The Attraction of Tragedies

Is it actually more logical to like or to dislike tragedies?

The case of disliking tragedies seems pretty straightforward: why would you want to watch people feel bad, and then feel bad yourself? But apparently there’s an element of attraction to it, both in the rollercoaster sensation kind of way, and in the deeply emotional one.

So let’s dive in.

Morbid curiosity

The first one is perhaps the most obvious. We humans are curious in twisted ways, admittedly some more than others. Observing how someone fails can just be plain interesting.

There doesn’t even need to be a strong element of surprise in the unfolding of events , after all, Titanic opens with images of the sunken ship. Writers often go out of their way to foreshadow that shit is going downhill, and that there’s no chance to turn it around.

Combined with the safe distance we have, it’s just humans nature to hang on and observe. We’re morbidly curious.*


The empathy for a character often grows with the portrayal of their flaws, cause that’s what makes them human. In ancient tragedies, failure is caused by ill fortune rather than by the protagonists’ flaws. The vast majority of fiction nowadays is different from that. We want to see what bad choices the characters make, and still understand them.

We want to see ourselves reflected. This is what evokes empathy in many, if not all stories, and it can still hold up with a happy ending. Real life, however, doesn’t have “happy endings”.

The world is no wish-granting factory.

Logically we know there are no moments in life where we achieve success for the rest of eternity, so why would it make sense in fiction? Yes, there are extremely fulfilling moments, but happiness isn’t what waits around the next corner, the next cocktail, or the next dollar. One can even make a convincing argument that there’s no use chasing happiness as an end goal at all.**

Stories can end in a happy moment, but most of us feel that real life will find a way to hit you somehow. As life goes on, so do worries and problems, and we have to keep dealing with them. As John Green put it, the world is no wish-granting factory.

So sometimes honesty means admitting there’s no happy end, no savior, and no fix. Sometimes that’s life.

You suck. We love you.

We all make mistakes, same as our protagonists. So if we find a way to understand their choices and forgive them, perhaps we’re finding ways to forgive ourselves. Isn’t finding true reasons for others to forgive you the basis of forgiving yourself?

As happy endings can be comforting, so can tragedies. You see, you’re not unique in making mistakes and failing, shit just happens.

Yes, you fucked up, and yes, you deserve love.

*Vsauce made an excellent video on morbid curiosity here:

**Mark Manson wrote an awesome article about this here:

Photo credit: Tim Green via

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