Archive for September 19th, 2007

When Will You Die?

It’s news to no-one that RTE TV evening programmes are complete shit. But a special shout must go out to How Long Will You Live? – a tut-tut lifestyle programme presented by shaggy haired vaguely posh Northern doctor Mark somebody.

The programme makes recommendations so that you can live longer. These are: stop drinking and eating fatty stuff, and do some exercise. They have to get a shaggy haired vaguely posh Northern doctor Mark somebody to present it because you just can’t get the nuns these days.

It never mentions what you might do with these precious extra years. It’s not as if there will be anything good on TV then.


I noticed that the subheadline of the main story of today’s print edition of the Irish Independent -the conclusion of the coroner’s inquest into the death of Brian Murphy- refers to the event as a ‘tragedy’. (‘Family can no longer sue over Anabel tragedy as time runs out’)

Although the word gets used a lot to denote something very sad, almost everyone knows that ‘tragedy’ doesn’t, or shouldn’t, simply mean ‘very sad’, even though many people might not be aware of its classic meaning.

Most of the time, the word preserves a certain sense of the inevitable. So you might hear talk of a ‘plane crash tragedy’, which appears to imply that there was nothing much that the victims could do about it.

But I suspect that most people, if they thought about it, could detect something not quite right about a subheadline that read ‘Fred West murders 12 in Cromwell Street tragedy’. It would be hard to shake of a nagging sensation that -even though the victims’ deaths were certainly very sad- what was being implied was that the event had to some extent been a tragedy for Cromwell Street, or even Fred West.

So, there was something about the use of ‘tragedy’ in this subheadline which bothered me. The coroner detailed that Brian Murphy was the victim of ‘a vicious assault’. The word ‘tragedy’, with its connotations of inevitability, imbues the event with an ambiguity that the coroner’s verdict is intended to remove. If it was a tragedy, why the verdict of unlawful killing? Was it also a tragedy for the perpetrators, even if their families could reasonably be described as ‘very sad’? What does ‘Anabel tragedy’ mean? Was it a tragedy for Club Anabel? For the people who frequented it?

I feel like I’m pinning a lot on one word in a solitary subheadline here. Maybe the intention was just to portray the family’s predicament as ‘very sad’. Looking back through its archives, the paper describes all sorts of things as ‘tragic’: a fire that killed Irish students, the death of Princess Diana and many other car crashes, Anna Nicole Smith. But I can’t help but think that had a similar event taken place in a different environment, with different protagonists, the category of tragedy would not have applied.

Would the word ‘tragedy’ have made it to the subheadline if, instead of former Blackrock College students, those involved had been ‘skanks‘, as they might get called by the Independent, or recent arrivals from Eastern Europe or Africa? And what if, instead of outside the Burlington, this had occurred in one of those areas that one sometimes hears referred to as ‘knackeragua’? Would it be a tragedy then?

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September 2007
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