do we enjoy seeing other suffer (fictionally)? (I don't think it's that popular, since the most successful entertainment tends to be about people--good, noble people--triumphing.)

I don't have an answer, but I think where we're at helps determine what we like. I'm not talking about culturally, but how happy we are in our life. I don't necessarily mind seeing sad people having a tough time, unless I'm having my face rubbed in it. (And I'm talking about pain that feels real, without comic exaggeration.)

But the truth is, this sort of stuff is a lot easier to take when I'm feeling okay. Not great, just okay. When I'm feeling lousy, and something is going wrong with my life, I'd rather see escapist entertainment.

A lot of people believe the opposite--that seeing others suffer has a cathartic effect, and thus helps us deal with our own pain.  We all have our problems, and if they're not overwhelming, I get this.  But when it's overwhelming, sometimes, seeing other suffer is more than I can take.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I don't have a psychological explanation, but I do have one observation:

Over the years, I have known several people who absolutely delight in sad and gory fiction. These aren't synonyms, of course: "sad" fiction would be things with really depressing endings where a good character receives a tragic fate without any justice afterward; "gory" would be movies involving torture, painful slow deaths, and grisly murders. But the people I'm thinking of enjoy both.

These folks -- as far as I could tell when I knew them -- led quite peaceful and safe lives. They had living and happily married parents, weren't scared of their economic futures, etc. I won't call them "sheltered", because some of these folks were quite aware, intellectually, of the vast amounts of suffering that were taking place elsewhere in the world.

Just my two cents. I'm sure there are tons of counterexamples.

12:27 PM, February 10, 2017  

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