Week 1: Defining Tragedy

When I think of tragedy I picture dramatic plays revolving around great kings and rulers, who, through some character flaw or conflict, end in utter defeat, downfall and destruction. I think of great protagonists such as King Lear or Hamlet. And death. So much death. Seriously the amount of death in Shakespeare’s oeuvre puts even George R. R. Martin to shame.

Andrew Stiles Photography
Infographic courtesy of Caitlin Griffin and the National Theatre Bookshop

But this week’s lectures and readings have made me realise just how hard it is to really define tragedy. In modern usage the word tragedy has been bastardised to describe any sad event, such as a fatal car of an adolescent, a natural disaster or the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. In this sense, tragedy is merely a synonym for misfortune or catastrophe.

When people describe every sad event as a ‘tragedy’.

So what is tragedy in a literary sense? Despite the very broad and even paradoxical nature of defining tragedy, at their core all tragedies explore the fragility of human nature and the precarious nature of mortality. Shakespeare and the Ancient Greeks explored theses themes with great kings, whilst modern plays, such as Miller’s Death of a Salesman, attempt to move the genre away from the classical realm of kings to that of the ordinary, everyday human. Whether the plays suggest that it is moral flaws that lead to downfall, or suggest that the universe is ultimately indifferent to human suffering, tragedy is didactic, and it is because of this that the genre continues to hold relevance some two and a half thousand years later. And I am going to analyse the hell out of it this semester, because that’s what English students do.

gatsby meme
Trying to find meaning in every little detail because you’re doing an English major.



The Tragedy Journal



Nathaniel Spurrier

English 2107 Tragedy
Semester 2, 2017

The following blog posts form a series of reflections and discussions based on the set texts, readings and lectures for the English 2017 Tragedy course in semester 2, 2017. They are intended to be considered together as a single journal for submission and assessment in the course.



CoffeeCat Reviews: The Eurovision Song Contest 2017


  Perhaps it is just the after effects of a particularly potent punch, but today I am feeling some serious post-Eurovision blues. My girlfriend and I had spent all day actively avoiding social media and absolutely anything else that might spoil the winner of the contest prematurely – Europeans will never understand the lengths Australian fans have to go to. With our stomachs filled with food and booze and our hearts filled with expectation we finally sat down on Sunday night to watch Europe’s biggest spectacular – and it did not disappoint.

  This year’s contest was in danger of being overshadow by politics. Despite the rules of the competition discouraging political overtures, last year’s wining song was a thinly-veiled criticism of the 2014 annexation of the Crimea and this year Ukrainian authorities decided to ban the Russian performer from entering the country altogether. There were also fears of a Brexit backlash affecting the United Kingdom’s entry. But just like it does every year, Eurovision continued on oblivious of all its political imbroglios.

  The slogan for the contest was ‘celebrate diversity’, yet Kiev decided to ignore that and use three identical, and completely unqualified, white men as presenters. Their creepy flirtations with any passing female and blunders with English were at odds to an otherwise professional production. Australia’s new commentators, Myf Warhurst and Joel Creasey did well enough, though I can’t help miss the dry sarcasm of Sam Pang and Julia Zemiro’s genuine passion for the contest.

  Twenty six countries competed in the final this year, with the vast array of bizarre and kitsch performances we’ve come to expect from the contest. Sadly, Montenegro’s metre-long braid wielding Slavko Kalezić missed out on his place in the final after failing to qualify from the semi-final.


  Romania’s entry featured a catchy blend of yodeling and rap that no one has ever asked for, whilst Croatia’s Jacques Houdek performed a duet with himself, dramatically pivoting and switching voices between a tenor and a soprano throughout the song.

  Francesco Gabbani’s song for Italy, which featured a man dancing in a gorilla suit, was the overwhelming favourite coming in to the contest but only managed to finish in sixth place. Meanwhile, Moldova brought back the spirited saxophonist, the Epic Sax Guy, trying to capitalize on their internet fame and surprised everyone by finishing in third place, their best result so far.


  Even entries as disastrously bad as Azerbaijan were still entertaining. Singer Dihaj stood in front of a blackboard that was graffitied with unrelated words, whilst a man in a horse mask watched on, perhaps trying to find some artistic meaning to it all.

