You know what sucks? Life.
Tell me something: When was the last time you heard the words “Hey, I’ve got great news for you!” and they weren’t coming from a Nigerian prince promising $35,000 in exchange for his bail money? How often do you watch the news and think “Yep. Justice was served in this case. Black and white. Bad guys got what they deserved”? How often does someone tell you that “everything is going to be all right” and you can actually believe that?
Yes, this piece is going to be a little reflective, but I couldn’t find any way to watch the season premiere of Once Upon a Time (hot tip: don’t be born outside the U.S.), so I’ll take on the series as a whole and its meaning within the greater context of entertainment media, and also explore a subject I had already touched upon on my Person of Interest review.
Once Upon a Time is a TV series airing on ABC set around a woman named Emma (Jennifer Morrison), who discovers, through her lost child (Jared S. Gilmore), that she is in fact the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin). The only reason they aren’t living in the fantasyland, the child explains, is that the evil Witch Queen (Lana Parrilla) had cast upon the inhabitants of that world a dark curse that sent them all to live the rest of their lives in a place where things are mostly horrible and you can’t do anything about it: Earth.
The series is overall pretty schlocky, overrun with maudlin sentimentality and presented in the cheapest special effects this side of that Mortal Kombat series from the 90s. (Seriously, the CG stinks more than an elderly skunk who stubbornly refuses to use Old Spice Odor Blocker Body Wash®, the only deodorant that blocks B.O. for 16 hours.)
What makes it worth watching, however, is that sensation you feel deep in your gut that there’s gotta be some teeny-weeny bit of good out there. That that premise could be true, or at least should be.
Most people, I think, live in a constant struggle with life and its designs, and not to achieve some state of perfect happiness, but simply to keep themselves from sinking deeper into a hole, and that’s something a lot of filmmakers don’t seem to understand. A guy works for 10-hours with his boss all over his case the entire time because he failed to file the request for whatever stupid thing in triplicate and, when at the end of the day he is able to drag himself to a movie theater in order to stave off the wish to just melt some iron and swallow it to get it all over with, he doesn’t want to be treated to 2 hours of Michael Haneke or Lukas Moodison telling him how everything is hopeless and ugly and terrible and your life has the net value of a note of monopoly money cut in half. He wants some relief.
“Really, Mr. Gaspar Noé? The world is a cruel joke? Well, maybe you were too busy staring at the glare from the five-thousand dollar disposable diamond napkin holder on your blue marble table to notice, but most people already know that!!!”
I hesitate to turn this into a class thing but, really, speaking as a guy who hasn’t got much of it (hot tip: don’t be born in a third-world country), money makes a hell of a difference. If you notice, most people who enjoy those artsy types of bummer movies are pretty goddamn loaded, and therefore don’t face as many problems as the rest of us riff-raff. Humans tend to find novelty entertaining, thus it’s not a stretch to extrapolate that rich, happy people like to watch poverty and suffering because they don’t have much of that in their lives, just like poor people like watching rich people being happy.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just a little whiny, or simply unlucky, but I have a constant feeling that things only get worse as time passes.
I’ll show you what I mean: Since I was a kid, I dreamed of having a dog. Finally, when I was living in a big enough house, I got me a chocolate Labrador. Everything was beautiful for a while, but then I started noticing small warts and boils on her skin. After a small fortune spent on several visits to various different vets we finally discovered that she has a chronic skin condition that can’t be cured. The closest we ever got to receiving good news relating to that was when the tests for leishmaniasis came up negative. So now I have to watch, helpless, as one of the things I love most in life keeps suffering more and more until the day she passes on.
And my brain is going: Why can’t I even have a DOG and be happy with it???
And that’s just one of the many sob stories up my sleeve. Don’t even get me started.
I believe that is why people turn to religion and fairy tales. To keep oneself sane, sometime one has to believe that, for all the strife that comes with this world, there is somewhere, imaginary or supernatural, where things are right and you can go there to stop being so miserable and/or worried that you’ll be even more miserable in the near future.
Perhaps, that explains why we invented fiction, and those are the basic urges Once Upon a Time capitalizes on: The wish to know that this is all just a curse, that this isn’t supposed to be our home, that there’s safe haven in a magical kingdom somewhere, populated only with heroes and princesses. Because we are already beaten down enough, life is full of tragedy as it is, we don’t need the TV to rub it in our faces.
If only more artists would understand that.