“If it bleeds it leads.” The entertainment industry’s love affair with violence is nothing new, though HBO has taken the brutal baton and run away with it. Game of Thrones is macabre, perverse, and yet dangerously entertaining.
Aristotle noted that we “enjoy contemplating the most precise images of things whose sight is painful to us.” Watching or imagining death is more than a survival instinct—it’s a way to feel alive. You drive past an overturned car on the highway and think, “Thank goodness that’s not me.” You stand close to the edge of a cliff and wonder what it would be like to fall off. The resulting adrenaline rush makes your beating heart apparent. In contemplating death, we are contemplating life—two sides to the same coin.
The way Americans consume and perceive death evolved as humans became better at staving off sickness and lengthening life. Death—infant mortality, plagues, starvation—used to be a part of life. Now it is a novelty.