RHYS: As I said the other day, I've been having trouble sleeping, therefore I've been browsing through TV channels a lot more than I usually do. Am I wrong or is every second program a crime story? And not just a pleasant, uncomplicated whodunit with a Miss Marple or Inspector Alleyn at the helm, but the sort of dark, horrible CSI type of crime that one does not want to watch when falling asleep.
So I'm wondering why the world has suddenly become fascinated with darkness. God knows we are living in a dark enough time. The last depression in the thirties produced the big, glamorous Hollywood musicals--Esther Williams diving into a sparkling pool followed by a bevy of bathing beauties. Most of the stories were of the poor chorus girl who was plucked from the line and made anovernight star. It can happen to you, the messge was loud and clear. Yes, life is pretty grim at the moment but great and wonderful things can happen, and we can all be happy again soon. The sun will come out tomorrow.
Well, the situation isn't so different now. Plants closing, laid off workers not shopping,losing their homes, losing hope. And yet the fare on the screen is child abductions, warped serial killers, chainsaw masacres--both true crime and fictional. What is wrong with us? Can somebody tell me why darkness is appealing? Does it remind us that at least one person in the universe is worse off than we are?Does feeling scared remind us that we are still alive?
Interestingly enough the British crime scene has been all about darkness for some time now. Try and get a cozy mystery published in UK--it's not going to happen. And yet I read last week that the biggest grossing West End musical ever in London is Mama Mia--still playing to packed houses. It's as close to those old Hollywood movies as you can get--silly, light plot, everything is turned into a dance routine (and the movie has the added bonus of things that are easy on the eye--Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Greece)
Can we hope that this will be starting a trend and we'll see the public clamoring for more feel-good movies, plays and books? More silly tales about members of the royal family struggling to surive in the Great Depression, for example? One can hope.
JAN: Most likely, television content is a lagging indicator. All the dark, gritty crime stories are in still in response from the economic-boom now bust.I agree, although I write a fairly dark mystery and enjoy an occasioally dark, gritty thriller/movie, I can't imagine watching all those television mysteries. Both my kids used to watch CSA and Law and Order SVU so constantly that now when I inadvertently flip to one of those stations, I immediately switch. I know people who adore Dexter, which I'm sure is terrific given the cast, but its just a story I don't particularly want in my head. My agent yesterday told me serial-killer thrillers were hot. I told him I'd rather write real estate listings than write about serial killers.
RO: I was never an ABBA fan, but I went to see Mamma Mia with two high school friends and it was impossible to sit still. We were jumping around in our seats. I had no idea I knew all the words to those songs.Anyway...there's enough darkness around...I don't need to add to it.
HANK: Mamma Mia the movie? SO terrible, embarrassing, and I loved every second. (Jonathan during MM: Are you crying? Hank: (sobbing) Jonathan: (baffled)
We're addicted to The Wire on Netflix right now. And I think that really balances the ugly with the sweet.
But when it comes to scary dark stories--there's a TV news notion that people watch say, car accidents, because it reminds them that *they're* safe. Sort of-"my life is sometimes sad, but it's not as bad as *that* person's."
ROBERTA: That's the point I was going to make Hank. In these horrible dark books, the bad people run loose for a while, but then they're caught and justice prevails. When the world seems so out of control, maybe that's a comfort. My favorite books are very real--no serial killing but plenty of suspense, derived from real people with real problems. Jan, love your answer to your agent's suggestion!
HALLIE: Yes, I agree--those crime shows are so appealing today because (usually) everything is resolved at the end. We all crave the kind of “closure” that the real world rarely offers. I think the economic downturn is just beginning, and what we’ll see in the pipeline is exactly what Rhys is talking about, music and laughs, stories to escape into. Though I can’t see cinematic opulence making a comeback. I wonder how the studios could afford to make those extravaganzas in the Depression?
RHYS: Maybe we'll have to leave that kind of movie to Bollywood. Didn't you think that Mama Mia had a Bollywood feel. You're right, Hallie, it really was bad. Pierce Brosnan trying to sing,Colin Firth trying to dance and those middle aged sex kittens seducing young boys--and yet it was fun and I loved it enough to go out and buy it!So I'm hoping we are right and that trends will swing away from darkness to fun and hope (this is especially true for those of us who write on the cozy side)And maybe the public will finally tire of reality shows and we can go back to a good drama or two!