Do people like happy endings?

by on March 3, 2006 at 7:11 am in Books | Permalink

Forty-one per cent [of respondents] are overwhelmingly in favour of books with a happy ending, as against 2.2% who like it sad. Women were 13% more likely than men to say they want it all to end happily. Almost one fifth of men expressed a preference for books with ambiguous endings…

Young people were most likely to prefer books with a sad ending – 8.6% of under 16s. Those aged 41-65, however, a group with more personal experience of sadness, dislike sad endings, with only 1.1% preferring books that end this way.

Here is more information.  You must know by now, of course, that I prefer most of my endings tragic, or ambiguous, with a few happy tales thrown in to make the tragedies a surprise when they come.  (Is it the dirty little secret of elite culture that we would be bored if in fact we had everything our way?)  In fact all of you unwashed-masses-happy-endings-loving viewers subsidize me.  You support so much feel-good slop that when something meaty does come along, I am genuinely shocked and delighted.  If it is bad, I just put down the book or leave the theater.  Thank you all, once again.

Addendum: Right now Typepad is "holding" all your comments.  They should appear sooner or later, our apologies…Further update: The problem appears to be corrected.

1 Slocum March 3, 2006 at 7:57 am

“In fact all of you unwashed-masses-happy-endings-loving viewers subsidize me. You support so much feel-good slop that when something meaty does come along, I am genuinely shocked and delighted. If it is bad, I just put down the book or leave the theater. Thank you all, once again.”

Happy = slop, sad = meaty? Isn’t that as formulaic as the typical romantic comedy?

I’d say that it is entirely possible (and all too common in art-house films) for works to end with tacked-on tragegy (or lack of resolution) as a cheap source of false gravitas. It’s not a new approach, either — Hardy specialized in it. The murder-suicide of the children in ‘Jude the Obscure’? Cheap. Very cheap.

2 joshg March 3, 2006 at 7:58 am

To whom are you talking?

3 Doug March 3, 2006 at 12:26 pm

I think that what people want in a story is conflict. “Feel-good” movies will be perceived as lower quality, if the protagonist doesn’t earn the happy ending (or the favorable resolution is implausible – using Deux ex Machina, ofr example). On the other hand, non-happy ending books can be perceived as lower qualit if everything is gloomy all the time.

All things equal, I prefer happy endings, but I want the protagonist to earn it! I will accept an ambiguous ending, if it is cleverly done, and/or makes me think a little bit.

4 Jim Rockford March 3, 2006 at 4:20 pm

Sad endings can be done half-way competently by any hack; just ladle on the tragedy and have everyone hit by a bus or killed by some maniac.

Example: Final Destination movies. How much artifice or expertise or sheer skill is needed to put something together like that? It’s the culinary equivalent of disguising the poor quality of the meat with a lot of sauce (the foundation I might add of French cooking).

In contrast a satisfying happy ending requires genuine skill to make it look realistic and emotionally fulfilling. Not just any hack can do it, but someone with special skills and craftsmanship attention to detail. It’s akin to the very best of home-style or regional American cooking, you taste the freshness and quality of the ingredients.

This is also btw a correlation between the failure of the mid-market movie (too much hackery / sadness) and mid-brow TV (along with a fractured, divided audience).

There is nothing less sophisticated than a bunch of dumb aesthetes watching Karen Finley pour chocolate syrup all over herself and stick a yam up her butt. While calling it art. Nothing in that matches the sheer artistry and achievement of say, “His Girl Friday” or “Working Girl.”

5 Kyle N March 4, 2006 at 2:02 pm

That poll is not accurate. If it were, then we would not see so many bad movies with bad endings. I suspect that there is a subset of people who love to see a train wreck but never admit it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: