Rant: Schadenfreude

I’m sure it pleased many Duck fans that the Beavers lost yesterday.  Let’s face it, schadenfreude is today’s zeitgeist.  Sorry for using German, but those really are the best terms to describe it, for “schadenfreude” is taking joy in the misfortunes of others, and “zeitgeist” is the spirit of the times.

And truly, we are a nation captivated by the misery of others.  How else can we possibly explain the utter absurdity of the Republican Party, a group of people who all but drape themselves in the Christian religion, and yet are obsessed with inflicting pain on those living in poverty?  How else can we explain the success of reality television, which has taken meanness, backstabbing, and lying to levels that even Fox News balks at?  How else can we explain the nastiness of right wing radio, a media platform that regularly attacks teachers, science, and women, while castigating anyone who is brown or different as indolent “takers” that hate America?

Because let’s face it, if we didn’t love misery, we wouldn’t tolerate any of that shit; the unfortunate truth is that we do: we have become a nation of hypocritical, base hedonists.  On the one hand, our dialogue, media, and social conventions constantly cowers to don the cape of morality.  We judge those that make mistakes and are loath to forgive them.  But on the other hand, we’re happy to be a culture of gluttony, voyerism, and sexual objectification and provocation—even for young girls.  I don’t blame Miley Cyrus, she’s just a product of our times, and the fact that people are judging her is completely absurd.

Which brings me back to Duck fan.  Take a minute, if you would, to see things from the perspective of a Beaver fan (or most any other college football fan who isn’t fortunate enough to root for a perennial dynasty):

Every game is a tense contest that your team could lose—even to a team like Eastern Washington that they should beat.  Indeed, about half the time your team has a losing season.  And every year on your schedule you know there are games in which your team will have no chance to win, one of which is against your in-state rival, whose fans—many of them fair-weather, band-wagon assholes—have nothing better to do with their time than to rub your nose in it.

The modern Duck football fan has never known what any of that feels like, and yet, many—if not most—have no problem at all feeling good because the Beavers football team lost.  I certainly can’t stop them, but I can say this with perfect confidence: schadenfreude is one of the darkest human emotions.  It is what allows bullies to pick on the weak.  It is what allows the Walton’s to sit by the pool and collect dividend checks while their employees live in poverty.  It is what allowed the Nazis to gas the Jews.  And it is what allowed our nation to enslave black Africans.  Currently, it is the reason for the nastiness and partisanship that has rendered our government paralyzed and rife with corruption.

Am I perfect?  Of course not—we cannot escape human nature.  What we can do, however, is use the power of the human spirit to rise above this feeling, remembering that taking pleasure in the suffering of others leads to evil.

I’m struck by what Flanner O’Connor, a female author from the South during the 50’S and 60’s, said in her story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” through the character of the Misfit:

“it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.”

About The Author: Jay Scott


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