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Exercises in Schadenfreude

March 18, 2009

Dear Society,

Recently I have learned a new word. And it is a word that I enjoy…a lot. Being a fan of the French language, and not the German language (even though a Germanic based language is my first and most used language) I had never been exposed to this amazing word. This word is schadenfreude.

For those of you who, up until this juncture in your life, were unfamiliar with schadenfreude, here is the definition from “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.” This is indeed a fantastic and surprisingly useful word because it speaks the truth.

Look at the Colosseum. People died and people watched. Medieval public torture and executions. Again, people died and people watched. We know from history that people showed up by the hundreds and thousands to watch people die in front of them and it was considered entertainment. Skip several generations and look at the Faces of Death videos. These are videos in which real people (not actors who get up after the scene and get massages and buy ridiculously expensive things) die in horrendous ways. And people LOVE these videos. Another example, the Darwin Awards. These “awards” are given to people who have either been removed or have removed themselves from the gene pool (which, incidentally, does not always require death) by doing very stupid things that even a toddler knows not to do. Again, this is about people being maimed or killed and it’s considered entertainment. But, my favorite example of society’s schadenfreude-istic nature, is the newest Internet phenomenon:

This website serves as a place where people can post ways in which their lives are worse than yours which include random things that happen, embarassing moments, pathetic moments, unfortunate circumstances, etc. And I have become obsessed with this website. I can’t get enough of other people’s misfortune. I love reading about how other people are having extremely bad days. It makes me feel like my life isn’t so bad, and that I’m quite lucky because I haven’t been robbed or mocked or forgotten by my peers or family that particular day. When laughing about a disgusting moment when a girl accidentally popped her boyfriend’s pimple in her mouth when biting his neck, I realized: THIS is schadenfreude.
Even though I’m not actively watching people die, I’m taking pleasure in other people’s pain (or in this case, disgust). I’m laughing, copying/pasting links into emails to my friends and family, and even having conversations about this website with people. These people who post their circumstances simply want to have a cathartic outlet where they can express their sadness, embarassment, frustration, or anger and people are reading it and laughing. To add to the schadenfreude, the website has a feature under each post where people can rate whether you “agree your life is f***ed” or think that “you deserved that one”. The sheer fact that someone can choose to tell the post-er that thy deserved what happened to the them when they obviously don’t think that they deserved to be in the unfortunate circumstance is further humiliating and would, most thinkably, result in the person feeling even worse about the situation, while the person who rated it simply goes on with their day, probably not thinking twice about how that person somewhere other the other side of a computer is feeling.

This website is the epitome of schadenfreude-ism. This one website out of the millions out there, showcases exactly how mean spirited people are.* They can enter a web address, read, and taunt those who are hurting by laughing, spreading the stories, or voting on whether or not the person deserved the situation. If ever asked if I agree with Locke or Hobbes, I know what my answer will be, and I can credit this complicated answer to


*Previously, my vote would have gone to, but it has been shut down due to the fact that it was SO MEAN.

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