“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Rob Gordon’s statement at the beginning of the film version of 'High Fidelity’ raises more than a few questions, not just about the state and ethics of pop culture, but also why we, as viewers, readers and listeners, are prepared to listen to someone be so negative for an extended length of time. Does it make us happy to see someone suffering in a form of media, or do we relate on a subliminal level to this whirlwind of emotional turmoil? What attracts us to this and why are desolate narratives such a successful brand? As a nation, the Brits are universally and perhaps unfairly mocked for their negative outlook but all the successful US comedy giants seem to have a ‘dark’ side. Larry David showcased this first in ‘Seinfeld’, with the infamous ‘no hugging, no learning’ rule where every character was shallow and self-obsessed but ultimately lovable before going on to make a dark parody of himself and the celebrity LA lifestyle in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’. Focusing on people with cynical views of modern life still dominates the sitcom scene – all the main characters in ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’ are just horrible, horrible human beings. Every character in ‘Arrested Development’ was selfish (yes that includes Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth - look at the way he treated his son). Of course, all these programmes are fantastically made and almost always result in hilarious consequences but would you want to be associated with any of these people in real life? They’re backstabbers, arrogant and most seem to have a weary view of the world. Whether it be failed relationships or family issues, the subject matter seems to be one that everyone can relate to. Maybe it is that these characters can do and say the things we would never dare get away with in real-life that appeals to us so much. Compared to the US comedy scene, the British do not seem to hold the same dark values but does have a place in the nation’s hearts for anti-heroes with the likes of David Brent, Mark and Jeremy from Peep Show and Malcolm Tucker all providing laughs aplenty but in very real and embarrassing situations. The main difference would be the British characters have their hearts in the right place, but often mess up while going around their daily duties. The Americans seem more scornful, which probably results in more entertaining results for us as a viewer. But should we feel guilty for enjoying this? Obviously the purpose of comedy is to entertain but the theory of the most comic moments being thought up while writers are at their darkest points seems to run through all forms of entertainment. Having a despondent view of life never harmed Bill Hicks or Dylan Moran, in fact it made them even funnier. One of the best stand-up sets I’ve ever seen was Stewart Lee’s 90s Comedian, the whole show revolved around the public outcry to his ‘Jerry Springer:The Opera’ and concentrated on a time in his life that was difficult, both career-wise and in health. That he made light out of the situation he found himself in was both clever and witty and just gave the set a bit more of a feeling of importance and value. As referenced at the beginning of these ramblings, Rob Gordon’s self-depreciating anecdotes of feelings and beliefs were nothing new, Woody Allen’s been doing it for years and we still flock to see his films. We still read books about losers in love and listen to songs about failing – you only need to look at Noah And The Whale’s ‘The First Days Of Spring’ and Frightened Rabbit’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ to see we love an album full of heartbreak. Even last year’s (500) Days Of Summer had a sinister undertone throughout much of the film that could have felt out of place in a film many would have seen as too wishy-washy. So are we just happy to watch and listen to miserable and cynical people all the time? I would not say so as there are enough ‘safe’ programmes, comedians, films etc that are more popular in the mainstream to show that we do like some harmless, innocent fun moments . Or is it that we like to see someone suffer or tend to see the best in things, no matter how hard the times are? I’m inclined to believe that we like the feeling of familiarity and that subconsciously we like to feel there is always someone worse off than us. We like to see recognizable situations and find out just how deep a hole people can dig in these, it makes us feel better about ourselves as we do not make these mistakes - even if these circumstances appear in fiction. Maybe we all agree with Jerry Seinfeld: “Your misery is my pleasure.”