I got annoyed at the TV this week! It wasn’t the news or Question Time but a TV series Sarah and I were watching on catch up.
The programme was called The Split and it’s all about a family on the brink. There’s several strands to the story.
- A law firm in crisis. It’s one of those old fashioned family firms but oldest daughter has broken away in order to join a much larger company.
- The family specialise in divorce law -and so there are a number of little stories about divorces and pre-nuptual agreements.
- The youngest daughter is about to get married -but will they get to the altar.
- Dad who walked out many years ago suddenly shows up again.
The eldest daughter Hannah’s marriage is under pressure, one of the lawyers at the new firm had been in a relationship with her many years ago. He now is trying to get her back after his own marriage ended. Hannah resists but her life is thrown into crisis when it emerges that her husband has had an affair.
Now, we’ve been learning about comedy and tragedy. A comedy ends with a wedding doesn’t it. So, it’s the last episode and the on off wedding is back on. The antagonist is still chasing after Hannah but then it looks like he’s finally giving up and about to head off to take up a new post in the States. That’s when I find myself shouting at the TV “Just leave and get out of their way will you!” The wedding happens – happy ending, family reunited? Then it happens. Off Hannah goes after the wedding to find her suitor and sleep with him. In the night, her dad dies of a heart attack. They’ve caught us out -it’s a tragedy after all.
Or is it? You see, a tragedy needs the evaluation that it is tragic, that moral failure has caught up with them. But I’m not completely convinced that our TV and our culture quite follows through on that. Things are left at best ambiguous.. You see, our society sees what an age gone by would have seen as tragedy as romance. Finally the lovers are united.
Glen Scrivener made this point to me on twitter:
“Interestingly the Greeks thought tragedy was high art and comedy was low art. I think we’re very much back to thinking that. Tragedy is just engaging with the way things really are according to the pagan mind.”
That’s a fascinating insight but I want to push it further and say that it is worse because we are blind as a society to the fact that it is tragedy. We don’t understanding the categories and we are not aware of which one we are operating in.
Here is Glen again:
“Yes we don’t feel like there could possibly *be* good news. Bad news doesn’t even feel like bad news, it just feels like it is what it is. “
Of course, as telling highlighted in Ian McEwans’ “Atonement” the problem is that our society lacks a redemption story. There is no comedy, no joy, no atonement without redemption. So all we are left with is the bleak drudgery and despair of life.
One vital thing that Christians need to be doing is showing that there is a better story, that there is comedy (in the Shakespeare sense) and that there is redemption. Artists, authors and musicians can play their part in this by giving us mini comedies, mini-redemptions. Our greatest responsibility is to point people to the deep comedy and the true redemption of the Gospel.
There’s one possible glimmer of hope in The Split. One clue that somewhere along the way the writer may have picked up on the possibility of comedy. In one scene the vicar says to Rose, the youngest daughter “It’s always alright in the end.” Rose responds “But what if it isn’t alright.” The vicar says “Well then it isn’t the end yet.” Apparently a second series is coming. We can always hope!