Rarasaur’s wondrous “Prompts for the promptless” feature Schadenfreude in this week’s episode.
Definition: Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.
Naturally the Germans made it into a single word while we poor English have to use a whole sentences to describe it. This leaves us less time to indulge our guilty pleasure in the act itself., and so we pragmatically have annexed their word as our own
Don’t give me that look. I know you do it. Every time you cheer a goal or laugh at someone’s stupid mistake, you are guilty. But be reassured, we all do it and it’s part of human nature. It’s tribal, it’s belonging, it makes us feel safe because it identifies The Other, the one who can’t or won’t or didn’t.
There is a passage in Seven Days in New Crete by Robert Graves describing a time traveller’s encounter with the future, where values are different:
…they lacked humour – the pinch of snuff that routs the charging bull, the well-aimed custard pie that routs the charging police constable. For this they had no need, and during the whole of my stay there I heard no joke that was in the least funny. People laughed, of course, but only at unexpectedly happy events, not at other people’s misfortunes. The atmosphere, if it could be acclimatized in an evil epoch like ours, would be described as goody-goody, a word that conveys a reproach of complacency and indifference to the sufferings of the rest of the world. But this happened to be a good epoch with no scope for humour, satire or parody. I remember an occasion when See-a-Bird absent-mindedly hung up a mirror on what he thought was a nail, but was really a fly that had settled on the wall. Everyone laughed loudly, but not because of his mistake: it it was a laugh of pure pleasure that he caught the mirror on his toe as it fell, and saved it from a crash.
The time traveller is not very impressed. It’s why Paradise sounds dull and Milton had the best line for Lucifer with “Better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven.” We like it a bit rough. It gives us stretch and challenge, and if we cope we can enjoy the failure of others as an added boost to our self-esteem.
EBL is in a rather sombre mood today, na? Walk with me on the Dark Side a little longer, I beg you.
My definition of civilisation is whom we choose to mock and whom we cherish and support. Do we enjoy a child crying because of failure? Or an elderly pensioner unable to understand the changes to the bus timetable? Or a disabled person trying to get into the library and having to use the goods entrance? What about foreigners who don’t understand how to queue properly? Somewhere in there you may enjoy their misfortune, but we all differ where and when.
My personal moments of unrestrained gloating are focused on seeing the mighty fallen. In other words, people that I believe deserve it because they have been insufferable in the past and are now getting a taste of their own medicine. You know the creatures I mean: politicians.
EBL, why are these innocent lambs fair game in your harsh, unflinching, judgmental eyes?
Well, I’m glad you asked me that. (I suspect some of you just nodded, and said “Right on, sister!” or words to that effect.)
It’s because politicians try to tell me how to live my life. They try to tell me what is right and wrong. They try to define Us and Them according to their personal belief system and not the consensual system of the people who elected them. They lie and cheat and abuse their positions. I am generalising: some of them are as yet still trying to do right, whether it’s effective or not.
All those squirmy moments in the Leveson Inquiry, those were great. Nothing changes, but at least now there are memories to cherish and my prejudices confirmed. That is why in this evil epoch we need humour, satire and parody – because the mighty are men, and women, of clay, of human weakness and frailty but pretending to be more. We need to remind them of their basic humanity, and if we do not use sharp, pointy, steel weapons we must use sharp, pointy, steely words.
If I were a conspiracy theorist (and I watched The X Files avidly, so it is possible) I would assume that politicians would try to hide what they do to avoid such embarrassment. They try, poor dears, of course, but they always forget they are still only human. In the end they slip up, or are out-ed by the little people who serve them, and the ensuing hilarity over their pathetic machinations makes the enjoyment all the greater.
It’s why we enjoy the satirist’s rant, and I commend you all to A Different Daylight’s recent article on this very topic. Because a well-constructed rant lifts Schadenfreude to the next level, to “Schadenfreude-EX-treme!”, as it were. It exposes and propagates and multiplies the effect for all to share, enlarging the tribe.
I cackle, my dears, I snort, and I turn to my friends and neighbours and indulge in tribal bonding with the well-worn incantation: “I told you so! Bloody politicians, they’re all the same. What can you do?” And we all guffaw and someone buys another round, and we are united in warm, joyous, fuzzy contempt, and the world turns.
We are devastatingly, shamefully, beautifully human.