Society for the Preservation of Tragedy: Epidemic misuse of terms ‘tragedy’ and ‘tragic’ in everyday discourse undermines meaning of ancient dramatic form

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”

Dr. Dion Tragos, Director of Tragedy at the Society for the Preservation of Tragedy in Athens, Greece, makes a point.
Dr. Dion Tragos, Director of Tragedy at the Society for the Preservation of Tragedy in Athens, Greece, makes a point.

Portland in denial that Third Rail’s sold out blockbuster NOISES OFF has actually closed

Heading into the weekend, Portlanders had a spring in their step and a smile on their collective face. The sun was out (in January), the new year was off to a splendid start, and all seemed right with the world. This was going to be a good weekend, by golly, like the last few had been.

At least, that was the plan.

Then, slowly, an indefinable sense of angst and anxiety began to spread. That springy step slowed down a bit, the smile became more of a straightish line (half way to a frown). Otherwise “normal” Pacific Northwesterners looked up from glowing mobile screens while waiting in line at Trader Joe’s with an almost palpable sense of physical dread. And a most inexplicable gloom started to cover the town.

What on earth was wrong?

And then, one by one, the citizens realized.

Third Rail’s record-setting, crowd-delighting NOISES OFF was no more.

Oh shit. Folks had been hearing about it and planning to see it (some for the 2nd or 3rd time), and they just kind of took it for granted that it would be on for a while. Even those who weren’t going to see it got a strong sense of security knowing that at least four nights of the week, the mega hit was going full bore, sanding the paint off the back wall of the Winnie with the audience’s laughter. They knew if they really, really needed to, they could get a ticket (if they were lucky) and be comforted by hearing Dave Bodin go on about “strife and uncertainty”. Or Damon Kupper talk about… “you know”. Or Karen Trumbo declare “I’ve only got one leg”. They knew that as long as the show was on, sardines, bags (or the lack – or not lack – thereof), tax exiles, whiskey, flowers, doors that don’t open or won’t stay shut, pants that won’t stay up, “Richard 3”, fire axes, plates of gravy, et al were just a few steps away, down at the PDX5 Art Performance Centers.

But not any more. Now it’s all gone.

As this harsh reality set in, the city observed a moment of silence to mark the first NOISES OFF-free weekend. Down at City Hall, the occupy movement briefly revitalized and started a hunger strike to demand an extension for the show. Mayor Hales appeared at a hastily organized press conference to calm the citizens and assure them there will be other Third Rail shows. Some quite soon. He also suggested people go home and maybe “watch some TV”, to which a heckler responded, “This is Portland! We don’t have TV’s!”

Crowds started to assemble for a silent vigil in Pioneer Square to mark the first Saturday night with no NOISES OFF performance in six weeks.
Crowds started to assemble for a silent vigil in Pioneer Square to mark the first Saturday night with no NOISES OFF performance in six weeks.

The truth sets in.
The truth sets in. Hello “5 Stages of Loss and Grief”.

Mayor Hales held a press conference at City Hall.  "We're working with Third Rail leadership, and they assure us they will be doing another show just as good the same time next year.  And they have three more shows on in the current season.  So why don't you folks go home and watch some TV or something."
Mayor Hales held a press conference at City Hall. “We’re working with Third Rail leadership, and they assure us they will be doing another show just as good the same time next year. And they have three more shows in the current season. So why don’t you folks go home and watch some TV or something.”

Not all Portlanders responded well to the news that NOISES OFF had closed.
Not all Portlanders responded well to the news that NOISES OFF has closed.

Reached for comment, President Obama was terse and sober.  "Folks, I know some of you are disappointed, and what can I say?  So am I.  I missed it, too.  I was going to see it, but Congress shut down my arts budget.  Malia and Sasha saw it.  At this time, there's nothing more we can do."
Reached for comment, President Obama was terse and sober. “Folks, I know some of you are disappointed, and what can I say? So am I. I missed it, too. I was going to see it, but Congress shut down my arts budget. Malia and Sasha saw it. At this time, there’s nothing more we can do.”

