Schadenfreude, How Can Something So Wrong Feel So Right?
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Schadenfreude, How Can Something So Wrong Feel So Right?

I have to hand it to the Germans; they make a great automobile, managed to make a national holiday out of beer, and their lexicon includes a word that succinctly melds how it feels when we witness someone else’s suffering or misfortune. Loosely translated as “damage, harm” (Schaden) and “joy”, (Freude), the result of combining these two unrelated words is a delightfully harmless emotion that invokes enjoyment in seeing others’ misfortune.

As malicious as it sounds, provided you keep your thoughts to yourself, nobody gets hurt. I am a good person. I plug other peoples’ parking meters, I do not exceed the maximum number of items in the express line at the grocery store, and I do not run yellow lights. But that does not mean I do not get the irresistible urge to giggle when the dirt bag who stole my parking spot in the grocery store parking lot has his credit card rejected at the cashier. That does not make me a bad person. That makes me human. A researcher in the Netherlands reveals we have all experienced it at some point in our lives, so I would be hard pressed to believe anyone has never smiled to themselves when something wretched happened to someone who had it coming.

Some of my favourite examples of pleasure derived from the calamity of others are best expressed as a top ten list of folks, better known than the guy who stole my parking spot, and more deserving:

1. Lance Armstrong’s twisted web of lies, deceit, bullying and sociopathic tendencies lose him seven Tour de France titles, over $150 million in future earnings for endorsements and all of his dignity. Hee hee hee.

2. Martha Stewart’s annoyingly perfect life was derailed after she was busted for insider trading and she was summarily tossed into Federal Prison Camp to think about what she had done. The analogy is not unlike so many cakes, roasts and turkeys she incarcerated in one of her perfect convection ovens. Mwa-ha-ha.

3. Narcissist and pro golfer Tiger Woods scores 119 over par in dalliances and earns himself an assault on his smug little face from, then wife, Elin, followed by a $100 million divorce. “Tee” hee hee.

4. Leona Helmsely, “Queen of Mean”, checks out of her ten thousand square foot Park Lane penthouse and into a prison cell for 235 counts of tax evasion. Most notable quote: “We don’t pay taxes, only the little people pay taxes.” Fined $7.1 million served eighteen months in prison and probably assured herself the President’s Suite in Hell after disinheriting two grandchildren and bequeathing $12 million to her shitty little Maltese dog after her death in 2007. Surround sound Mwa-ha-ha-ha.

5. Rob Ford’s every waking moment. Not worth the breath it takes to chuckle.

6. Paris Hilton jailed for violation of probation (read: violation of any intelligible speech or actions). Shiny, pink rhinestone Mwa-ha-ha.

7. David Hasselhoff’s impression of a lion devouring a zebra on the Serengeti, but his zebra is a hamburger and his lion is a drunk, washed up actor. The viral hamburger video shows the animal side of falling off the booze wagon...and being dragged for several dusty miles. Despite his last name shrieking “Deutschland!”, he is only German enough to have the double-barrelled surname, but garnered enough global Schadenfreude to, in my opinion, earn himself a key to the city of Berlin and an honourary degree from Heidelberg University. The irony that he enjoys fame supreme in the country of Schadenfreude origin is not lost on me. Unbridled Germanic laughter.

8. George W. Bush delivered an abundance of verbal blunders that can only be described as what a toddler might say if you put it in a suit, made it leader of the most powerful nation on the planet and turn on the microphone. The inventory of quotable mishaps from which I had to select an example of his Presidential Schadenfreude, was too large to thoroughly mine, but I found one that was particularly adorable. Bad, Dubya, bad.

"There's no question about it. Wall Street got drunk -- that's one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras -- it got drunk and now it's got a hangover. The question is how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments."

9. Jeff Skilling, CEO of Enron, the Houston-based commodities, energy and service corporation, was sentenced to twenty four years in prison after being exposed for a complex case of collusion between top execs and auditor, Arthur Anderson. The corporation’s creative accounting cost shareholders $74 billion, and thousands of employees and investors to lose their retirement assets, and many employees lost jobs. Former Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay died before he could serve his sentence. To be clear the Schadenfreude pertains to the prison sentence, not the shareholders’ misfortune! And that’s a big Na-na-na- na boo boo to you, Jeff.

10. Richard Nixon, the only president to resign from office. His administration’s attempted cover-up of the Watergate scandal would have certainly guaranteed his role as the main ingredient in the most humiliating fruit salad - impeachment. Not a lot of people sorry to see the back of his head. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Next time you feel like you need a little Schadenfreude in your day, look back on this list, or giggle to yourself when the dork driving the Porsche gets pulled over for a speeding ticket. After all, it’s only human.


Street Talk

Hello Lilian, this is a great and interesting read. I had to look up the meaning to the word "Schadenfreude" it made me laugh as well as your article!

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Thanks Vernon - I try to practice Schadenfreude regularly! ha ha. Happy new year!

Reply
  about 8 years ago
Vernon L  

I didn't know there was a name for this. Great article Lillian!

Reply
  about 8 years ago
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