Schadenfreude is a German word which is often used as a loanword in English. It means ‘pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.’ Sounds bad, huh? Almost the kind of thing you’d associate with Hitler. Sounds amoral , and dastardly.
Funny thing is, it’s everywhere – and we enjoy it.
It seems amoral to enjoy the misfortune of others. A common, moral, if not even Kantian perspective would be to help those in need. It seems wrong to allow a person to drown even if our own rights are lesser. Like in the Violinist thought experiment, it would seem wrong to abandon the Violinist even if you had to spend months chained to him. It is ,in our nature, moral and an instinct, to help others. We feel guilty if we don’t (for most folks, anyway.).
However, what I realized is that in every form of entertainment available we all sort of partake in enjoying the feeling of schadenfreude. For instance, take your usual children’s TV programmes, like iCarly (courtesy of my brother.) In that show, one constant gag (I use gag to show its mediocrity and repetitiveness) is the technician of the show, Freddy, being beaten up and bullied in general by his ‘friend’ Sam. Judging from the…strategic placements of laugh tracks, I assume this must be funny. In one episode he gets reprimanded by the principal, loses his entire locker, has the wall destroyed by Sam’s driving and ,to add insult to injury, loses $200 to the girl. Isn’t that a tad..over the top?
But then this was where I realized that this was actually humorous. And we see this in anime too, if not constantly as well. Anya from Rio :Rainbow Gate (which shall get yet another sarcastic post and review soon, I swear) is constantly having difficulty grasping the concept of walking straight and not falling over every 10 or so steps. She constantly breaks things , being kind of a ditz who could be considered the black sheep of the Helsing family. Yet it’s supposed to be funny too. More often than not, we have all sorts of clumsy, dim-witted fools who are constantly getting into situations one after another because of their foolishness. But why?
Are we, as sources suggest, all people with low-esteem who enjoy seeing others fail so we feel better about ourselves? Or are we just happy to see the bad fall? Could Touma’s horrible misfortune possibly be because he was ‘bad’ at all? Not really. When you think about it, the feeling of schadenfreude,in this case, would be the derived from the result and not from the process. What we know is that the person has bad luck. But whether we enjoy it or not is dependent on what happens afterwards. Touma’s misfortune often leads to the Thundere Misaka Mikoto to blast him away, or for girl X to Y him with some sort of Z. It wouldn’t be enjoyable simply to see Touma lose $5 for no reason.
Compare this to the plight of Boy A from Confessions. Boy A participated in the murder of the protagonist’s 4 year old daughter, but also killed Girl A, another killer but his only friend and sympathizer. All of this in the pursuit of trying to get his mother’s attention -a mother who abandoned him from birth. Yet the protagonist bends this against him – sending a phony letter to him as his mother which ultimately led to disappointment as he thought his mother had abandoned him again- and leads to his plan to build a bomb to blow up the entire hall he was designated to give a speech in. In the end, the teacher revealed everything -including the new location of the bomb, under his mother’s desk. Boy A had, just as planned, been sent into a living hell. Is this something we’d like? As absurd as it is, in the context of the movie, definitely. We wanted to see this epic ending for ourselves, without a tinge of regret whatsoever. But if this were to happen to a random innocent person (sans the murder and the bomb part), it wouldn’t exactly be enjoyable to see the man be sent into a living hell. If his intentions for murder and building the bomb were acceptable (by whatever context the scriptwriters could crap out) , then such a ending to him, would not be as enjoyable to watch as the previous one.
Schadenfreude, then, isn’t derived from knowing that others have gone through misfortune and bad luck, but rather, derived from the result of said luck, and also, the conditions surrounding the victim.
And as a result, we all are conditioned – from the very start – to find these events to be entertaining. It isn’t something that is forced onto our minds – it is a feeling, like all the others, that we had in the first place. So we come to the conclusion that -like it or not- we all do enjoy the feeling of schadenfreude. Why the feeling of Schadenfreude exists, would be yet another story.