Thursday, December 19, 2013

Selling Pain: The role of suffering and pain in the stories we tell

Classic stories, ranging from fairy tales to the latest bestsellers, frequently center around struggle, pain and suffering. Cinderella was enslaved by her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Whilst, Katniss Everdeen sacrifices herself by voluntarily participating in the Hunger Games. Other notable characters include Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, even Bridget Jones. Several biographies, Three Cups of Tea and Escape from Camp 14, have been accused to be invalid and fraudulent. Even in day-to-day conversations, we are susceptible to discuss our own struggles. Does pain and suffering sell? And why?


As a self-proclaimed writer I frequently cherish mistakes and awful experiences. Through observation, experiences and my own reading list, I realized how addictive pain is. For instance, gossip magazines are known to largely rely on trash and unconfirmed or fabricated information, yet they sell like peanuts all over the world. There is no such thing as bad press, since society regularly devours the bad and buys the negative. 

For the most part, life is a competition. Siblings may fight for parental attention and love. Friends may fight over the same individual. Students may fight to be both the best and the worst in the entire universe, be it small or big. Survival means competition. Human beings are born with their a set of prowess and blemish. Our experiences enhance and denounce each aspect of our lives. At different points in our lives, we are subject to certain triumphs and turbulences. Somehow, knowing that others' may have it worse than we do is a consolation.

The Bright Side to Being Locked Out
Another theory stipulates that pain is a common, yet basic, tenant of life. To be human is to be imperfect. Based on observation and experience, I believe that knowing and notifying others about our suffering are one of the most effective ways to make friends and gain sympathy. Vulnerability is relatable. As I have mentioned above, we are all fragile in our own way. Some are short-tempered, while others are gullible. Even those who seem to have it all are susceptible to other people's envy. Realizing that a character is imperfect or at the very least as imperfect as we, the readers, are somehow redeems their victory. More importantly it reassures us that we are capable of overcoming our own suffering and perhaps, even, saving the world along the way.

At the end of the day, bad news sells, so does stories that chronicle how terrible one's life is. Pain is a universal theme that allows readers to identify, sympathize and even root for characters in a book. Seeing others experience bitterness allow us to appreciate our privileges. Knowing that demons can be defeated inspire us to strike our own challenges and overcome them. Yes, pain tells a good story. However, how does this fixation over pain influence society? How does it affect writers and the tales that are told?


*Author owns rights to all photos above

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