When briefed on the situation, the Timbers Army set fire to their own seating area in solidarity with Portland.
When informed that NOISES OFF has closed, the Timbers Army set fire to their own seating area.

Stung by expropriation of their art form by theatre, hip hop artists vow to incorporate more Shakespeare

While American theatre goers may by now have grown numb to the ongoing absurdity of trying to sex up or modernize Shakespeare by adding hip hop music and other supposedly current cultural influences into classic plays, the trend is no longer being ignored by the music industry.

At a star-studded press press conference held at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills last night, a veritable who’s who of American hip hop artists announced that the expropriation of their art form by the mainstream theatre – and specifically in Shakespeare plays – has got to stop.

And until it does, theatre fans better get ready for a retaliatory salvo: Non stop misappropriation of Shakepseare in hip hop.

“Basically, enough’s enough,” said JAY-Z, Chairman of the newly formed SFPHHMIA (Society for the Preservation of Hip Hop Music in America). “Every time I go to see Shakespeare, it turns out to be hip hop. Don’t get me wrong, I love hip hop. That’s what I do. But that’s not why I go to see Shakespeare. I can’t even get through one of the simple comedies anymore without some dude dressed up like MC Hammer singing one of my songs. Give it a rest, bro. And the history plays? Those things are a [redacted] nightmare. So we’re gonna turn the tables and see how you theatre people like it. You come expecting hip hip? You’re gettin’ Shakespeare. It’s gonna be 24-7 Shakespeare until you leave us the [redacted] alone. And you better believe we’re gonna get it all wrong.”

P Diddy hewed to an equally hard line. “All these aging white baby boomers are gonna take our stuff? Ok. Now I’m gonna take YOUR stuff – and mess with it. Ol’ Bill Shakey? I own that [redacted]. I’m gonna sing it, I’m gonna live it. I’m gonna wear ermine capes and bejeweled crowns in my Rolls like King Richard or whoever if I have to. I guess I already do that.”

50 Cent was livid about the trend. “It’s not cool, not at all. Some white guy with stringy long hair from the 1600’s or whenever? I am not in his plays. I never was. Shakespeare knows nothing about me. DO NOT PUT ME IN HIS PLAYS, PEOPLE. OR I WILL COME AFTER YOU. Now hear this [redacted]: Leave me the [redacted] out of these plays.” Fans at a recent concert nearly rioted when the well respected rapper did an incoherent 20 minute one person adaptation of CORIOLANUS.

Snoop Dogg, always the purist, raised concerns about the authenticity of the transplanted art form. “I was out watching ROMEO AND JULIET at BAM the other night, and the fight scene, you know, the dude’s like “Ima pop a cap in your ass this” and the other guy’s “No, no, Ima pop a cap in YOUR ass that”. First, I go to the theatre for poetry, you know? I get enough violence at work. Second, no one’s said “pop a cap” since like 1994. And you don’t announce it in advance when you’re gonna shoot someone – you just shoot the guy. Right? Now get out the way, I need to practice my Malvolio…”

As a kind of “We Are The World” manifesto for the new movement, a group of top artists performed a scorching 25 minute rendition of their founding anthem, “Is this a 9 mil which I see before me?”. The evening ended with a surprise visit by Dr Dre who performed “2b”, and also a reworked “guns, guns, guns” monologue, which was temporarily interrupted when an elderly irate theatre fan, upset at the alteration of “the [redacted] text”, hurled a bottle of Grey Goose across the stage.

“You see? That’s what I’m talking about. Now you know how we feel!” Dre shouted as the heckler was taken away. “This shit’s about to get real, folks. So real.”

Reached in New York City where he is currently giving the performance of a lifetime in the Shakespeare’s Globe (London) rep productions of RICHARD III and TWELFTH NIGHT, two shows which contain 0% hip hop, Mark Rylance had a lot to say about the phenomenon SFPHHMIA is protesting – but unfortunately almost no comments that are printable in a family magazine.

Rylance voiced total support for the group and said he would send in a contribution to their Kickstarter.

-The Radish