Oh Woe, Glorious Woe

In my last post I mentioned that TV is a form of theater with roots going back to the Greeks. While I don’t usually post on the same topic two times in a row, this incident of the Pope’s words and the Muslim reaction are too good an example of media as theater to pass up.

As I thought about it I saw that the Greek theater was closer to TV news than I’d realized. One of the elements of Greek theater that I believe is present but hidden in TV is the chorus. Here is the basic definition from Wikipedia:

The chorus offered background and summary information to help the audience follow the performance, commented on main themes, and showed how an ideal audience might react to the drama as it was presented. They also represent the general populace of any particular story. In many ancient Greek plays, the chorus expressed to the audience what the main characters could not say, such as their fears or secrets. The chorus usually communicated in song form, but sometimes the message was spoken. It was the playwright’s job to choreograph the chorus.

Below is a typical example from Euripides,who was born at Salamis in 480 B.C., from his play The Bacchae. It is traditionally sung in unison by a group of voices in counterpoint to the main action of the play. As the definition says it overtly conveys the background assumptions, the playwright’s idea of how the audience and the public should react, and even hidden elements that influence the plot.

Woe, woe to me for this thy bitter bane,
Surely the food man feeds upon is pain!

In TV news the chorus is unsung but present. It is unsung, in part, because news is supposed to be a neutral account of the facts of an incident – so the dramatic content that makes TV news so involving must be brought in covertly. For it to be fairly labeled a chorus however it must have an element of repetition and arise from group opinion or emotion and not from an individual point of view. In my view, the most obvious choral elements in TV are

  • The emotional message of the piece
  • The meme – the familiar plot that helps us recognize the story.

It is great fun to try to summarize one or both of these hidden dramatic elements with a rimed couplet. Personally, I like to imagine the words being chanted by a suitably buxom backing trio – but that’s just me. For the Pope story I thought the most common chant I’ve heard being sung behind the story would go something like this:

Behold, Behold the effigies burn.
Hate speech reaps its return.

or perhaps

Bush and Pope alike offend
It can come, to no good end.

But for balance – perhaps some TV news played it more pro Pope so their covert Chorus might have chanted:

Behold, Behold the effigies burn.
The Muslim street will never learn.

In the Pope story, as in most news reports, the pictures of the riots carry the emotional message, which makes them the carrier of the dramatic element and the emotional enforcer of the desired message. Pictures are a superb way to covertly insert the collective or group emotional material that in Greek drama the playwright overtly includes. That is why the visual element is often faked – as we are increasingly discovering.

Dead center of the cross
proves targeted civilian loss

Here is my generic chorus couplet for any pictures of stuff (Hmvees to effigies) that ‘they’ have burned for the cameras.

Woe woe to all of us
Once again they make a fuss.

Do it in reverse – what’s the meme here?

O Women, have ye heard? Nay, dare ye hear
The desolate cry of the young Queen’s misery?

Lady Di or some other royal in a spot of bother?

Nope, Euripides’ Bacchae again. Some memes are pretty old. Poor unhappy queen. Notice she was young and therefore desirable in 400 B.C. and she still is.

So the next time you are watching TV and feel you guts being jerked around by all too familiar emotions try making up a rimed couplet to fit the story. I believe I have set the standard sufficiently low to preclude the need to feel any embarrassment on your part about the quality of your output.

I beseech thee when viewing TV’s news,
Ferret out the hidden couplet through thy muse.

All submissions welcome – superior ones published. Please include a link or reference to the news story involved.

One Response to “Oh Woe, Glorious Woe”  

  1. 1 officer Katsy

    there once was a man from perth
    who had a sister with too much girth
    she read blog
    that left her a gog
    her being on the other side of the earth

Leave a Reply