It has been a great winter for movies and television. Two productions, in particular, have caused me to think about the vagaries of life. That’s right. Les Miserables documents the horrors of being poor in the times of Revolutionary France. And good grief, those people were truly miserable. 

The show has music that will stick in your mind for weeks, literally. That is a kind of misery for those of us in the audience, but I digress. The portrayal of starvation, filth, and corruption is a real eye opener. And of course, the ending requires at least one box of tissues. 

On the other hand, the new HBO series Parade’s End depicts miserable rich people, who trot about in phaetons from country mansion to elegant London flats, having affairs, not having affairs but desperately wanting to, and generally being depressed and suicidal among gourmet foods, on top of Persian rugs, and during idyllic picnics on the moors, complete with servants and elegant linens. 

This state of wretchedness expands to the children, who suffer from neglect, starvation, or being sent away to boarding school. Nannies are cruel and exacting. Nursery food is skimpy and bland. Either that, or the children have to work in horrible factories, nearly dying from exhaustion or fumes–or cruel foremen who beat them. Or they are beggars. Whew!

I have to think that all of this is a reflection on our life on this planet. Generally speaking, humans are unhappy, indeed. We are stifled in our marriages. We feel oppressed by those who have more than we do. We go crazy, and need to be either shut away in institutions or on medications to dull our pain. We are either too fat, or too thin, too beautiful for our own good, or so plain that we pine for partnership. We are freezing and hungry, or bored to death with pate and caviar. 

I am fascinated by these elaborate productions, including Downton Abbey, in which only some of the characters are miserable. I watch them, along with millions of other viewers. We sob and sniffle, shake our heads in empathy, and our shoulders sag in sadness when somebody dies. 

So why on earth are these kinds of shows and movies so popular? I think I can put my finger directly on the exact reason: 

The scenery is gorgeous.

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