Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seeking Catharsis

Vengeance seems to be a very natural feeling that we can understand but as Christians hope to avoid.  Writing on the  opinion page of the  Catholic Times a columnist, though not a great fan of TV soap operas, does admit to watching a Chinese soap opera that deals with revenge in the Chinese  kingdoms of  the 5th century before Christ.

One of the kingdoms was made to surrender to another under with very humiliating conditions; the desire for revenge on the part of the defeated kingdom is the story line.

The columnist explains to us what he feels got him hooked on watching the series. He looks upon our life as having two aspects, the real and the imaginary. In watching a drama, we see the reality of the drama played out in our own life and also in the world of our  imagination. Sometimes there is harmony between them, and sometimes we have to struggle with them and play around with them in our heads.

This situation is called by some as receiving vicarious satisfaction from what we experience: a form of compensation. The columnist is not too happy with this way of describing what is happening. Can we receive satisfaction vicariously? he wonders. He would prefer using the word from Aristotle: cathartic. When we can identify with  some  tragic experience of our hero, there is a cleansing and a purification of our inner world that gives us a sense of freshness and relief.

How is it, he asks, that something tragic can cleanse our spirit and elevate us to another sphere of beauty? He admits that this is not readily answerable.

Getting back to the soap opera story: when one kingdom overcame the other, the victors took all the vanquished, along with  the queen and all the retainers, and made them slaves. Our columnist surmises there  would be few who would not be in sympathy with the losers and view the victors with indignation and antipathy.

The victors, vain, proud and cruel in their victory; the vanquished, pitiful in their plight. He has little doubt where his readers would stand. Aren't the just often the losers--the ones most of us would find sympathetic and attractive? We have a lot to learn, he says, from the patient suffering of the losers.

Jesus has asked us to love our enemies. We try to return love for hate; to desire revenge is prohibited. However, when watching the serial drama, the columnist did not find it strange to want to see justice done. It is precisely this desire to see the proud victorious king subdued, getting his recompense, which keeps our columnist coming back to the TV.