RARA-AVIS: Schadenfreude?

From: B.J. West ( astrobeej@strafe.com)
Date: 29 Nov 2006

All this discussion about what is and isn't "noir" seems to be missing a point, and that's the *why* of noir. What is the intent of the writer in telling such bleak, hopeless stories? What do we get out of reading about the suffering of such tormented characters? What keeps us coming back time after time to drink from such a dark well?

Is it possible that we simply *enjoy* seeing these poor schmucks get their comeuppance? It's fun to watch Walter Neff drooling over the beautiful (but very married) Phyllis Dietrichson. We've been there -- or wanted to be -- but we generally know better than to cross the line. It's not hard to understand the consequences we'd be facing. But we'd still *think* about it.

But Neff isn't so bright. He goes for it anyway, and we shake our heads, knowing what the poor bastard is in for, and sure enough, before long he's bleeding and confessing. We feel for him, we really do, but behind it all, we're chuckling and nodding in self- satisfaction. There's a reward for ignoring the call to adventure and excitement, we tell ourselves smugly.

But somewhere, deep inside, we don't *really* believe it. We see that ankle bracelet on Phyllis' shapely leg and part of us wonders if maybe, even with the bullet in the gut and all, it was *worth it.*

And as long as we keep arguing with ourselves like that, we'll keep sucking up as much noir as we can get our hands on.


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