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Tag Archives: schadenfreude

Step Right Up And See The Show!

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Is there anyone so decent as to not enjoy watching the mighty slip and fall? Schadenfreude; it’s not just fun to say! There is nothing shameful in experience just the tiniest thrill when celebrities’ true colors are flown in full view. It’s not that we’ve been campaigning for their demise or even giving it a moment’s thought. It’s just that sooner or later we grow tired of the monsters we’ve created.

A celebrity is nothing more than someone who has orchestrated our interest. They could not exist were it not for our buy-in. Playing a sport well does not make you a celebrity (as anyone who’s played an obscure sport in the Olympics) nor does proficiency in the arts (quick: who’s the ‘2013 Face of Oboists’?) Being a celebrity means we know who you are. That’s all. Sometimes the phenomenon is accidental; say, the result of landing an airplane safely in the Hudson River. But statistically speaking far more celebrities are self-created.

Most of us, even while queuing up to see the latest blockbuster or buying the latest gizmo or gadget, mildly resent being manipulated. We don’t mind it enough to stop buying what’s being sold but on some level it rankles just a tad. Which is why it makes things a bit entertaining when they go awry. Our pleasure is less distasteful due to the fact that these people will rise from the (artfully placed) ashes. Anyone who has come from a blue-collar New Jersey town, or sold sandwiches or window treatments door to door is going to bounce back just fine. These are scrappy and ingenious self-promoters who will not go gently into obscurity. Sure they might put a Kmart contract at risk while in the slammer, but don’t you shed a tear. They will figure out how to get the biggest publicity bang out of the experience. That’s the beauty of celebrity. Who you are and what you can do are immaterial; it’s all about your barker skills. Placing gourds around your home in the fall, adding mayonnaise to every meal or using ‘really good vanilla’ are not unique or even mildly interesting techniques. But describing these endeavors with proper lighting, condescending tone or good-ole girl twang, is a great gimmick. (And you know, it really is best to get a gimmick.)

So when these celebrities who have cultivated a brand of ‘don’t you wish you were me?” have their underbelly exposed it’s just a tiny bit satisfying. We are not disappointed and distressed as we are when elected officials or society folks show their worst selves. Instead we have just a nanosecond of ‘no, I really don’t wish I were you.’ We still buy the junk they’re selling of course. But for at least a moment we will be aware of the ingredients. And being aware of what we consume, even if it’s only for a moment, is never a bad thing.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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Giving Judgment a Pass

Have you ever been accused of being judgmental?  The accuser usually has flung the “judgment” handle as a reflex.  Teased apart, the accuser usually means to say; “Yikes, that hit a bit close to home.”

Calling people judgmental, and meaning it as an insult, is a new phenomenon.  The antipathy of judgment seems to have cropped up in that organic garden which has also sprouted trophies for every player and honor student bumper stickers.  Everyone is above average!  Now clearly, in our most logical moments we can all agree that to be a force for good in the world you need to have judgment.  I don’t think the casual bon mots of “don’t judge me!” “you’re so judgmental!” are really meant as the rallying cry of a movement.  No thinking person actually would posit that humans are meant to go through life NOT processing information coming into their senses.  I suspect these cries are more of the “I’m too fragile to process your opinion” ilk.

What’s stunning about this development is that it seems to have happened during the cruelest of trends in entertainment and media.  How many television and radio shows, have ridicule as their raison d’etre?  How many magazine and newspaper articles are at their core, simply picking on people.  A governor’s weight is made fun of in the news cycle!  And lo, what the internet has wrought.  Websites dedicated to the fine art of snark.  Quasi-anonymous (they need to use catchy handles, so you know whom to consider pithy) posters, take an obvious glee in simply maligning others.  They are like an uncontrolled infection, leaping from opportunity to opportunity.  Few people, excluding shock jocks and cable news pundits, would ever spew the venom they do.

We, the spectator, are not much better.  We watch, with glee; the accidents, the vulgar child-killer trials, the reality shows, the talk shows.  It is our appetite for some bastardized form of schadenfreude that drives us to “Addiction” “Intervention” “Hoarding.”  We watch these shows because they are the ultimate judgment.  “You there on the television, you are not normal.”  We have a voracious appetite for ridicule when it serves our purposes.  But when judgment is not for entertainment purposes?  Or not cruel, but instead, instructive?  That’s just too harsh.

Truth is, critique is only welcome if it is in the abstract (film, theatre, television, restaurant reviews) or about others.  But in real life?  All finger paintings are works of genius.

 
 

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