When Britney Spears is in the news for doing something stupid we are quick to say “Tut Tut” and “Isn’t she awful!” We even say in all sincerity, “Why don’t they leave the poor girl alone?” and we can’t wait to blame the paparazzi for hounding her. But the truth is that we take some delight in her downfall. The Germans have a name for this feeling.
They call it schadenfreude and it refers to pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Someone trips and breaks a leg and we think it’s funny. That show which is a collection of the Greatest Home Videos in which people fall into swimming pools or trip over their grandmothers depends entirely on this concept.
Are we bad people if we secretly cheer when Brad Pitt dumps Jennifer Aniston or Tom Cruise dumps Nicole Kidman? Shouldn’t we be wishing all couples good luck in their marriages? Perhaps. But it’s not going to happen because we make our insecure selves feel better by reading about the misfortunes of those celebrities. Well, if they can be failures, then perhaps our failures or inadequacies aren’t so bad, after all.
That’s what gossip is all about. We don’t buy a magazine to read all about how Brad is devoted to his wife. We want to hear that all is not well in “Paradise”. The one time envy of every teenage girl, the lovely Britney, has come a cropper and that gives us a secret joy. Not much point in envying poor Britney now, is there?
Let’s face it, we are very flawed in character. We envy success in others instead of admiring it. We develop the tall poppy syndrome and say things like “He was too big for his boots” when what we are really saying is “I’m not much but then neither is that tall poppy over there.” It’s never about the other guy or gal. It’s about us.
As that famous guy said, it’s all about ego. We look at other people to compare ourselves to them. We look at others to see if they are looking at us. But they are looking at us to see if we are looking at them. Funny, isn’t it?
That’s the way we are and we may be reluctant to admit it because it seems awful. And actually it is pretty awful of us and we should try to curb that schadenfreude.
It may make us feel better for a little while to see that Jennifer Love Hewitt has cellulite, but how many people must suffer so that our self-image improves?
We would be better off if we stopped comparing ourselves to others. We would be better off if we stopped listening to newsbreaks about Britney losing her children. The world would be better off if cameramen and reporters didn’t hound people for that one glimpse of suffering. Sure, big newspaper owners might complain if they can’t sell their publications, but Rupert Murdoch is far too big for his boots anyway. Besides, who does he think he is?