Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Short Attention Span Theater and Tragedy
One big curse of the Short Attention Span, with which we are all afflicted is the inability to appreciate Tragedy. When Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, he thinks all is well and he's doing great. He just became King of Greece.
We, the audience understand that he has committed sins against the Cosmic Order, he has indulged in that which brings about Downfall: Hubris. And by the end he will suffer the destruction that is always the result of Hubris.
In Ancient Greece, We, the audience, are horrified in his rejoicing, and we suffer together knowing his fate is our fate.
Of course, nobody these days has the patience or the attention span to follow this arc. Now, we rejoice in Oedipus triumph. Then we discover he actually did something wrong - we experience momentary discomfort - but No Worries - he learns and grows wiser and all is forgiven and he get to remain as King. Just a wiser and better king.
Yay! Hooray for Oedipus! Hooray for us!
Because in the Short Attention Span Theater that is our lives, nothing bad ever really happens to Americans. Sure, we can spend money we don't have, we can make cheating a central tenet of our business philosophy, and in the end, it will all be Okay, because in the end, the Consumer gets to have his Gadgets, and he is happy.
Death and Destruction is for losers.
For the Greeks, the whole point of Tragedy is that Death and Destruction are inevitable, yet we have total control over the Dignity with which we face the inevitable. The dignity with which we face Struggle.
Take away humbling Struggle, take away the constant awareness of Death and Destruction, and you lose the concept of Dignity of Behavior.
Take away the struggle in the face of certain Death and Destruction and all you are left with is the Appetites of Man. The appetite for power. The appetite for wealth. The appetite for I phones, efexor and artisanal chocolate (I know, I like it too.) The appetite to screw your neighbor and grab as much for yourself as you can. The appetite for glamor, comfort and vacation time.
Unfortunately, to follow the Arc of Tragedy you need a strong Attention Span. You have to be able to look down the road, past the next earnings report, past the next data point, past the next Plot Point. You have to look down the road at the inevitable outcome of the indulgence in Hubris.
Sounds dreary, right? I guess the consciousness of Death and Destruction is a bit dreary. But certainly not nearly as dreary as life is proving to be without it.