  Belgium’s Blanche looked rather stunned by the whole affair, barely blinking during her performance. Although no one was an unfazed as last year’s winner Jamala, who kept performing whilst a bare-arsed Australian crashed the stage during her interval performance. It was later revealed that the streaker wasn’t actually from Australia but the damage had already been done. Australia received only two points from the popular vote. Dami Im was robbed of victory last year, and now it seems like the European public are disgruntled at Australia’s participation in the competition. Of course, we aren’t the only non-European nation it the contest, with countries such as Israel having competed since the 1970s.

  Last year’s hosts, Sweden, clearly wanted to win again sending another overly manufactured pop song and dance routine. It was entertaining and finished a respectable fifth, but the night was a victory for genuine, raw music. After 48 previous attempts, Portugal finally achieved their first win in the contest with Salvador Sobral’s ‘Amar Pelos Dois’. An old fashioned love song sung by a quirky singer was enough to capture the hearts of both the jury and the public.


  In his acceptance speech Sobral criticised what he called ‘disposable music’, saying that his win was a ‘victory for real music with feeling’. Whilst I agree with his sentiments, you cannot enter Eurovision, win Eurovision and then go on to criticise the very core of Eurovision. In a competition where all songs must be under three minutes, he has certainly come to the wrong show. This isn’t the first time something out of the ordinary has won the contest. In 2006 Finish band Lordi surprised everyone by winning the contest with a hard rock song. However, it didn’t leave an impact on the contest, and the following years reverted to pop songs winning the contest. Whilst Salvador’s song was by far the best of the night I can’t see Eurovision adapting any time soon.

  Nobody really quite understands the Eurovision Song Contest but there can be no doubt that it is thoroughly entertaining. This year the atmosphere was infectiously optimistic, the standard of songs surprisingly high, and the winning song especially heart-warming.

The 10 Most Embarrassing Eurovision Performances Ever

Last week we looked at some of the better songs to have come out of the Eurovision Song Contest. These songs, however, are few and far between, and for every gem there is a vast pile of mediocrity that is better left forgotten. In its 60 year history, there have been some excruciatingly embarrassing entries – even for Eurovision’s already very low standards.

In the cesspit of shitty Eurovision songs, here are 10 that truly scrape the bottom of the barrel.

10. Silvia Night – ‘Congratulations’  (Iceland, 2006)

Sending comedy character Silvia Night to Eurovision probably wasn’t Iceland’s smartest idea. Having already caused controversy in host city Athens by pretending to act like a diva, her performance opened to booing from the audience, as she strutted around stage, singing that she would win because she was better than everybody else. Back home in Reykjavik everyone was probably laughing hysterically, but the rest of the viewing population was left stunned. Unsurprisingly, Silvia didn’t qualify for the final.

9. Gipsy.cz – ‘Aven Romale’  (Czech Republic, 2009)

For their third every entry into Eurovision, the Czech Republic sent a man dressed in a red superhero suit with a cape. Seriously. He ran around the stage like an eccentric, ‘singing’ some kind of gypsy-hip-hop mashup, and at one stage nearly got his eye poked by a violin bow. He scored zero points in the semi-final and was the last entry the Czech Republic would send for another six years.

8. Josh Dubovie – ‘That Sounds Good To Me’  (United Kingdom, 2010)

In 2009 the United Kingdom, tired of its string of last places finishes in the 21st century, went all out, sending a ballad composed by Andrew Llyod Webber. It was well-received and finished a respectable 5th place. For some reason, however, the following year the UK decided to revert to their tried and tested losing style sending a daggy song that sounded like it was written in the 1980s. Josh Dubovie was not a strong enough singer to make the audience forget how bad the song was. The result: Another last place finish for the UK.

7. No Angels – ‘Disappear’ – (Germany, 2008)

At one time, No Angels were Germany’s most successful girl band. They won the German version of Popstars and had a string of hit singles in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Purported as a ‘comeback’, their re-union Eurovision performance was bland and full of missed notes. It finished equal last and the band was never heard of again.

6. Dustin the Turkey – ‘Irelande Douze Pointe’  (Ireland, 2008)

The 2008 contest was notable for having several novelty acts – but all of those pale in comparison to Ireland, who decided to send a puppet to the contest. Dustin the Turkey was wheeled onto the stage in a trolley and sung a song mocking the Eurovision Song Contest. But the lyrics weren’t funny, and instead came across as a nation bitter over their recent poor results in the contest. Dustin failed to qualify for the final, marking the low point of the once great Eurovision nation.

