In a recent article we looked over Curiosity and tried to sift bad sorts of it from better sorts. The same is attempted here with Comedy.
Like they invented the theatre and Tragedy the Ancient Greeks also invented Comedy as a dramatic form. (I want to go wider than Comedy as drama only in this article but the Greeks’ invention of Comedy as drama has a few useful circumstances surrounding it.)
At the Festival in which dramas were presented in Ancient Athens sets of four plays (per playwright) were presented and competed with one another for the prize. The last of the set normally was a Comedy, and followed on usually from three Tragedies. Comedy then was a sort of ‘lighten up’ call to its audiences and the Festival ended on a high note.
So Attic Comedy as drama was used to bring people in audiences back into the arena of everyday mundane frustrations and idiocies, from a realm in which more enduring and graver issues were the topics of dramatic representation.
Attic Comedy was satirical, like much of our own TV Comedy it cast its eye on the foibles of the great and good of the day, and the follies of political, social and celebrity behaviours. For UK viewers this means ‘Have I Got News for You’ and ‘Mock the Week’, or on Radio ‘The News Quiz’ and ‘The Now Show’.
Across the board the creators of Comedy usually are allowed a large slice of license; their humour depends often on reductio ad absurdum and exponential exaggeration and other tropes for its effect. They are our Court Jesters our Ancients and Fools, who like Gadflies about their royal masters goad them into consciousness of their neglects and mistakes; the public barometers of levels of civic discontent or satisfaction. They are formers and relayers of public attitudes towards their masters.
Attic (Athenian) Comedy came as a dessert after the main course; an afters to a heavy meal: its inherent placement as last serving allowing it to act as a balance, a readjustment, a re-entry into the marketplace of social intercourse; but importantly, it was a re-entry in which audiences bore with them the wholesome fruits they had gleaned from having watched and thought through the formative groundwork issues that the Tragedies had brought to life and presented to their consideration.
Thus Attic Comedy and Tragedy enhanced and complemented one another.
So where, we might ask, is our balance to our Comedy? Where is our Tragedy? Whence do we go to find a complimentary and enhancing format which penetrates the fibre and wellsprings of our world and brings a critical light to bear on them? Are we a post-tragic society; or maybe in a trough of being unable to apprehend Tragedy.
It has been levelled at Christianity by some critics that no Tragedy is possible under its dispensation; because it is essentially and ultimately optimistic of a Happy Ending to our travails in this life. Although in Britain now so few attend Church Services and less and less ascribe in censuses and polls to Christianity; so that the Messianic excuse is not much tenable here.
We have our High Art and High Art forms, operas, music, plastic arts and fine arts, our literature; but which has all moved on into a postmodern worldview in which fragmentation and dissociation, economic and commercial factors, and the lionisation of Soap Opera-like conceptualisations of its functions and purposes, now tyrannise its present concerns and debates.
In short, little is perceived or felt to be enduring, let alone eternal, nor else foundational, let alone formative and metaphysical, nor else of ultimate value, let alone principled or of durable merit; our world here is little and belittled by these absences.
Comedy as we have it nowadays on TV and radio and other media is available to add its bit to a continued diminishment and trivialisation of metaphysics, principle, value, universals, and all of the things which are now considered, where they are known about and considered at all, part of an ‘old world’, a fabrication of men’s and women’s desires of long ago, spiced by their wishful imaginations.
The world and our societies are content to accept themselves as trivialities and to engender gossip and gossips; and in their appetites for Comedy are pleased continually to enjoy and commend those who beat constantly at the door of destruction and destructiveness. It is becoming a world in which no-one is thought to do any good; and wherein no-one can find enough faith in themselves to believe in the good faith of a neighbour.
Our Comedy has no counterbalance. It is let loose to run amok like a scattergun mowing down Aunt Sallies as it goes like at a fairground sideshow. In even the best of the actions our society can manage to imagine, to achieve, there is found by our comics a worm, a sour apple, or a maggot. No-one withstands them whether as a public or a private citizen; regardless of owning any discretion and integrity; once the limelight of news or current affairs has fallen on them and on their conduct. They become fair game (prey) to the circuses of jokers in our packs.
And we here in the UK commend them for it and praise this their revelry amongst our footings and groundworks. There is no-one like a Briton who will dump on his own doorstep if he thinks he will get a buzz or a notice out of it. Consequently, everyone is, and seeks to be, famous (notorious) for 15 minutes.
Just as the environment, the air and water quality, the landfills and the countryside, the industrial detritus and general litter and mess of our streets and public spaces; all depend in the last instance on our collective and our individual resolves and behaviours, panning right out to the arctic ice cap and the upper atmosphere and the composition of our oceans; so does our Comedy diminish and demean even those of our species who try to do well and come near to being the best of us (in their persons and not in their ambitions for office or repute) so that the nation diminishes and deteriorates in tandem, as does our social life, and our education, our politics and the surrounding natural environment. Our Comedy is at once a barometric symptom and a strong instrument adding its own odours to this meltdown of value.
The lack of availability of Tragedy as a dramatic or artistic format in our present day civilisation points up its inability and unwillingness to look into itself deeply enough so as to apprehend and discover Tragedy there. Ours is a society that surfs on the surface of its ghosts and bogies; that dismisses depth as uncommercial and as being deflective from the real businesses of life, which are making hay, making whoopee, making money.
Certain treatments of particular subjects we shy away from – are taboo, are conversation-stoppers and party-poopers, no-go-areas, for us. The life is presented as party, as jamboree, as all’s up for the keyhole or the cocoanut shy. Hence there is coming a point gradually where for the plain joe and joanne on the street nothing holds a value except as a local, transient and personal-interest value to them.
Our Comedy is nihilist; as our general attitudes increasingly are; and nothing will come of nothing: conducing to
‘Destruction with destruction to destroy’