Not So Happily Ever After

         World hunger, disease, natural disasters and death are real-life tragedies that affect millions of people, all over the world, everyday. When it is not happening to you, or those close to you, never fear! Just go turn on the news. You can experience all this pain and sadness from the comfort of your own living room!

         Maybe you are one of those super, sunny people who try to avoid the news to keep a positive outlook on life: well, too bad. There will, without a doubt, be some well-informed, do-gooder, who feels the need to tell you about all of the tragedy, and sadness in the world.

         In fact, just today, I was having a terrific day. The weather was stunning for the first time all week, I did a fantastic job on my COM 181 final, and I was feeling good! Then, as if the universe could sense that my spirits were too high, my Grandma calls me. This woman spends the next half-hour telling me that she had just seen on the news that a girl she had taught second grade to, was raped and killed by a man she was seeing in Jackson, KY: thanks a lot Granny!

         With all this sadness and despair in our real lives, why do writers and film makers feel the need to write about it?

         Wuthering Heights, 1847, was written by Emily Brontë and filmed in 1939 by William Wyler. The entire story reeks of tragedy from beginning to end. Heathcliff (Lawrence Olivier) is a man so driven by insane love, that it eats his soul and ruins not only his life, but everyone around him as well. Yet it is a timeless piece of literature with a compelling story that can not be put down.

         The 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James and filmed as The Innocents in 1961 by Jack Clayton, is no happier. A sweet governess (Deborah Kerr) is driven crazy by ghosts that she believes have possessed the children in her charge. The little boy, Miles (Martin Stephens), ends up losing his life by the end of the story. Mental illness is a horrible tragedy, yet the general audience can not ever seem to get enough of it. Hollywood’s famous Angelina Jolie got her big break playing a sociopath in James Mangold’s 1999 film, Girl Interrupted.

         In 1947, playwright Tennessee Williams hit the stage with the very successful play, A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan. This is a moving drama about domestic violence, and a harmless, mentally unstable woman. Blanche (Vivien Leigh) whose has her spirit broken to the point that she is institutionalized.

         Just like mental illness, domestic abuse is a real-life tragedy that happens all the time. I remember being about eleven years old, and reading some book of my mom’s about a woman whose husband beat her, and no one would help her. The book ended with the woman taking her own life, as well as the life of her infant daughter. I was enthralled with the story and told my Dad about it in agonizing detail that night over dinner. He asked me, why I would want to read such depressing stuff? I answered, “Because I like it.” He asked, “Why do you like it?” I did not have an answer for that.

         So, why is tragedy so entertaining? Should we not want to watch and read happy, uplifting things when our lives are already so filled with pain and suffering? I am not eleven years old anymore, but I still do not have an answer to that question.

         For some reason, scandal sells. Pain, rape, sadness, violence, tragedy… All of it will always be more interesting than an uplifting story about a perfect family, with perfect lives, and a perfect dog who saves the day.

         Is it wrong? I do not think so. Maybe we would be happier, more stable, and productive people if writers and film makers stopped churning out tragedies left and right. But where is the fun in that?

Bekah Jarvis

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