Grim is in! Gloom is in bloom! The Hurt Locker and Precious are the new light and fluffy. Bleak misfortune is back in vogue, and I for one could not be more delighted.
Call me maudlin, or just plain Maud—the dreadful unpredictability of life has taught me to answer to anything!—but I am convinced that the only truly effective way to reach a state of contentment is to confront the essential misery of life head on. I am talking about our entertainment choices. When it comes to books, movies and the telly, we don’t need moonbeams and unicorns. We need dreadful dollops of dour desolation. These afford us a refreshing perspective on the gruesome reality of our own lives. It’s an I-might-be-having-a-bit-of-a-rough-time-right-now-but-at-least-I’m-not-turning-tricks-with-homeless-men-or-drinking-carpet-cleaner-to-get-high-like-that-broad-on-the-TV kind of a thingy.
As a longtime connoisseur of the greige and the grotesque, permit me to lead you into the valley of gloom:
Jolly Telly: With both Intervention and Hoarders on its roster, A&E is your go-to cable network for severely depressing fare. Both shows place a helpful emphasis on the backstory of each particular addict/hoarder. This is very important. Having some sense of how you might avoid a similar fate—e.g., huffing computer-cleaning aerosols while babbling incoherently—is an important part of “enjoying” this kind of programming.
Bleak Books: Although Victor Hugo and Dickens are synonymous with the gnarly and the downtrodden, my award for the grimmest novelist in the history of mankind goes to Patrick Hamilton, a hard-core boozer from the last century whose hobbies included consorting with prostitutes and lurching into oncoming traffic. I previously thought his The Slaves of Solitude was the saddest book I every read, then suddenly this winter, I discovered Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. I am currently weeping my way through the last pages gleefully anticipating Hangover Square, reputedly his darkest.
Tragic Trips: Whether traveling for business or pleasure, I always pack a dismal DVD or two. My new fave? Peyton Place, starring Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal. Zillions of episodes of the legendary 1960s soap—madness, alcoholism, murder, and that’s just the women!—are now available. I guarantee the unremitting pain will make your own sorry milieu look like Leave It to Beaver.
Speaking of beavers: The fashion industry would appear to have absolved itself of any qualms about the wearing of dead animals. Next winter, we will all, if the recently unfurled fall collections are anything to go by, be traipsing around in our Altuzarras, Wangs or Bassos looking like extras from Dr. Zhivago, which could be either depressing or uplifting, depending on which scene from the movie you favor. I opt for the horrible snippet where Geraldine Chaplin and Co. are hurtling across the permafrost and frantically shoveling poo out of the door of their comfort-free cattle car. How about you?