ANYONE WHO WATCHES A PLAY ABOUT A DUDE WHO MUDDLES AROUND AND GETS HIMSELF KILLED BECAUSE SOMEONE KILLED HIS DAD AND SLEPT WITH HIS MOM AND GOES “OH WOW, I LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT MYSELF!” PROBABLY NEEDS SOME PRETTY SERIOUS THERAPY.
Why do we put tragedy on a pedestal? I really don’t know. I bet if you ask a random sampling of college educated adults what the deal is with tragedy, why people like it, 90% of the people who manage to evolve any kind of answer at all will come up with “catharsis”. Why? Because that was what Aristotle thought, and in the 10,000 years since he died, no one’s come up with a better answer. But at this point I feel like we’re just saying it because we’re saying it. We’ve been conditioned that if we don’t think Hamlet is the best piece of literature on the planet, there’s something wrong with our cultural taste, so we back-rationalize to the answer we were given in high school English class.
I appreciate Shakespeare because of his writing, but in spite of his plots. Frankly, his plots are pretty… Elizabethan. I don’t buy universal human experience. I buy universal human nature interacting with highly contingent circumstance leading to infinitude of permutations.
The good news is that the people who actually create stuff have all moved on — in fact, they probably moved on a century ago. It’s just, high culture hasn’t gotten the memo yet. Let me give some examples of what I consider modern “great literature”:
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKDnySBiT6w&ob=av2n (there’s a plot, wait for it…)
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWyfxWD-hlc&feature=player_embedded (beatiful, right?)
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMZwZiU0kKs (this is a typical day in my life, too)
Wouldn’t it be funny if the rest of this blog post was just a collection of Fatboy Slim music videos? I could keep going, you know. Don’t make me do that.
Other “real literature”:
- The Scott Pilgrim comic books
- “Blink” from Doctor Who (netflix link, we’ll see if this actually works…)
- The white chamber (indie video game)
- Calvin and Hobbes (True fact: Bill Watterson can bend time and space with mind).
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s right. Watch them all.
The reason I don’t like tragedy is that I don’t like books about easy stuff. Easy stuff is boring. Getting yourself killed off, or slowly poisoning yourself to death with alcohol, or persisting in a semi-alive state as your hopes and expectations are crushed, that’s all pretty easy. You just sort of have to show up. What’s hard is doing something amazing. Creating, bringing life and new forms of complexity into the world. All the things that make a good story — all the conflict, all the ups and downs, the pain and growth, the stupidity and insight, the missed chances and the redeeemed ones — they all matter to me only in the context of someone getting out there and fucking trying.
And the good news is, there’s plenty of people in the universe going out and doing exactly that.