Schadenfreude (SHOD-n-froy-duh\ noun) is a German term used to describe the malicious satisfaction one receives from another’s misery. As Dennis Miller once said, “Leave it to the Germans to have a vocabulary for human suffering and sorrow.”
We’re seeing a lot of Schadenfreude these days. We’re seeing it in college football. We’re seeing fans of other Big 10 schools laugh and castigate Ohio State University’s football program, and we’re seeing SEC schools laughing with the knowledge they had that no Midwest school could’ve competed on their level without such shenanigans.
We’re seeing Schadenfreude among those that despised Arnold Schwarzenegger’s success, and we’re also seeing Schadenfreude among those laughing about Congressman Anthony Weiner’s weiner. I understand the relative enjoyment one receives at seeing the wheels of justice go round and round (in the courts and in the social arenas). I even understand that certain satisfaction that some receive when they see evidence of the fact that no one is above the law. When a Sam McKewon (Omaha.com/bigred) writes an article titled “It’s hard not to grin after reading (Ohio State’s Coach Jim) Tressel’s tale of woe” it’s hard to believe that McKewon’s grin is one borne of righteousness or satisfaction at justice being served.
“Yes a grin crept across my face,” McKewon furthers, “because, at some point, you just have to smile at the assorted characters involved in this affair.” Fair enough, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I loathe milquetoast analysis that seeks to avoid offense, but when one finds it hard not to grin at the downfall of another we have to seriously question why.
Why do we secretly and silently cheer when high profile individuals fall? Is it purely and simply jealousy? Are we angry that we’ve worked so hard, 9 to 5, for so many years, with so few results in a comparative manner that we find it hard not to grin when they fall prey to controversy? Why? Just as we spectators gain nothing from their success, we also gain nothing from their fall.
When Tiger Woods fell prey to controversy there were some who couldn’t get enough. I don’t know what ESPN’s numbers were, but they featured nearly 24-7 coverage on the incident, and the length of this near 24-7 coverage suggests the numbers were whopping. People said, “At least we know he’s human now.” He’s one of us, that line suggests, a fellow human. A flawed being. What a relief. Shoof. I can’t help but feel better about my life and my situation in comparison. Really? Why?? What have you gained? If a person tries to tell you that they weren’t interested at all, it would sound foolish. I’m sure there were some who were genuinely uninterested, but they are definitely in the minority. Of course we were interested, it was newsworthy, but was it 24-7 for about five days interesting?
Tiger’s subsequent descent into better than adequate play has been relatively quiet on the “newsworthy” front, but he already crashed and burned to some degree. That was what really all that we wanted. We don’t want our celebrities to go quietly in the night anymore, like a Jack Nicklaus or a Lucille Ball. We want them crashing and burning in a fiery wreck that makes us happy that we decided not to become a pop star that could do the moonwalk, or a worldwide sensation due to our golf game. We’re happy, if just for a moment, that we have the comfort of anonymity. We’re happy in the aftermath of their incident, and we see them walk with such misery through a throng of flashing cameras, that we decided not to allow the weight of celebrity crush us into smithereens.