A while ago I was wandering around the IMDb page for “The Departed.” I imagine it won’t be much of a surprise to many of you for me to say that I fucking love The Departed, but just in case: I fucking love The Departed.
Anyway. As is my wont, I had a look through the discussion threads for the movie; there is often fun to be had there, even if it’s of the “Really?” sort. (Example of fun: A thread on the Unforgiven page suggests that maybe William Munney moved to San Francisco, where, in order to put his criminal past behind him forever, he changed his name to Callahan. Seventy-some years later, his great-great-grandson Harry becomes a cop. Silly, maybe, but I thought it was fun.) The discussion I saw is either no longer there–since IMCb has started ruthlessly deleting discussions after a short period of time, which is very annoying–but it was basically somebody sniffing snootily (say that three times fast) about how The Departed sucks, because they had to add some dumb happy ending to it and Americans always have to ruin movies with their stupid endings that imply the world isn’t a miserable shithole. Dumbasses!
(I note that in the current discussions there’s a discussion which will be the subject of another post in future.)
Many of us are probably familiar with these wet-blanket sneerers at happy endings, since anyone who’s spent any time in the “book world” has seen them. I bet you have. You know, the ones who insult women’s fiction as a category and the genres within it as “stupid trash” because the endings are usually happy and that’s just dumb because what idiot wants to read a book where the characters are happy in the end? Really, what sort of moron enjoys it when things work out for other people? Don’t the readers of those genres, or of any books where the ending is anything less than an apocalypse of misery and death, know that in the real world things don’t always end happily? How stupid do you have to be, to enjoy reading something uplifting when you could be spending a nice afternoon being reminded of the world’s inhumanity and that that no matter what you do, you’re likely to end up screwed (in a bad way)? Dumbasses. People who like books with happy endings or movies with happy endings are clearly barely above a dog in terms of intellectual capacity, and also are cowards who bury their heads in the sand.
Can you tell from the above just how much these misery-gut thought police annoy me?
I don’t think there’s much purpose behind pointing out that, as bad as things might be, in the real world things often do work out for people. If in the real world people never got married and spent their lives together, then maybe we could agree that books in which the protagonists do exactly that are “unrealistic.” But they do. It happens every day. I’ve been married for over fifteen years, and while we’ve had a few less-then-perfect periods–as most couples do–we are still quite happy together. I’m aware of more than a few others, who’ve been married far longer, and are still pretty happy to spend time together.
But it’s not just romances/stories with strong romantic elements, I hasten to point out. Again, this all started (partly) with a discussion of The Departed, where the term “happy ending” fits loosely at best. The complaint there seems to be that revenge was gotten, or at least vengeance was served. Thinking people know that just because vengeance was served doesn’t mean anyone is happy; the dead certainly do not come back to life. To say that’s a “happy” ending makes me wonder just how much you hate people, and if you will ever consider your personal revenge on humanity complete.
But honestly, the point is not how mean people who sneer about happy endings are and how they probably kick puppies in their off hours. (No, really, it’s not.) And–honestly, again–I don’t insist on them in everything myself, and have been known to enjoy plenty of books and/or movies where the ending is ambiguous or downright unhappy. I’ve even hated a few happy endings which I felt were tacked on or unearned or just plain shitty–I’m looking at you, Natural Born Killers.
But in general. I don’t think turning up your nose at a story with a happy ending (and anyone who enjoys it) while drawling about how much better it is when stories are realistic, like real life, man, not inane and sappy (as if real life is not inane and sappy sometimes), and how stupid it is for people to like happy endings and how American movies should be more like European movies because they’re real and nobody is ever happy in them and nothing ever works out in the end. Which, wow, sounds fun, but also, can we please get over the idea that it is somehow intellectually superior to wish ill on others, and that it is some kind of virtue to expect everything to be shitty and horrible and that doing so makes you a person of fine and elevated tastes far beyond the average in some fashion?
It’s not. I promise. And you’re not either, Joe Misery. There’s nothing virtuous or clever or special about thinking it sucks when other people find happiness, and that’s what you’re doing when you get all grumpyass about happy endings: You’re saying that it’s wrong–it’s dumb or it’s naive–to take pleasure in the joy of others (because in its essence, taking pleasure in a the happy ending of a story is really taking pleasure in the joy of others, isn’t it? Being glad that things worked out for them, that they overcame their obstacles and found happiness at the end? We don’t smile and sigh because the protagonists ended up miserable and alone and it’s made us feel better about our own shitty lives of existential horror–at least, we don’t if we’re decent people and the characters are, too [I make no apologies for being glad when hideous evil characters get what’s coming to them]. It’s nice to be pleased when other people are happy. It’s virtuous and good. It’s kind. It indicates that you have positive human emotions instead of being riddled with envy and hate and rage.
And I have to admit, it’s that last part that always crosses my mind when I come across some “Why do you people want a happy ending, you simps,” person. Why don’t you want one, man? What is it about things working out okay for other people that you find so offensive? Why do you want people to be unhappy? Is schadenfreude so noble that you want to pat yourself on the back for it, really? Do you think you’re actually imparting some earth-shaking wisdom by reminding people that things aren’t always great for everyone all the time? Or are you really just stomping on the only joy someone might have, in the middle of a shitty patch–the only joy to be had by someone whose life could very well be a hell of a lot worse than yours, by the way, Mr. or Ms. Emotional Bully?
Of course the world can be a cold and miserable place. We all know that already, and don’t need you to tell us. That’s why we need happy endings. And happy endings aren’t just about fooling us into thinking things could work out for us, too, or whatever. They’re about reminding us that they sometimes do, and that even when things look awful and we’re at our lowest, there could still be something good around the corner. It’s like playing the lottery, but everybody wins. That’s a good thing. And it doesn’t deserve anyone’s contempt.
(Note: Yes, my tongue is slightly in my cheek as I write this, and I’m not referring to people who disagree with a particular ending to a particular story or even people who simply prefer ambiguous endings. I’m talking specifically about people who feel the need to insult others who do like happy endings, and who act as though there’s something especially clever or cool about not liking them; that’s what I take issue with. Also, about halfway through this post I began feeling like I was writing some sort of obscure porn about massage parlors; the double entendres are just everywhere, aren’t they? But it couldn’t be helped.)