Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gossip: Democratization of tragedy?

I was talking about celebirty gossip the other week. This is an interesting article in the British New Statesman. The Greeks had Oedipus: we have TMZ.

Gossip seems at first glance to conform quite closely to Aristotle’s demands for classical tragedy. At any rate, it revolves around the rich and the famous, the fortunate of our time, and involves stories about them inviting us to consider that even the great (these days only a few of them kings and queens, but many either heroes or outstandingly fortunate by birth or chance) must also suffer death, loss, failure, disappointment and divorce, and tumble further and land harder than those of us watching, who also suffer such things.

The analogy between the falling darlings of a modern public and the old Greek dramas does not go very deep, however. Both Aristotle and more contemporary literary critics are inclined to think that an essential part of tragedy is that it deals with the weightiest of matters and eschews triviality. It is the human condition on show, but acted out on a high moral plain that equates, in antiquity, to the highest social plain. This does look as if it rules out much of modern gossip as a contemporary version of tragedy, such as the Daily Mail’s revelations that Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian have cellulite, on the grounds that cellulite, when you stop and think about it, doesn’t measure up well against a plague in Thebes, the suicide of Jocasta and the self-blinding of Oedipus, however god-given and inescapable cellulite might be in all our lives.

But perhaps it provides a minor democratic catharsis of a kind, for democratic ills.

While gossip seems to belittle tragedy, it also (for better or worse) democratises it –who’s to say that the shiver of inevitable ageing and death felt at the first sign of cellulite is too trivial a signifier of mortality?

Willy Loman is now on every newstand. It's an interesting argument - if there was any kind of cathartic effect. I suspect it's more simply just envy and prurience. There is something in us that likes to see the great and the beautiful brought low.

(H/t AI Daily)


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