Swimming in the Schadenfraude

April 1st, 2021

One of the first TV shows I remember watching with my mom was America’s Funniest Home Videos.

This show became an integral part of who I am as a human being, even inspiring the first chapter of my first book, ingeniously titled “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

If you don’t know, there’s a German word that specifically and succinctly describes what it is we love about the kind of content AFV provides: schadenfreude. Translated to too many English words, it is “the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.”

We find ourselves happy through others’ unhappiness.

I used that idea in the opening chapter of Them (which was released eight years ago today, on April 1st): our main character, a young woman named Kim, is laughing at a clip of men getting hit in the groin at the beginning of our story. Soon after, she finds herself in terrible pain, and imagines an audience at home now watching her, entertained by the irony in her tragedy.

One of the last TV shows I ever watched with my mom was an episode of Let’s Make a Deal. As the camera panned over the crowd, we saw that they were all dressed in pink.

This episode had an entire studio audience that consisted of cancer survivors.

And as I held the hand of the person I loved the most, who was losing the same battle these people had won, I couldn’t help but think of the audience at home, watching us watching this, swimming in the schadenfreude.

Life isn’t fair most of the time, but it is often funny in the most heartbreaking ways.

And as we regularly found comfort in the misfortune of others, I am always trying to find comfort somewhere in my own.


Published by dennisvogen

I'm me, of course. Or am I?

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