It’s like a train-wreck. You don’t want to watch, but you just can’t turn away. Why? Why do we find ourselves fascinated by accidents, sadness, or tragedies?
Looking at popular culture, it is easy to see that people are drawn to depressing topics despite their obviously sad nature. The Lovely Bones remained on the bestseller list for over a year. Marley and Me raked in $14.75 million dollars on opening day, making it one of the highest grossing movies ever released on Christmas. Criminal Minds and Law & Order are both gruesome, yet extremely popular, television shows. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is one of the most well-known English plays of all time.
In an article on Slate, Katie Roiphe explains her experience with reading a sad memoir of a mother and her dying son. It was “a kind of voyeurism or uncomfortable fascination that somehow shouldn’t be indulged.”
Roiphe went on to explain, using evidence from Sigmund Freud, how oftentimes when people hear tragic stories, they want to gather as much information as possible in order to be able to put the incident down as chance, as something that cannot possibly happen to them or their loved one. This provides evidence, therefore, that people are not just drawn by fascination, but also fear.
I remember reading a book about the first hand experience of a WWII concentration camp victim. My father kept asking me why I insisted on reading this book because it wouldn’t bring me anything but tears, but I just could not explain myself to him. It was immensely depressing, but I just could not stop. I just couldn’t. I found myself completely invested in the tragic life of this stranger and could not put my finger on why.
Leon Golden said, in the article Toward a Definition of Tragedy, “Mankind has long felt a special fascination for the concept of tragedy as the representation of an essential-perhaps the essential-dimension of human existence.”
For example, the second highest grossing film of all time is Titanic, a movie which usually leaves the audiences in tears.
Emily Godbey, an Albright College professor, claims that people’s fascination with disaster stems from our mundane lives and that excitement, whether happy or sad, grabs our attention.
Such is evident in the horrific stories that fill the nightly news, rarely including anything other than crimes and despair. By being constantly exposed to these tragic stories, it is easy to accept them as the norm and gravitate towards them.
Whether it is some weird enthrallment or subconscious fear, our world revolves around sadness. People are drawn to it because they like to compare it to their own life and reflect on how lucky they have it.
However, we do not have to stick to this unnatural norm.The world might be a happier place if we all just smiled a little more.