The Usage of the Word, “Tragedy”, by Reporters Is a Tragedy

How the word “tragedy” has fallen. It is used to describe the horrors of accident, the catastrophes of nature, and the brutalities of senseless, self-indulgent murders and rapes. We should reserve its meaning for pointing out the failures of conscience, individual introspection and narratization.

Reporters who use the word should be more sensitive. If and when they use it, what should follow should be the essence of the situation devolving from the individual perpetrator’s character not so much the gory details of the results.

Shakespear’s tragedy, HAMLET, holds the speech of the tragic character himself in which that author gives Hamlet the defining characteristic of tragedy:

“So oft it chances in particular men
That, for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As in their birth,–wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin,–
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o’erleavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery, or fortune’s star,
Their virtues else–be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo–
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. The dram of e’il
Doth all the noble substance often dout
To his own scandal.”

It is that stamp of one defect where tragedy originates, in their inheritance, in the over-development of some natural tendency, or in some habit contracted by chance, the vicious mole or blemish forms and gives rise to the breaking down of reason, and thus the underlying nobility of his nature, disgracing him. (From the Kittredge edition of Hamlet.) That is “tragedy” as it was portrayed in Elizabethan times, a change from the time of Aristotle. Willie Loman in the play, Death of a Salesman, gives a meaning to “tragedy” pertinent to the circumstances we find in our lives today.

Is a twister a tragedy? A fallen bridge? Global warming? A hail storm? An automobile accident? A serial killer’s rampage? In a definition of “tragedy” for our present time, I think I might find enough change of circumstances that may warrant a new definition of tragedy. A tragedy is not an event resulting in great loss and misfortune unless the pointer is to a class of human being’s suffering a defect of volition. Willy Loman was a victim of changing circumstances and could not adapt to the changing world around him. He represented a class of people and how that class labored. The class people affected by changing conditions is now growing ever larger, in such changes as global warming. The tragedy is a collective tragedy requiring, not individual response, but a capability for conscious choice and decision and intention in an entire society, working together in ever larger associations. Global warming is a global challenge, and we are not organized for it.

I would like us to be guardians of the meanings and connotations of certain words and against cheapening the usage and meanings of good, functional words by such insensitivity in mass-media reporters. I feel sure they had the course and should know better.

I can hear it now. “O. how picayune of this guy! To bother about such a small thing!” I have a mind about all things large and small. It is no small thing to me to hear a word misused and misunderstood. The human race is tending toward such small refinements on a global scale, just as it is in the hardware of nanotechnology and the so-called “theory of everything”. And toward a human brain and consciousness that can cope with all that, comfortably. If you are one to make that exclamation, then you may be a drop-out from the human civilization of the not too distant future.

It is right to hold mass-media reporters’ feet to the fire in word usage. They play a prominent part in our public life.

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm  Comments (9)  

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