ATHENS – At a boisterous press conference held yesterday in the world birth place of western theater’s two main dramatic forms, the Society for the Preservation of Tragedy (SPT), a little known advocacy group, addressed what they believe is the widespread and flagrant misuse of the terms “tragedy” and “tragic” in everyday discourse.
According to the society, applying these terms to events and situations that are not tragic undermines the ancient theatrical form by desensitizing people to the real thing. True tragedy, then, goes under appreciated.
“Look, ” said Dr. Dion Tragos, Director of Tragedy at the SPT, “if a school bus full of kids goes flying off a cliff into the Aegean Sea, that is not a tragedy.”
“Unless – unless, ” interrupted Dr. Helen Thespis, Assistant Director of Tragedy, “the owner of the bus company, in an attempt to save money, replaced the unionized drivers with less skilled, lower paid drivers. And then owing to a scheduling mistake the company owner’s son, who is usually driven to school by his mother, happened to be on that bus the first morning the new drivers took over.”
“Well, yes,” Tragos agreed. “That would be tragic. Though I would need to know more about the exact plot details that led to the son being on the bus. For example, did his mother maybe decide he should take the bus against the father’s wishes – perhaps so she could save time because she was going to be late to meet a lover in town?”
“What if the lover was actually a mechanic at the bus company, and he skipped the morning maintenance on the brakes that day,” Thespis offered.
“Now that’s good – I mean tragic,” Tragos said, almost smiling. “But just any random so-called bad thing that happens that you don’t like in life – your house burns down, your dog goes missing, a ferry sinks, your team loses the game – that is not tragedy! That’s just life. Tragedy is something more. You do not call these things tragic. Or if you do, you are being funny perhaps. But this is not funny. Tragedy is not funny. That is comedy.”
“And they have their own preservation society,” Thespis added.
“Not that they need it,” Tragos frowned. “I think comedy is doing just fine.”
Asked to clarify exactly what makes something tragic, Tragos swept back his long dark hair and gazed intently at the questioner.
“The point is, did you (or someone) play some part in the unfortunate outcome? Was there human intent? Did you get into a situation where you were forced to act – to do something – and the results of your actions, usually contrary to your intentions, brought about a bad, a terrible, outcome you would never have wanted but could not avoid? If so, that we could call tragic.”
“But what about Greece losing to Costa Rica in penalty kicks in the World Cup,” the same questioner persisted. “Surely this was a tragedy, no?”
“No,” said Tragos. “That was just some unfortunate thing that happened that no one really cares about. And why do we devote so much time to football anyway?”
At this point security was called on to restore some order to the room.
“Look. Calling everything tragic is a kind of verbal inflation. It doesn’t only happen with this word, you know. I was just in America giving a seminar, and my students keep saying “awesome” every other word. Everything is awesome. This is awesome. That is awesome. The homework was awesome. If I say yes, I will meet them for a coffee later, that is awesome. And I wonder if they have lost the ability to truly feel something that is awesome – to feel AWE. If so that would be – well, not tragic, but extremely unfortunate. We do not want the same thing to happen with tragedy.”
“That would be tragic,” Thespis observed.
“Technically no – but yes.”
Dr. Tragos concluded the event with a short tick list reminder for the press.
“So, remember: A meteor hits the earth, a mountain falls on a city, an ocean floods your wheat field, you forget your girl friend’s birthday. Are these things tragic? No.”
“Unless, as the Dr. described, there’s a backstory – some human aspect that helped cause the events. And the person most affected has to play a role in the event happening,” Thespis said.
“So the next time you are at a press conference,” Tragos concluded, “and someone says this is tragic or that is a tragedy, I encourage you to prod them – ask them to explain exactly HOW is it tragic? How is this a tragedy? And if they don’t know what tragedy is or have questions, tell them to contact us. We offer three week courses in tragedy appreciation every summer.”
Shortly following the press conference, an afternoon edition of the Athens Courier screamed in two inch letters:
“Dr. Tragos: Greek loss in World Cup NOT a tragedy – just some thing that happened”