5. The Shin and Mariki – ‘Three Minutes to Earth’  (Georgia, 2014)

This is what Eurovision is all about: Completely different cultures crashing together into a musical collision in the name of peace and love.

But seriously, what the hell is this? This ‘avant-garde’ Georgian entrant finished dead last in the semi-final of 2014.

4. Scooch – ‘Flying the Flag (For You)’  (United Kingdom, 2007)

‘Flying the Flag’ is perhaps the most cringe-worthy performance to have ever competed at Eurovision, featuring sexy airplane stewardesses and sexual innuendos. At the end of the evening, Scooch finished 23rd out of 24, having received 7 points from neighbours Ireland and 12 points from Malta. Malta later admitted, though, that it only gave the UK 12 points as a protest for the political voting of the contest. Even though the song is terrible, at least Scooch kind of know it… which is more than can be said for these next, self-unaware performers.

3. Jemini – ‘Cry Baby’  (United Kingdom, 2003)

This list could easily be made up of only UK entries, such is the level of utter trite they send to the contest each year. But of all their terrible entries, 2003’s pop duo Jemini are the most infamous. Their performance was off-key, and they later claimed they couldn’t hear the backing track properly due a technical fault. It’s possible that the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War that year lessened their chances with the European public. But, protest or not, the duo scored nil points. This monumental failure prompted a great deal of backlash in the British media and they were immediately dropped by their record label, never releasing their debut album.

2. PingPong – ‘Sameach’ – (Israel, 2000)

This abysmal number from 2000 sees Euro-pop quartet ‘PingPong’ bounce around the stage urging everyone to ‘be happy’. Despite being against the rules of the contest, they waved Israeli and Syrian flags at the end of their performance. It was supposedly a gesture of peace but was not well received by the press. At the close of voting, the song had received just 7 points, finishing 22nd out of 24 (apparently there were two even worse songs that year?).

1. Piero Esteriore & The MusicStars – ‘Celebrate’ – (Switzerland, 2004)

Switzerland holds the illustrious record of being the first country to score zero points in a semi final. 32 countries voted in that semi-final and not one thought this song was worthy of a single point. This soul-destroyingly bad song sounds like it was written by a children’s band, featuring such idiotic lyrics as ‘clap your hands, celebrate, have a wonderful time’. Performer Piero was so out of breath by the end of his performance that the last part of the song was just panting and wheezing. It has to be seen to be believed. Oh, and be on the look out for Piero hitting himself in the face with his microphone…

10 Songs That Were Too Good For Eurovision

Europe’s annual kitsch offering that is the Eurovision Song Contest is just around the corner and already the politics of the contest are flaring, with Ukraine officially banning the Russian entrant from competing. What better way to prepare ourselves for the latest installment of this controversial extravaganza than to revisit some of the more memorable moments from the contest’s history?

I’ll be the first to admit that there is a contemptible pile of shit to wade through in the annals of the Contest. But beyond all the sequins, wind machines and pyrotechnics, lie some hidden gems deserving of our attention. Here are 10 songs that were too good for Eurovision.

10. Rambo Amadeus – ‘Euro Neuro’  (Montenegro, 2012)

The biggest troll to ever participate in the competition, Rambo Amadeus – a self-proclaimed cult figure of the ex-Yugoslav music scene – decided to sing about the ongoing European Financial Crisis. The song is actually a very clever beat poem full of nonsensical rhymes about the E.U’s bureaucracy and bailouts. Europe didn’t respond in kind and Rambo failed to qualify for the final. But, as Rambo’s song states, he had ‘no ambition for high position in the competition’ anyway.

9. Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitas – ‘Midnight Gold’  (Georgia, 2016)

When the Finnish heavy metal monster band Lordi won the song contest with their song ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ in 2006 it looked like it could be the start of a more diverse and interesting contest. Unfortunately it wasn’t, and the subsequent years saw a string of solo pop singers winning the contest (Dima Bilan, Alexander Rybak, Lena and Måns Zelmerlöw to name a few).

An indie rock song, channeling the sounds of 90’s shoegaze is about as far removed from your stereotypical Eurovision song as it’s possible to get – and it’s exactly what the contest needed to shake it up. Sadly the song was just a little too different for the majority of voters and only finished in 23rd place.

