Why We Love Depressing Entertainment
These days, when you're scrolling through your streaming platform of choice, you pretty much have to choose between quality and existential terror. The Emmys are routinely swept by emotional torture porn like Game of Thrones, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Walking Dead ...
... and not even our comedies are safe. The Good Place might be the best comedy of the decade, but you're not getting through it with dry eyes.
So why do we love shit that makes us feel like shit? Because it actually makes us feel good. It turns out there's a therapeutic effect to watching emotionally wrecking movies and TV: They, "allow us to confront very real and deeply sad feelings in a safe and protected environment." In other words, if you're suffering through some kind of unprocessed trauma -- and let's be real, aren't we all -- yeeting those feelings at a dragon made of pixels is less scary than whatever's really going on with you, but it still allows you to feel those feelings. They also put our own lives in perspective, because hey, at least we haven't been reduced to enslaved wombs. This is an actual technique used in therapy: Imagining someone in a worse situation -- say, being forced to shoot an innocent child who's been bitten by a zombie -- does seem to make your relationship problems seem manageable.
These stories can even be a kind of antidepressant, in the "orange bottle" sense. They stimulate an endorphin response that makes us feel good (even if it might not seem like it at the time) and increases social bonding. At a time when anxiety and isolation are through the roof, it's not hard to connect the dots between happiness and fictional despair. Watching a depressing show can even boost your tolerance for pain. It turns out it wasn't mindless sitcoms keeping us chained, drooling, to the babble box, but prestige dramas. It's not clear if this drug has a toxic dose, either, so we may very well be seeing graphically violent reboots of every '50s TV show for years to come. Just inject I Love (My Murdered Sister) Lucy straight into our veins.
Manna welcomes suggestions of happy, good TV shows on Twitter.
Top image: HBO, Hulu