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Doug_S. comments on Serious Stories - Less Wrong

39 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 January 2009 11:49PM

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Comment author: Doug_S. 09 January 2009 09:05:52AM 7 points [-]

In one sense, it's clear that we do not want to live the sort of lives that are depicted in most stories that human authors have written so far. Think of the truly great stories, the ones that have become legendary for being the very best of the best of their genre: The Iliad, Romeo and Juliet, The Godfather, Watchmen, Planescape: Torment, the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or that ending in Tsukihime. Is there a single story on the list that isn't tragic?

In many stories, things go horribly wrong and characters hurt, badly, but in the end, things end up much better than they started. As you say later, it's often more about the striving than the suffering. Currently, The Shawshank Redemption is sitting at the top of the IMDB Top 250 Movies list. Is that a tragic story? It does have a happy ending, after all.

Incidentally, my favorite movies to watch over and over tend to be comedies. Are Blazing Saddles, Airplane!, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail capital-G Great? How about the works of Gilbert and Sullivan? Mark Twain wrote comedies, and Don Quixote is a comedy, too!

I suspect that comedies tend to be more culture-specific than tragedies; things that were hilarious 300 years ago might just get yawns and blank stares today. On the other hand, some comedies do stand the test of time, they're just a bit less common. Lysistrata is over 2000 years old and it hasn't stopped being funny yet, and Don Quixote outlasted the entire genre of stories it was making fun of.