Literature is about experiences and being able to experience the depth of human feeling, and because of that there is this sensual appeal of the darkness. There is something uniquely human about exploring the darker aspects of humanity that I only find in literature (and very rarely film and television). As a person who likes to explore society and the human conscious, works with dark and somber tones have quite the appeal. Maybe part of this goes with my suffering from some form of depression or my temperamental upbringing, but I think it is more than that. In my perfectly normal childhood I still found myself drawn to the darkness and its inherent drama.
From Edgar Allan Poe to he works of Shirley Jackson; from the longstanding popularity of shows like The Wire to Game of Thrones darkness reigns. These works and authors carry depressing, and even shocking themes for their time and in general. Yet these themes are handled with care, resulting in a legion of loyal readers. They are talked about and gushed over despite containing themes that, if oberserved in real life, make us not just uneasy, but queasy. Themes, which haunt our nightmares. Themes which haunt our waking hours. Themes we always fun back to for more, so much so that I simply do not have the capacity to understand people who don’t want any type of darker media ever. It is simply beyond my understanding, but that media is simply undeniably part of what I and so many others thrive on.
There is something irresistibly sensual about the feeling a melancholy ending gives you and the way somber scenes flow from one to the next. This is the underside of seduction. It gives you a taste, a lingering desire for hope, and then like a lover’s teasing it leaves you wanting what you may never have. Sometimes it can still end in a cathartic release, but so often we are left ruined, unsatisfied and yet satisfied in the strangest paradox we can fathom.
I often say the reason I write great sex scenes is because I write great food scenes, and have since I was young. I’ve always found eating and cooking an intensely sensory experience that evokes elements of the intensely sensual. Smooth textures along the tongue, sharp and juicy bites into fruit, chocolate drizzles, and more are inherently physical acts calling for physical descriptions that evoke the same mental dance as anything else. Conveying it is a matter of capturing feeling. In much the same way, darker stories lure us in and then begin to court our sensibilities like Fabio circa 1997 or Ryan Reynolds circa his whole existence. The torture of living, loss, and the drudgery of unhappiness are experiences that captivate your whole being. Like eating or having sex, dreadful bouts of ennui, of unreasonable and frightening anger, and wrenching sorrow evoke an intense emotional response that captures the physical, the pain of what we experience. The rush of chemicals to our brains is the opposite of a high, and yet no less enjoyable, no less sensual.
Yet unlike eating or having sex, the vicarious nature of it makes it so much easier to experience the feeling without a total emotional drop off or consequence. For me, it isn’t that I don’t feel a character’s hurt, but that I do feel it and can recover. Dangerously empathetic people may fee it too much even, and sometimes you get so invested you never recover. Regardless it triggers this romanticism, a feeling that great nobility, sympathy, and empathy comes in those situations of great tragedy; the feeling that uncontrollable rage is igniting our most human and primal fires; and that crippling ennui or melancholy evokes a languished truthful beauty in an otherwise over reactive world.
This isn’t all blood stains and scattered roses. Sometimes people take the romanticism too far and make genuine personal problems, such as depression and a lack of satisfaction in life, into grand dramas and sour the lives of all around them. I’ve been that teen and I’ve been that friend to those young adults. Both are equally flawed and equally self-harming. Those individuals should get help. I hope that they do. However this fact won’t stop human nature. We make the dark romantic, enticing, wonderfully dramatic. 13 Reasons Why made be a poor reflection of suicide in some ways, but it helped many…and provided that melancholy darkness humans seek out to others. Black Mirror is viciously dark in critiquing modern society, but it sates our deepest need to romanticise the dark, tragic, somber, melancholic, and just plain terrifying aspects of human life.
For better or worse, humans like to explore.
It is simply what we do whether it is on the page or in our lives.