Tuesday, April 07, 2015

COLUMN: Fictional Deaths

[SPOILER ALERT: This column contains some rather crucial spoilers of classic and well-known movies and TV shows. If you're the type who lives under a rock, has no idea how "Old Yeller" ends, and might one day be interested in experiencing this thing you've heard about called "entertainment," you might want to skip this column. This is your only warning.]

Ah, writing time -- my weekly oasis. For a few minutes, I can forget the random troubles of the day and do nothing but try to poke a little fun at life for a while.

Too bad, then, that all I can think about this week is sadness, heartache, and despondency.

One of my closest friends works for a website (not affiliated with this paper) that posts obituaries from around the country. Her job is to provide write-ups when famous folks die and post topical quizzes and blogs about the dearly departed. It's honestly not as depressing as it sounds. This week, she's working on an article that required some help from Facebook Nation. At least, I HOPE she's working on an article, otherwise maybe she IS becoming a little too death-obsessed for her own good. Here was her post to Facebook:

"What's the saddest fictional death you've ever read/watched?"

This innocent question has currently garnered 147 replies and umpteen arguments. For some reason, I got caught up in the thick of things. For the past 3 days, all I've been able to think about are imaginary dead people -- not exactly a recommended pastime for sunshiny spring days.

I was in the shower yesterday and suddenly was like, "OH! When that one intern died on 'E.R.,' it was SO sad!" I was on my way to work today and suddenly, "DUH! Romeo and Juliet!" I was eating lunch when I realized E.T. died for a hot minute before he turned on his heartlight or whatever, I wonder if that counts?

I'm an entertainment junkie. My TV's always on, my phone's loaded with e-books, and I'll watch almost any movie you put in front of me. But sad movies are not my idea of entertainment. Becoming enamored with a beloved character only to watch them shuffle off this mortal coil isn't my idea of a good time. If I'm going to visit imaginary worlds, I prefer them full of laughs, where the guy ALWAYS gets the girl in the end, and where the only people who die are sincere baddies who meet their demise with a well-timed quip from Arnold Schwarzenegger and/or Bruce Willis.

But every once in a while, I'll accidentally watch a weepie. I'll channel-flip into something, assume it's some innocent romp, and suddenly somebody's belly-up and I'll be sitting there with a quivering lip, emotionally scarred for life. I've been thinking all week about the saddest fictional deaths I've ever been duped into witnessing, and I've narrowed MY list of soul-destroying tragedies down to the five most horrifying:

#5 - M*A*S*H* MASHES MY SOUL - Writing a situation comedy has to be tough when the situation is war. Laughs at a mobile military hospital must be few and far between, but the creative team behind M*A*S*H* found the solution: Make a super funny show that's occasionally tempered by moments of tragic gravitas. When beloved Col. Henry Blake finally got his ticket home, America cheered... until the final minute, when it's learned his chopper was shot down with no survivors. That's when America bawled into their TV dinners and 4-year-old me accidentally learned about the horrors of war.

#4 - FIGURE SKATING ALWAYS ENDS IN TEARS - Sports movies should only ever follow one plot: Underdog stinks at sport, someone makes an inspiring speech, there's a training montage, and then worldwide glory. But find me a figure skating movie that doesn't involve blindness, crippling injury, or worse. The biggest offender? Try the made-for-TV schlock-fest "Champions: A Love Story." I caught it on a boring college weekend back when my TV only got 3 channels. It started pleasantly enough with a fish-out-of-water hockey player getting paired up with an aspiring figure skater. At first they're awful (check.) There's a speech (score.) There's a training montage (yessss.) They even fall in love (double bonus!) They're gonna win nationals... until a plane crash kills the hockey guy, devastates the girl, and tears my heart out. They should rename it "Champion: A Horror Story Coz The Other One Dies."

#3 - WALT DISNEY: FRIEND OF CHILDREN, MURDERER OF MOMS AND DOGS - Everyone loves Walt Disney. Well, everyone but Old Yeller. And Bambi's mom. And Mufasa. And the thousands of soldiers that Mulan kills willy-nilly. Look, Walt, it's possible to create an endearing character who triumphs over diversity WITHOUT making them an orphan in the beginning of the flick. With the slightest tweak of the script, Bambi could have had the EXACT same adventures without losing his mom. Instead, the movie has become synonymous with tragic death. If you can watch Bambi yelling "MOTHER!" without getting that knife-through-the-gut shudder, you have no soul.

#2 - BUFFALO JUST AIN'T WORTH IT - When wee Shane woke up on a Sunday morning once and saw a movie about a pack of misfit kids at summer camp, I was in. These sounded like my people. But this wasn't "Revenge of the Nerds." No, this was a movie called "Bless the Beasts & Children," about weak nerdy kids at camp who are straight up tortured by their peers. It's ok, though, because the kids bond together and perservere. And when they hear about an organized buffalo kill happening near their camp, they hatch a plan to stop it and save the poor creatures. When their plan goes awry, as most plans do, the main kid drives a truck into the herd to stop the slaughter -- and gets shot in the head. The End. Roll credits. Seriously. I remember it plain as day because it was the first time a movie made me cry. My mom came in to find me fetal on the couch vowing never to eat meat again. At least, not until lunch.

#1 - SIMPLY THE WORST. Okay, there's sad and then there's downright emotionally crippling. Only one movie deserves this title, and it's a nightmare called "Bridge to Terabithia." Loner boy meets eccentic girl. They hang out in the woods and dream up an imaginary world to escape the harsh reality of their eccentric loner lives. Kindly teacher invites the boy to a museum, and he selfishly doesn't invite the girl along. Then he comes home to discover that the eccentric girl drowned in a creek. The rest of the flick is non-stop grief including the kid wondering if the eccentric girl is trapped in Hell and that it's all basically his fault. There might be more after that, but I couldn't hear over the sounds of a grown man BAWLING in his living room. NEVER let your kids see this snuff film unless you've got a nest egg saved up for psychologists. I'm still scarred by it and I was 40 when I watched the thing.

Did I miss anything good? E-mail me if I did and we can all spend this first week of great weather mired in the traumatic after-effects of what someone decided to call "entertainment." Until then, I'll be binge-watching "Friends" until I get out of this funk (and YES, I'll be skipping the one where Ross' nana dies twice.)

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