Saw this on NPR today and while they are talking specifically about Game of Thrones, you have to know I was thinking about both the SVM books and True Blood in reading this article.
Talk of the Nation: Unhappy Endings: When Our TV Show Worlds Get Rocked
But I think that, you know, one of the things that sometimes leads to this is when there are expectations that are locked into certain kinds of genres. And when you approach a story that fits into a particular genre, there are some things we expect and some things we don’t expect. You know, when you go to a horror movie, you probably know by now that there may not be a happy ending. You know, there’s often that scene right at the end where you think the killer’s dead, but then it turns out that he’s not, and that will lead to the sequel. And so the unhappy ending is expected. But you know, for instance, I haven’t seen the new “Superman” movie, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to win in the end because that’s something we’ve come to expect from that genre.
And I agree, that was one of the problems with the SVM books: so many of us interpreted them as paranormal romance when they were really mysteries, where the genre rules are different.
I had to laugh because another listener had EXACTLY the same first disappointment in a story experience that I had as a young girl:
But Mitra writes: My first betrayal was by Louisa May Alcott in “Little Women.” My eight-year-old self was devastated that Joe turned Laurie down. I threw my book across the room and swore I wouldn’t finish it. It took me two years to pick it back up, and I’m still sad every time I read it or see the movie version. And I wonder what she thought when Amy later on ended up with Laurie.
I HATED Amy with a passion and I couldn’t even read the end of the book for some time because it was just too painful to watch Laurie fall in love with Amy after Jo rejected him. It is still hard to think about. Glad to know I am not alone, though!
And here’s the guest’s original article, Game of Thrones and the Problem of Unhappy Endings, which goes into more detail about his theory about why these things hurt so much.
We know by now that in this world, not only do bad things happen to good people, but villainy frequently goes unpunished. And one of our central expectations of narrative is that eventually, even if it comes at the end of a long road, the bad guy will get his comeuppance. When that doesn’t happen, says Hornick, “there’s a sense of formal fairness that has been trespassed.” It isn’t that every story needs a happy ending, but if our emotional investment isn’t allowed to resolve in a satisfying way and if some measure of justice doesn’t prevail, it can be deeply disturbing. If you watch Game of Thrones, ask yourself this: aren’t you just dying to see someone run Joffrey through with a sword like he deserves, then stick his head on a pike? And how will you feel if it never happens?
Well, I think it will feel just about the way it did when I realized that after being subjected to the angst-inducing conversation between Freyda and Sookie in Deadlocked, Freyda was actually going to WIN. I felt tortured by that previous scene and the only thing that kept me going was the thought that eventually Freyda was going to get what she deserved. And then she DIDN’T.
Strangely, understanding the mechanics of why I feel disappointed in a story does seem to help. What about you?