John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton
jheaton

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Schadenfreude (warning: naughty language!)

Bowing to the demands of my readership, I purchased a copy of "Schadenfreude" the other day. And it's pretty good, but one particular part of it deeply irritates me.

For those who aren't familiar with the song, which is from the Broadway musical Avenue Q, it defines and provides examples of schadenfreude. Here's a brief sample:

GARY COLEMAN:
D'ja ever clap when a waitress falls
and drops a tray of glasses?

NICKY:
Yeah...

GARY COLEMAN:
And ain't it fun to watch figure
skaters falling on their asses?

NICKY:
Sure!

GARY COLEMAN:
And don'tcha feel all warm and cozy,
Watching people out in the rain!

NICKY:
You bet!

GARY COLEMAN:
That's...

GARY AND NICKY:
Schadenfreude!

GARY COLEMAN:
People taking pleasure in your pain!

(Note: Gary Coleman and Nicky are both characters in the play. Gary Coleman is meant to be the actor of the same name, thought the character is not portrayed by that actor. Nicky is a puppet. Any subsequent reference to Gary and Nicky should be understood to be a criticism of the characters, not to the actors portraying them or any real person who happens to share their names.)

The song continues in that vein, offering up different situations which might cause one to experience joy in the misfortune of others. That's all well and good, but I have a big problem with one of their examples:

NICKY:
Being on the elevator when
somebody shouts "Hold the door!"

GARY AND NICKY:
"No!!!"
Schadenfreude!

GARY COLEMAN:
"Fuck you lady, that's
what stairs are for!"

In all but one of the other examples of schadenfreude mentioned in this song, Gary and Nicky are discussing the pleasure they take in witnessing the pain of others: "watching a vegetarian being told she just ate chicken," for example. But in the example I quoted above, they're not merely witnessing someone else's suffering; they're causing it, by not holding the door for the woman running for the elevator. And taking pleasure in causing pain isn't schadenfreude, it's sadism.

I suppose there's a certain overlap between the two, but to my way of thinking, once you deliberately act to cause another person to suffer -- and choosing to not act is a deliberate act -- that elevates your pleasure from mere schadenfreude to sadism. Regardless of what you call it, it definitely makes them jerks. And while I was thinking about buying the Avenue Q original cast recording, I now find myself wondering if I should. I haven't heard any of the songs from it other than "Schadenfreude," and I don't know much about it other than that it has bunch of puppets in it. And that Nicky and Gary Coleman are jerks. That doesn't give me a lot of confidence in the recording, because I don't like jerks. I do like puppets, but hearing a puppet sing doesn't have the same impact as seeing one.

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