The Lie that is Catharsis
Disclaimer: This is a significant departure from the usual content of this blog. This is nothing more than the extension of one singular midnight thought and is my attempt at exploring through my personal experiences this singular thought. As such, some opinions may be ill informed, lacking in depth and research, please excuse this.
Growing up we consume media at an increasing level (generation by generation) and are influenced to our very core by those pieces of media that catch our attention the most. Even as a child we end up extracting our basic moral and ethical structure from the simplistic and often reductive manner in which some of our favourite childhood shows dealt with issues that now we see in a much more complex and nuanced light. Yet it's undeniable that we are influenced by them and we retain many of these core values. It's therefore not a big surprise when we see that just as how media influences our expectations of good and bad, our opinion on issues, our method of dealing with grief, happiness, disappointment and other such emotions, media also influences our idea of life. A great example of this is a comparison between today's modern Game of Life and the original Game of Life. The original game focused on core values such as honour, chivalry, kindness and life's disappointments. The modern version measures the success of life using money. Every achievement in this game has only one end goal, increasing the final pool of money that you have. This shows just how media influences life and life influences media. In this same manner, media having evolved from the plays of Greek and Hellenic antiquity to the T.V serials and movies of today has influenced our expectations of life. It has sold us the idea of catharsis. Catharsis is in its most simplistic form is the relief and satisfaction we achieve from an event. Catharsis in media has long been a tool to end plays and serials and movies on. Our protagonist achieves his/her goals and lives happily ever after. Even in darker pieces of media catharsis is still prevalent. BoJack Horseman, though an amazing show and one that challenges many of the tropes of modern media ends on a note of subtle catharsis. Bojack though not traditionally happy is on the path of redemption. This final resolution is something that is offered to all the main characters. Does life have a final, resolving catharsis? No.
Neither is this some eye opening revelation, nor is it a ground-breaking discovery yet our ideals about catharsis and our expectation of achieving it remain. The reason why this falsehood has taken such a deep rooted position amongst the human psyche is very much influenced by the presence of human myths. Myths are not just old and abandoned religions and faiths, it is every folk tale ever told, it is every ballad written, it is every piece of human creativity and ingenuity that we have ever produced. These myths have slowly yet surely created inside us this false expectation of catharsis, of finality, of resolution.
Why else do we despair at the continuing existence of ethical dilemmas, nuanced political issues and the persistent philosophical questions which shake us to our very core? It is because we are denied resolution, denied catharsis.
The older generation today speaks about how today’s generation is depressed, miserable, cynical yet they themselves are much less optimistic than their own predecessors, generation by generation we are disappointed, let down, unsatisfied by the few victories we achieve and frustrated by the many failures which plague us. We get a chip on our shoulders, we lose hope, we lost innocence yet despite our deepest desire (ironic) to have no more desires, to have no more expectations and to expect no happy endings, we continue to beg for it, grovel for it, risk our current security and tranquillity for it.
Human ambition is a boon many times but coupled with the false notion of some poetic justice, of actions reaping appropriate consequences, is not only dangerous but also toxic. Who we are becomes defined by our disappointments and despite all desires to take it in our stride we become bitter, we become melancholic.
Catharsis is therefore, a lie, a charade, built up by fabled stories of heroes and legends, by tales of conquerors and liberators, by the worship of ideal men who never truly existed within those ideal constraints. The negative effects of this lie are slowly poisoning us and slaying the human quality of ambition in this process.
For every victory is hollow and every defeat defining.