After I started posting Animorphs fan art this past week, I got into a discussion with several Deviants about the way the original book series ended. My stance was, I didn’t like Animorphs’ gradual slide into bleak depressing hopelessness, where nothing works out for any of the main characters and it’s heavily implied that they all die. The whole thing felt like K.A. Applegate toying with the readers’ emotions for five years just to say “See? This is why war is bad, people!” Yeah, I get that. But I prefer stories where the good guys triumph, where they overcome insurmountable odds and achieve their goals. It’s hopeful, it’s inspiring, and it’s why I love to read stories.
But entertainment at large is trending away from that, it seems. Just a few days after I had this discussion, the guys over at Cracked put out a podcast that coincidentally talked about the exact same thing: www.cracked.com/podcast/why-ou… They cited TV shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, as well as movies like No Country for Old Men and the recent oeuvre of the Coen brothers. Everyone’s doing stories where every character is some kind of bastard, everyone does unspeakably terrible things, and levity is nowhere to be found. And audiences can’t get enough of it. We’re watching TV and going to the movies these days to deliberately depress ourselves.
Personally, I can’t get into that. People keep telling me “Oh, you need to watch Breaking Bad/Game of Thrones/The Walking Dead/Mad Men! It’s the greatest show on television!” And I’m thinking “Why would I want to get emotionally invested in characters who are clearly in a world where no happy ending is coming? Why would I want to sit there for an hour a week and watch these horrible human beings live out their bleak meaningless lives where nothing pleasant ever happens? This is supposed to be fun?”
I’ll give you an example. A couple of months ago, I was visiting my dad, and he showed me one of his favorite new TV shows, Banshee. I guess it’s about this guy who used to be in prison but now he’s working as a detective or something. All I remember from the one episode I saw was a family losing their home to a corrupt bank official, a 12-year-old kid who has a near-fatal asthma attack, and a flashback scene where the main character nearly gets raped by a horrifyingly strong albino man in front of a room full of about a hundred of his fellow prisoners. The last shot of the episode is the corpse of one character sunk at the bottom of a lake with a fish eating its eyeball. And I’m sitting there thinking “Holy fuck, I’m going to have to watch like six episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 back to back just to get this out of my memory.” This is what people are calling the golden age of television?
Don’t get me wrong, I like a good conflict in a story. Obviously, the characters have nowhere to go if something unfortunate doesn’t happen to them. But what’s wrong with seeing them…oh, I don’t know, win at the end? Do we really need to pile on all this extra drama, running the characters through the wringer until they’re just bitter broken shells of a human being? I mean, if everything is just DRAMA DEATH FEAR ANGST MURDER BETRAYAL ARRRRGHHH all the time with no positives at all, then what the hell’s the point in watching it if you know nothing’s ever going to get better?
An earlier Cracked podcast brought this phenomenon up as well, where they discussed Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and wondered how well it would hold up in the future. The argument was that it wouldn’t, because it’s so dark and depressing, and future generations will likely look back on the movies and television shows of the 2000s and 2010s and wonder why we chose to entertain ourselves by not being entertained. You can keep your cancer-ridden meth doctors and your incestuous dragon princes or whatever. I’m going to be over here watching Wander Over Yonder and laughing my ass off.