I remember I was talking to a friend about Ruroni Kenshin (note: I have never seen/read Ruroni Kenshin). She told me she enjoyed it right up to the ending … and then she told me that she was too American to enjoy the ending “I need the big, happy ending, and Ruroni Kenshin didn’t have that”.
This is one of those things which makes me feel non-American. I okay with some stories having happy endings, but the excessive prevalence of happy endings in American media is one of the things which makes me really interested in foreign fiction. The one realm in contemporary American media which seems to have a satisfactory balance of happy/tragic endings to me is theatre … even among plays written by Americans, there are a significant portion which end in tragedy.
Why do I feel this way?
Making every story have a big happy ending feels … forced. Artificial. False. I know real life does not work that way. In fact, for most people, the last moments of their lives are not their happiest. So I doubt I’m going to think ‘YIPEE! YAY!’ when my life is ending.
Some people say they want fiction to be happy and cheerful to forget the way real life works or to compensate for it but … for me, trying to forget something unpleasant does not make me feel better about the unpleasant thing.
That said, I do not want a story to be a complete downer. In fact, most tragedies are not complete downers – there are times when the characters are happy, extremely happy, before their demise. And I find this reassuring.
I have only limited control over my fate. No matter what precautions I take, getting hit by a car is at least possible practically every day. That could lead to a permanent disability such that I have to spend the rest of my life at the mercy of caregivers. It’s not the idea of being disabled which bothers me; it’s the evidence that women with disabilities are far more likely to be raped than women without disabilities, not to mention many other abuses, including murder. While collectively fighting ableism can do a lot to alleviate this problem, as an individual I would not have much power to stop the abuse. This is just one example of a tragic fate I do not have the power to prevent should my luck decide to turn on me.
However, I have had moments of great happiness in my life, and nothing can take that away from me. Tragic fiction reminds me of this.
When I am upset, I detest comedies. They seem to be denying my pain. I need to be a good mood to enjoy a comedy. That said, I do not like tragedies either when I’m upset. My comfort fiction tends to be stories which evoke nostalgia – stories which remind me that, even though I may feel awful at that particular moment, I sometimes feel really good.