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The Musical Tragedy

The Greek Tragedy, wherein the noble Gods make dire mistakes due to arrogance or similar flaws, has been a classic in storytelling for thousands of years now. For the Greeks, their gods were not only holy figures; they were imperfect beings whose existence helped them know what path to take. At the center of many of these fables were two Gods, Apollo the God of archery, dreams and truth, and Dionysus the God of wine. They were total opposites, but they were the focal point of many theories about moral development shared by the Greeks and Nietzsche. Since the mid nineteenth century a surge of interest in Doric art has resurfaced. Literature, music and visual arts are once again being crafted with these traditional works in mind, and TV sitcoms are no exception. The musical smash hit Glee employs two characters whose personas and musical numbers are essentially Apollo and Dionysus personified: Blaine Anderson and Sebastian Smythe. Dionysus was the God of wine, and both pain and ecstasy was obtained through him. He inebriated his followers into a giddy, happy, drunken state and punished his enemies fiercely by altering their reality and many time tricking them into slaughtering their own families. In the first episode Sebastian appears in, he requested Courvoisier in his coffee at the school caf. Shortly after, Blaine expressed a mild amount of shock at the request and Sebastian airily replied, When I was in Paris I drank it like it was mothers milk. Dionysus, being the God of Wine, obviously drank every now and then. While Sebastians exact age is unknown, it is obvious that he is below twenty-one due to the fact that he is still in high school and Dalton Academy. Later that episode, he convinced Blaine and his boyfriend Kurt Hummel, another Apollonian1, to go out to a gay bar with him by using a bit of reverse psychology. Being manipulative is not exactly a

Appositive: Offers greater clarification and depth into the social dynamics surrounding Kurt.

Dionysian quality, but the revelry in pleasure and the never ending pursuit of it most definitely is. Kurt had been agonizing over not being exciting or spontaneous enough; he is uptight, by the book, and a takes himself a little2 too seriously at times. In other words, Kurt is a staunch Apollonian. When he noticed Sebastian flirting with Blaine he felt as if he needed to step up the rebelliousness. Of course once they get into the bar, using the fake IDs Sebastian gave them3, Kurt becomes the designated driver, and fills his night with Shirley Temples and self pity, watching Sebastian slowly get Blaine plastered while they dance. Sebastian drinks socially, and uses it as a bit4 of a right of passage. He drinks and parties hard without legal or ethical concerns. Blaine drinks too, but never without making sure that there is a designated driver, and that he is in a relatively safe environment such as a bar with friends or someones house. So he resembles the more civilized, Greek5, side of Dionysus. Unlike Sebastian he does not show the wonderful signs of a young budding alcoholic, such as asking for liquor in his afternoon coffee. Sebastian is pleasure seeking; legal or not, whatever it takes to make him happy is what is going to happen. In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche describes Dionysian and Apollonian tendencies with the principium individuationis, which was a creation of Schopenhauers that dealt with the individualism and personal will of Apollo versus the pull of the peers which he relates to the sea, Even as on an immense, raging sea, assailed by huge waves crests, a man sits in a little rowboat, trusting his frail craft, so, amidst the furious torments of this world, the individual sits tranquilly (Nietzsche, 737). Sebastian6 is a master manipulator who, like the ocean, can
2 3

Qualifier: Offers insight showing that Kurt is not a total stickler, just a bit uptight. Appositive: Gives more background on Sebastian and helps the reader see his Dionysian traits without blatantly labeling his actions. 4 Qualifier: Clarifies that drinking is not all that matters to Sebastian, nor is he totally obsessed with it. 5 Appositive: Informs the reader that the opposite of the Barbaric Dionysus is referred to as Greek; essentially clarifies the verbiage. 6 Antecedent: Sebastian is the antecedent of he in the next sentence.