8. Zdob și Zdub – ‘Boonika Bate Toba’  (Moldova, 2005)

Who would have thought that the unusual blend of punk, hip hop and traditional Moldovan folk could actually work? Zdob și Zdub certainly did, and their song is everything you could hope for in a Eurovision song. It is infectious and fun with high energy performances, silly costumes and a Moldovan granny playing a drum. It was well-received, finishing 6th that year, and the band would return again in 2011 with an even more over-the-top performance.

7. Sopho Khalvashi – ‘Visionary Dream’ – (Georgia, 2007)

An eclectic mix of techno, electronica and folk that sounds like it could belong on Bjork’s Debut, Georgia’s debut entry to the contest in 2007 finished in the middle of the pack (12th out of 24). It showed that Georgia would be an interesting contender in the years to come and they have continued to send unconventional songs to the contest ever since (including 2014’s  biggest misfire ‘Three Minutes to Earth’ that finished last in the Semi Finals).

6. ByeAlex – ‘Kedvesem (Zoohacker Remix)’  (Hungary, 2013)

Eurovision’s biggest hipster, dressed in a Monty Python t-shirt, thick framed glasses and a superfluous beanie performed a very catchy, atypical love ballad. Despite being sung entirely in Hungarian it managed to finish in 10th place. If only more countries would take note of this instead of feeling obliged to perform in English.

5. Raphael Gualazzi – ‘Madness of Love’  (Italy, 2011)

After an absence of fourteen years, Italy’s return was triumphant, finishing 2nd and reminding Europe what it had the contest had been missing. The song’s jazzy piano and trombone added a much needed touch of class to the contest. Italy have continued to send some strong songs to the contest in the years since and they are currently the favourites to win this year’s competition too.

4. Urban Symphony – ‘Rändajad’  (Estonia, 2009)

This four-piece female outfit combine modern electronic sounds with classical cellos and violins. The music is like a spell, hypnotizing you with beautiful Estonian-language vocals. Finishing in 6th place the song is Eurovision at its finest.

3. Regina – ‘Bistra Voda’  (Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2009)

A common trend on this list have been songs sung in their native language. Unfortunately, English songs tend me be much more successful so every year we see countries entering the same old pop song we’ve heard a hundred times before. In 2009 rock band Regina tried to buck that trend, offering a sweeping Bosnian ballad, with orchestral backings and rolling military drum beats. Finishing only 9th, this is a criminally underrated Eurovision song.

2. Domenico Modugno – ‘Nel blu dipinto di blue (Volare)’ – (Italy, 1958)

Perhaps best known for Dean Martin’s cover, this song has sold over 22 million copies worldwide, making it one of Eurovision’s most successful songs of all time. Despite this, the song only finished in third place. No one remembers the song that won that year and how this song didn’t win is beyond the comprehension of anyone who has ever heard it.

1. Sébastien Tellier – ‘Divine’ – (France, 2008)

If anyone could ever be said to have been too good for Eurovision, it is without-a-doubt the cult hipster hero that is Sébastien Tellier. Already a well-established electronic artist, he was an unusual choice for the contest. Entering the stage driving a golf buggy and inhaling helium mid-song, Tellier was clearly there on his own terms. Scoring very few points and finishing in 19th position shows Eurovision wasn’t ready for the artistic genius of this French electro-pop Jesus.

Dr. Strange Part 2 or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat My Words

So I saw Doctor Strange at the cinema today. The visual effects were stunning but their biggest achievement were in reminding me just how great of a film Inception was. Plot wise Doctor Strange was as formulaic and by-the-numbers origin story as the MCU has ever made. Benedict Cumberbatch was great, although his witty charisma was lost under his fake American accent – why not just cast an American actor instead?

Nonetheless, as far as big budget blockbusters go, few have been as entertaining as Doctor Strange this year. And I have to admit I am a little excited to see how Marvel will put all these stakes together in forthcoming projects given the implications in this film.



