When discussing the finalists of a local writing competition, my companion had to point out to me “All the ones that are getting the most points are the ones where horrible things happen.”
True enough, a lot of the finalist stories included themes of death, regret, depression, suicide, madness and other weighty topics, and none of them really seemed to propose that the characters therein or the reader would be having a great fun time. Why were they getting awards, then, she wondered? What drove the judges to stamp their acclaim on the fiction that had broken their heart?
I think this is The Newbery Medal Effect at work, a rule that simply states “If there’s some sort of award sticker on the cover, somebody in the book must die.” If something has gotten acclaim, critical or otherwise, one must assume that at some point it’s going to rip out the audiences’ hearts and grind them under its figurative heels.
I mean, look at my recent escapades into fiction, for crying out loud. I’m waiting patiently for the third season of Game of Thrones, a series notorious for hooking its audience and then pulling the rug of emotional stability out from underneath them. In the words of Mark Oshiro, who inspired this whole ‘consume media and then screech about it eloquently on the internet’ thing in the first place, I am not prepared. And I’ve read the third book, on which it is based, so I know what’s going to happen. This should make me doubly terrified for the trauma that is to come, but really I’m just doubly excited. I am voluntarily waltzing towards emotional pain of both myself and George R. R. Martin’s characters.
Alright Alex, you ask now, is that it? Are you a sadist? Do you like watching people suffer? The answer is that when it comes to fiction we are all sadists by default, because without a certain degree of Schadenfreude in the creators and the audience we wouldn’t have a fiction industry to begin with. Continue reading