toss about any ship he wants at will. But when he pursues Blaine, Blaine calmly sticks to his personal principles without even a moment of hesitation. Like the old man in the rowboat, he just continues on as if there were no storm at all. Nietzsche later mentions, The two great antagonists have been reconciled. Each feels obliged henceforth to keep to his bounds, each will honor the other by the bestowal of periodic gifts, while the cleavage remains fundamentally the same (Nietzsche, 737). This is the reality of the two different ideals coexisting. Aside from the whole opposites attract clich, Blaine is compelled to be civil to Sebastian for some inexplicable reason. And for that same reason, Sebastian is decent to Kurt (when Blaine is around) but does not stop his advances. As Nietzsche said, the cleavages, or fundamental beliefs, have indeed remained the same. Blaine and Kurt are happily dating. Sebastian, however, would rather be in Kurts shoes; he developed a crush on Blaine the second he saw him, and decided to make that sex on a stick" his. He flirts with Blaine non-stop, and when Blaine tells him that he has a boyfriend, Sebastians quick response is: it doesnt bother me if it doesnt bother you. He does not care for a moment about Kurt; its all about his own selfish promiscuous urges. Part of how Nietzsche defines the Barbaric side of Dionysus in cultural interactions is through a complete sexual promiscuity overriding every form of established tribal law (Nietzsche, 740). Blaine responds the he does not want to hurt Kurt, and he is happy in his relationship. Not only does Blaine have moral standards about cheating, but he cares about Kurt enough that it influences his decisions; very Apollonian. Similarly to alcohol, Sebastian sees sex as a casual right of passage that is to be had at every possible convenience7. He brags often about his exploits at various gay bars (which may or may not be true) and about his relations with older men (which are also questionable). Again, the

Participle Phrase: That is to be had at every possible convenience modifies how Sebastian sees sex.

legality of his actions fails to even be an afterthought in his grand scheme to get whatever fancies him. Dionysus had a similar taste for lust and extravagance, while Apollo had no such indulgences. Apollo was the only God with an oracle, who he used to communicate with the human race. This is what made him the god of truth: being able to communicate effectively. No matter what role Blaine has filled, whether it was as a leader in the Warblers or the new kid in New Directions, he always got his point across calmly and effectively, even if he was angry. Case and point was when he joined New Directions, the Glee Club at McKinley High8, and the head of the club, Finn, treated him somewhat poorly because he was afraid that Blaine was going to challenge his authority. This proved to be totally ungrounded, and everything was fine mainly because when he was confronted, Blaine stuck to the truth and his principles. Sebastian shows none of the qualities that make Blaine a successful leader, and is really only concerned with himself. The show Glee is, like any story9, made up of more than dialogue. Being a musical, the characters songs say as much about them as their actions do. When Blaine is first introduced, he sings lead for the song Teenage Dream in a beautiful acapella arrangement. The song is about love between two young people, who want nothing but to run away with each other; not exactly perfectly Apollonian, but still more so than Sebastians first appearance in Uptown Girl. The song was written by Billy Joel and is all about a roughneck, poor boy who is in love with an uptown girl and is going to make her love him back. This would be very sweet, if Sebastian was not a devious, manipulative

Appositive: the Glee Club at McKinley High elaborates on what exactly the New Directions are, and where they are located. 9 Appositive: Like any story elaborates on the preceding claim and justifies it.

little tool who does not seem to care that Blaine and Kurt are both blissfully happy together. Nietzsche also discussed the natural duality of music; the Apollonian beat of tempos and the Dionysian complexity of chords and melodies. So by definition both songs are very Dionysian due to the complexity of the chords and rhythms. However, Teenage Dream, in context, is more Greek Dionysian, more about the pleasure of love and passion. This is as opposed to the more brutal, ruthless Barbarian Dionysian context surrounding Sebastians performance. As far as he is concerned, Blaine is going to be his, end of story. The Dionysian song Uptown Girl is in the key of E, which can best be described as a blasphemous and atrocious joke on any brass player10. For those who are not musically gifted, suffice it to say that it is really hard to play and very Dionysian in its music theory. Ultimately both characters are attempts are making life-like personas so the audience can relate to them, so neither is a perfect Dionysus or Apollo. But from Sebastians ruthless pursuit of Blaines hand (and the rest of his body) to the Blaines careful planning of his partying to stay safe and constant consideration of those around him, there is a clear separation of ideals and behavior between the two singers.

Works Cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. Publ. 1872. Print.


Nonrestrictive Clause: which can best be described as a blasphemous and atrocious joke on any brass player provides no extra essential information about the key of E, but does lighten the mood with humor.