We’re all super mature adults here, so why don’t we indulge ourselves by plainly stating a few basic facts that we aren’t generally allowed to openly talk about: Bad guys usually win, good guys usually lose; selfishness motivates all human behavior, directly or indirectly; cheaters are rewarded for winning, while losers are punished whether they cheat or not; honest people have worse lives than liars do; and when you come right down to it, the world is an awful place whose awfulness cannot be ameliorated by any number of pretty sunsets, rainbows, or pictures of cute, rainbow-colored puppies take a sunset — which is why people love drugs, sex, and killing themselves so much.
We’re not allowed to talk about this kind of stuff in front of non-super mature adults because, well, we’re desperately trying to stop them from taking drugs, having sex, and killing themselves before they’ve had a chance to pay into Social Security for at least a little while. (Gotta keep that ponzi scheme going.)
And I guess that explains why we’re so addicted to misery in fiction. The world sucks, and life’s not worth living, but we can’t ever say so outright, so uh here’s a cop show where everyone’s kind of an asshole, and the crooks never get punished, oh and the chief of police, the mayor, the DA, your supermarket checker, the parish priest, Santa Claus, and the Ronald McDonald of that region are all in on it somehow. Or maybe check out this escapist fantasy world of swashbuckling and magic, giants and orcs, wizards and dragons, pervasive sexual assault, chattel slavery, and child brides, cause realism, you know?
The thing is, I feel like it hasn’t always been this way for fiction — though I confess I have no proof. It’s just that misery seems so pervasive, so ingrained in modern fiction, while older works seem to include more hope and more rewards for the virtuous in comparison. And if I’m right about that, then I can’t help but wonder why our tastes have changed so much?
Perhaps it’s this: Entertainment often used to be considered frivolous, and the people who enjoyed it were considered somewhat frivolous as well. Like candy, it was indulgent and not very good for you. As our culture aged and its taste became more “sophisticated” we accepted that it’s a shameful thing to enjoy heroism and happy endings, so we turned to entertainments that make us feel sad and sick to our stomachs. Sure, I might like fantasy entertainment, but I’m still a serious person who should be taken seriously — look how horrific my favorite TV show is.
Or maybe people’s lives are so devoid of strong emotions that they need to borrow them from somewhere else for awhile, shit, I don’t know.