Tragic Fun

by Bernard De Koven on September 12, 2012

Evidence of our fascination with darker side of life goes back at least as far as the first performances of the Greek tragedies. There is something utterly absorbing, something deeply engaging, something, well, entertaining about the tragic. We have elevated it to an art because we enjoy the tragic at least as thoroughly as we enjoy the comic. It appears to be as fun being moved to tears as it is to laughter.

We witness our fascination with tragedy on almost a daily basis, every time there’s an accident on the highway, and the traffic slows to a crawl as we rubberneck our way past the scene. Call it compassion. Call it schadenfreude. It engages us beyond reason.

There’s something fun, something entertaining, something genuinely enjoyable about witnessing someone else’s tragedy. Getting to watch the agony of defeat is at least as stadium-filling as witnessing the thrill of victory. Go to any of our more gladiatorial contests – like, for example, car racing. Note how there’s a certain unspoken disappointment if, at the end of the whole thing, no car crashes.

Sports, and, to a lesser degree, games, have a tragic element to them. Losing is tragic, especially for the losers. Having to stop playing is tragic. Getting hurt is profoundly tragic. If the hurt is serious enough, it’s a moment of high drama. The players in both teams, and even the spectators, unite in genuinely shared grief. And, though we would be loath to admit it, that, too, is very much part of the fun. We enjoy that moment of grief. We momentarily transcend all divisions, all roles, and are moved together towards each other, and in our shared shock we touch the confluence that makes us all one. And it is fun.


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