Tragedy: A Paradoxical Stimulant
When we think about visiting the theater to improve our emotional state in need of some cheering up or hopeful thoughts, it isn’t uncommon to assume that what we need is something…well, cheerful or hopeful. Ironically, more often than not, such plays actually make us feel even worse because we tend to juxtapose our lives against the play we are watching. The last thing we want to here when we are having a bad time is how much of a good time someone else is having, but somehow we manage to forget this when purchasing tickets.
In ancient Athens, people flocked to their open theaters to watch horrors dark as gladiators killing each other, to softer exhibitions of tragedy and gore as seen in Oedipus the King by Sophocles where the lead character Oedipus accidentally kills his father, gets married to his mother, realizes what he has done, and gouges out his eyes in despair. One the surface such morbid fascination can make us question our own sanity. Many great movies from Titanic to Armageddon has had us is tears at the cinema, but yet, in the midst of all that suffering we witness, we do not leave the theater or cinema feeling worse off than we did when arriving and asking for a refund. In fact, in a twisted way, these tragedies even bring us closer together as real life tragedies have a way of uniting communities.
The question is why is this paradox a reality. How is it that pessimism can actually help us attain a positive mind state. This is because we can draw some comfort from feeling better off than someone from a status anxiety stand point, and there is also a feeling of catharsis as was noted in Aristotle’s The Poetics where he advised writers on why tragedy was actually good for the society and gave pointers as to how to write a good sad play.
In the Nigeria theater scene today, there appears to be a scarcity tragedies. Most people I speak to say this is because the socio-economic climate is already a tragedy in itself, the last thing we need is a reflection of this reality when we are in search of escapism. From my personal trips to the theater I find comedic satire to be the delivery method of choice when addressing tragic issues. It will be interesting to see the art to tragedy take center stage in Nigerian theater. So next time you are feeling down, take some time out to read quotes about sadness and stare at pictures that evoke melancholy. After all, the only consolation for existential loneliness is that we are all in it together.
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