There’s no time like year’s end for contemplating your mortality. But hey, that’s a bummer — so why not ponder somebody else’s mortality? Thanks to a pop culture year both remarkably morbid and fabulously life-affirming, the waning days of ’96 are the perfect time to discover that it really is a wonderful life — albeit one that’s often brutish and short. Consider Fargo’s police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), who catches a felon shredding a corpse and laments, ”I just don’t understand it.” That sentiment resonates in the music world, too, with a dead man talking: Tupac Shakur, rapping his way through a bracing epitaph in ”California Love.” The saga of a young man gone off to starve in the Alaskan wilderness chills the pages of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, yet on television, the detectives of Homicide: Life on the Street and NYPD Blue continue to find what comfort they can in a bullet-riddled world. Even Monty Python are bringing out their dead again on CD-ROM. So get ready for some views to a kill — and for the healing power of entertainment that’s a matter of life and death.