Cognitive Psychology of the Tragic and Comic Visions
|Simplicity: Tragic heroes tend to approach
problems and situations in a fairly straight-forward manner. Life can be understood
in simple binaries -- good/bad; just/unjust; beautiful/ugly.
||Complex: Comic heroes tend to be more flexible.
Life tends to be messier, full of diversity and unexpected twists and turns.
It is more difficult to classify experience.
|Low Tolerance for Disorder: Tragic plots tend to
stress order and process -- the end follows from the beginning.
||High Tolerance for Disorder: Comic plots tend to
be more random; they seem to be improvised, leaving a number of loose ends.
|Preference for the Familiar: Tragic heroes and
plots have "a low tolerance for cognitive dissonance." The violation of the norm
is what brings about a tragic fall.
||Seeking out the Unfamiliar: Comic heroes and plots
tend to see the unexpected and surprising as an opportunity rather than a norm-violation.
|Low Tolerance for Ambiguity: In tragedy, things
should have one meaning and have clear-cut application to problems.
||High Tolerance for Ambiguity: In comedy, ambiguity
is what makes humor possible. Equally, not everything has to make sense in comedy.
|Convergent Thinking: Tragedy stresses what is past
and what is real. It tends to be more information-gathering based, wanting to find
and resolve nagging problems.
||Divergent Thinking: Comedy is more imaginative,
stressing playfulness. It tends to look for a variety of answers and doesn't need to
|Uncritical Thinking: Tragedy tends not to call
into question the accepted order of things. To do so is to suffer the consequences.
||Critical Thinking: Comedy tends to call attention
to the incongruities in the order of things, be it political, social, religious.
|Emotional Engagement: Tragic heroes tend to
respond with strong, overpowering emotions--pride, lust, grief, rage. This often
results in extremist attitudes and reactions. In the same way, the audience is
expected to respond with cathartic involvement.
||Emotional Disengagement: Comic heroes are often
ironic and disengaged from the situation; they tend to respond with wit, imagination, or
cynicism. They tend to abstract themselves from their misfortunes. The
audience is expected to react in much the same way to what the characters undergo.
|Stubbornness: Tragic heroes tend to stick
with a course of action and follow it to their doom. They are firm and committed.
||Adaptable: Comic heroes are more willing to
change. Or if they are not, we as the audience find this funny rather than tragic.
|Idealistic: The tragic vision longs for a
clear-cut world driven by principle. It tends to value ethical abstractions, such as
Truth, Justice, and Beauty
||Pragmatic: The comic vision is more aware of
concrete realities. Comic heroes seek how to make it from day-to-day.
|Finality: Tragic actions lead to inevitable
||Reversal: At least for the clever, comic actions
allow one to escape the consequences, to have a second chance.
|Spirit: The tragic vision tends to value the human
spirit. It can often be dualistic, prizing the spirit/soul above the body.
Tragic heroes often long for some higher, greater level of life than common human
||Body: The comic vision is very concerned with the
human body--its sexual desires, bodily functions, craving for food. Suffering is
often slap-stick. Comic heroes seem comfortable in such a world.
|Seriousness: The tragic vision takes its
characters and plots seriously. They are treated as important and make demands upon
||Playfulness: Even if it has its serious side, the
comic vision tends to treat large portions of life as not quite so serious.
Differences between the Tragic and Comic Visions
|Heroism: Characters tend to be "superhuman,
semidivine, larger-than-life" beings.
||Antiheroism: Characters tend to be normal,
down-to-earth individuals. Comedies tend to parody authority.
|Militarism: Tragedies often arise in warrior
cultures. And its values are those of the good soldier--duty, honor, commitment.
||Pacifism: Comedies tend to call into question
warrior values: Better to lose your dignity and save your life.
|Vengeance: Offending a tragic hero often results
in a cycle of vengeance.
||Forgiveness: In comedies, forgiveness, even
friendship among former enemies, happens.
|Hierarchy: Tragedies tend to stress the
upper-class, the noble few, royalty, and leaders.
||Equality: Comedies tend to include all classes of
people. The lower classes are often the butt of the jokes, but they also tend to
triumph in unexpected ways.
|Less Sexual Equality: Tragedies are often
||More Sexual Equality: Comedies, while often sexist
too, are sometimes less so. Women play a larger, more active role.
|Respect for Tradition: Tragic heroes often uphold
the accepted order or champion one tradition against another.
||Questions Authority: Comic heroes more often
question tradition and those in authority.
|Rule-based Ethics: The tragic vision tends to
stress the consequences of disobeying the accepted order of things.
||Situation-based Ethics: Comic heroes tend to make
up the rules as they go along or at least be wary of generalizations.
|Social Isolation: Tragedies tend to stress the
individual and the consequences of the individual's actions.
||Social Integration: Comedies tend to focus on the
larger community and spend more time paying attention to the interaction between