Dr. Strange or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Supermen

The formula for superhero films is thus: Well-meaning but flawed heroes battle against their emotional demons whilst trying to take down nefarious (yet ultimately incompetent) villains who are hell-bent on taking over the world. Along the way there are lots of CGI-heavy explosions and destruction of cities with death counts in the thousands as collateral damage. And it has proven to be a mega money-making formula. But the more the film studios churn out these films, the more quickly the merge into on amorphous blob of mediocrity. This year alone we’ve already had Deadpool, Batman V Superman, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad. And we’re not done yet; Doctor Strange is still coming. From 2017 to 2020 there are 16 projects due for release from Marvel and DC alone; including beloved fan-favourites we’ve all heard of, like Aquaman, Shazam and the Inhumans.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange in Marvel’s upcoming film.

The latest DC film, Suicide Squad, opened to a strong box office performance (spoiler alert: it’s shit). DC’s other film this year, Batman V Superman, also enjoyed a successful first week (spoiler alert: it’s even more shit). Despite negative reviews from critics, people are still flocking to see them. Even the two better superhero movies to come out this year; Deadpool with its attempted dark humour and Captain America: Civil War with its focus on antagonism between the heroes rather a super villain; still share one common flaw:

Superhero movies are essentially just long, predictable and expensive commercials for the next film.

When Avengers came out in 2012 it was something we’d never seen before. It was the pay off for what five movies had been building up to it, and for the most part it was good, dumb, goofy fun. But more importantly it made a lot of money; so much in fact that every other studio has been floundering to imitate its success even since. As a result we now have Marvel Cinematic Universe owned by Disney, the Warner Bros. DC universe, Fox’s X-Men universe (which is also a Marvel comic but not part of the Marvel universe). Oh, and Sony has the rights to Spiderman which is also a Marvel comic but wasn’t originally part of the Marvel universe except now he is after making a cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Confused yet?

You only have to consider some of the latest superhero movies, like Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spiderman 2 or Batman V Superman to notice how rushed these films are, with the studios obsessed with setting up connected universes and throwing in unnecessary cameos. As a result these movies feel more like homework requiring you to have knowledge and investment in the previous films. Captain America: Civil war was a good film, but it felt like sitting through two hours of explosions just to see Spiderman’s cameo – which would have actually had an exciting impact had I not seen him in the fucking trailer for the movie anyway. What’s worse is knowing all the actors have contracts for multiple films means that I never once actually had to fear for the safety of any of the characters involved. War Machine might be plummeting to the earth at 100km per hour, but he’s contracted until 2020 so he’ll come out just fine.

If the studios want audiences to keep paying for exorbitant ticket prices then they are going to have to lift their game. A film like the mess that is Batman V Superman is clearly just trying to pander to a fan service by throwing the two popular characters together just for the sake of it. And that’s all well and good, but it isn’t the comic-book fans who have made these movies a box-office success: it is the general movie-going public. And whilst the studios pump hundreds of millions of dollars into producing these films, the reality is that majority of these people have never actually read a comic in their life. Especially not ones about talking raccoons or ant-men. It’s reasonable to suggest that what the audience wants, and deserves, are quality movies that are fun on their own merit. Otherwise how else can you make people excited to see Doctor Strange?

I’m not suggesting that every superhero movie has to be entirely bleak and depressing like The Dark Knight to be considered a worthwhile film. The Dark Knight was exceptionally well-made, with clever dialogue, unique characterisation, an emotionally-gripping plot and realistic action sequences that didn’t over-rely on CGI. But on the complete opposite spectrum is a film like Guardians of the Galaxy. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all but still offers a (relatively) cohesive story whilst having fun characters, a great soundtrack and cool action sequences to keep it entertaining. But more importantly what Guardians has that many of its peers don’t is an entirely self-contained plot that can be enjoyed without the need to have invested in other films.

Hey, if I don’t enjoy superheros movies then I don’t have to watch them, right? But what other blockbusters is Hollywood offering me right now? Lowest common denominator trash like Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or some other brand name that can be commercialised. Speaking of exploiting nostalgia for shameless name recognition, don’t even get me started on that new Ghostbusters film – the whole basis for which is that it is just like the original but this time the genders have been swapped. The original Ghostbusters is a great film but it is also a product of its time that doesn’t warrant a whole franchise being created from it.

So with Marvel releasing Doctor Strange at the end of the year – continuing the trend of scraping the bottom of the barrel to find another character to make a film with – the question is whether I will actually pay to go and see it. I really want to enjoy it and I certainly hope that Marvel can buck this trend of making predictable profit-oriented business products instead of making great films. But it’s hard to be overly optimistic.