Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tragedy Overload

When the national news started this evening, the headline on the backdrop was "Football Tragedy." A young pro-football player was shot during a home invasion and has died. What a very sad situation. (BTW, then the news anchor moved to talk about "President" Bush finally trying to launch Mideast peace talks.)

Half an hour later, the local evening news came on, featuring a horrible wreck this afternoon on the highway going through my town, where a driver lost control of his fuel tanker truck; it exploded, and he died. The news anchored introduced the story by intoning something like, "A tragedy in Jefferson City today."

Would somebody explain this to me? When did every death and mishap in our country become a "tragedy"? I studied Greek literature and Shakespeare. I have some sense of what tragedy is.

My mother died last month. It was sad, and I'm still dealing with the effects. But "tragic"? I think not.

Back in the summer of 1977, a dear friend of mine was grabbed while riding her bicycle home, down a country road. She was viciously slashed to death by two teenagers, for whom she (according to their confession) continually prayed until she died in the back seat of their car. Horrible. Unspeakable. It threw me into a tailspin that took a very long emotional recovery. [Sometimes, I suspect I'm still not over it.] But "tragic"? Only for those of us who knew and loved her.

I saw what happened in New York City in September 2001; it was unspeakably terrible for the families and friends who were directly affected. And one might argue that our current maladministration has made of it a national tragedy, as they have stripped the constitution bare.

On tonight's news I heard stories of two people of died – both of them untimely. Their deaths will bring horrible, unspeakable, personal pain for their families and friends.

But when did every unfortunate event (such as fires or earthquakes) and every single individual celebrity death that manages to make the evening news become a "tragedy"?

Is it any wonder that some folks suggest Americans are suffering "compassion fatigue"? When the massive genocide in Darfur and the death of a football player or local truck driver are all called "tragedies," what are we to do? It seems to me that we have ripped all meaning from the term "tragedy."

By the way, that truck crash today was weird. The diesel fuel it was carrying drained into the sewer system, traveled a few hundred feet through the sewers, and blew out flames in my neighborhood. Without a doubt, when I checked the local news and saw this photo with black smoke so near my house, it scared me. (The church steeple on the extreme right is across the street from my home.) Fortunately, no homes were damaged. I could have lost my home today. But I still wouldn't have called it a "tragedy." I would have called it a terrible thing personally, and I know my friends would have rallied around me. But "tragedy"? I think not.

I wonder what the rest of you think. I think that the news media are whoring the real meaning of "tragedy." Am I just being hard-hearted? Or is there something weird going on, when each individual or area-wide tribulation gets labeled a "tragedy"?


Blogger Jim said...


I don't want to sound too curmudgeon-ish, but what you are seeing is the systematic deconstruction of English.

"Tragedy" is the word that makes it real to you, for me it is a phrase, "...both {persons} agreed...." Would anyone from Public Broadcasting which routinely uses this please explain how one person can agree?

Then there is the complete destruction of the irregular. So instead of plead, pled, pleading, we have plead, pleaded, pleading. ;;gak!;; This sort of lunacy is particularly common in news reporting and television scripts.

The other usage now common and to me horrible, is the incredible misuse of 'myself.' If I hear, "... please contact Linda or myself..." one more time this week I may lapse into tirade.


11/28/2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Well, JimB, this English-language curmudgeon cannot charge you with curmudgeonliness. I do suspect you're right. Idiots with little sense of the English language are writing the news and committing all those grammatical sins you have named.

And I'm with you: the misuse of "myself" probably sets my teeth on edge even worse than the overuse and trivialization of "tragedy."

11/28/2007 7:29 PM  
Blogger Cranmer49 said...

So how *would* you define tragedy? Where can you see it being used?

12/01/2007 11:58 AM  

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