Ask any baby boomer and they will tell you about their traumatic experience of watching Bambi and witnessing the death of his mother. Decades later Disney continued the tragic formula with The Lion King and the death of the lion cub’s father.
2013 has seen a flood of surprise story lines where a main character has died. Game of Thrones left audiences stunned when they eliminated several beloved characters, including the king. The Walking Dead followed suit by ending the lives of a number of key characters, disappointing several faithful viewers. True Blood also included story lines where longtime characters met their demise.
Recently Family Guy, seen on Cleveland's Fox 8, became the latest in a string of stories about death, shocking audiences by violently killing the family dog, Brian. The day after the show aired fans began to petition for the pet’s return. The show’s creator, Seth MacFarlane, shared that during a meeting with the show’s writers the idea of getting rid of a main character took hold, leading to the episode in which Brian is run over by a car.
In its most recent episode in the wake of fan disappointment, Stewie was able to find a return pad and go back in time to save his beloved friend, bringing Brian back and saving him from the car accident.
Fan’s reactions to these shows have demonstrated that when people have an emotional investment in the characters and storyline of a show, they aren’t looking for tragedy, but for release. The word “muse” means “to think”. When you place an “a” in front of a word, you create it’s opposite. For instance, a theist believes in God; an atheist has no belief in God. People are looking for escape, they want to be amused, which means “without thought”.
Stories about death are not comfortable, be they about fictional characters or not.
In the oldest book in scripture, the Book of Job, the prophet calls death the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14). The New Testament says that by his death and resurrection, Christ came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).
Death is always uncomfortable. There is a story about Buddha being approached by a mourning widow. He instructs her to go into town and knock on each door until she finds a home where no one has died, and there she will find the answer to her grief.
As she knocks on each door, family after family relay their own stories of loss. In the end she realizes that everyone has been touched by death, and therefore we can all be a comfort to one another and understand what one another faces in mourning .
Perhaps the lesson learned from peoples’ response to Hollywood’s latest fascination with stories about death, is that people simply want to be amused, and not have to think about it.