Posted: October 20, 2012 by S. Trevor Swenson in General, Life, Me & Mine, Observations
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Click for a musical explanation.

scha·den·freu·de (shäd n-froi d)
Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

What a great word! I love pretentious words and anything that requires hitting my italicize feature thrills me to no end. It took me about 5 years to figure out how to “cut and paste”, and even longer to figure out how to italicize. Prior to figuring out the italicize feature on word and in emails I used to just TYPE IN CAPITALS for emphasis, which can inadvertently be off putting to people. It’s “cyber shouting” if you will.

Schadenfreud is also German. Leave it to those wacky Teutonic folks to come up with this one.

Once, while visiting Berlin I asked my German friend Silvia why the Germans have no sense of humor.

“Norma?”, (her nick name or spitzname was explained in a previous post), “Why don’t the German’s have a sense of humor?”

“Ve do.” she deadpanned.

“Are you sure?” I asked. I wasn’t so certain, but I was a guest in her home and country and didn’t want to appear rude.

“Yes, now be qviet, I am vatching dis moofee!” she said, and hit me.

I dropped the subject.

In addition to the word schadenfreude, I like the definition, the theory and the practice.

Why is the misfortune of others often so damned entertaining? Well, for one thing it’s not happening to us at the moment. Life sucks and sucks with sickening regularity, so perhaps it is a small comfort to observe that we aren’t the only one the cosmic pigeons have selected as their dropping target, Secondly, because angry, put upon and frustrated people are frankly hilarious. I’m uncertain of the existence of God, although this doesn’t stop me from e-mailing him on a regular basis. ( in case you were wondering) On one hand I have difficulty believing in a higher power who could allow such things as famine, natural disasters and the Kardasians. On the other hand, it is hard to doubt the existence of God with the series of mishaps, whoopsies or physical and emotional ailments that occur hourly in the Blake Edward’s film that is my life.

Running late and subway doors slamming in my face, a four hour charm offensive at work that results in a 2% tip from a party of 6, and the elderly sucking my life force at Laundromats, grocery stores and medical offices. I remain totally convinced that after a hard day at the office, God cracks open a cold one, tells the angels to keep it down and tunes into his favorite program “The Scotty Chronicles”. Apparently I’m just hilarious plodding along in life, muttering to myself, explaining to double digit IQs the mathematical intricacies of the 12 items or less express line, or speeding four blocks out of my way on my bicycle to explain to recent driving school graduates that the first 10 seconds of a red traffic light are not optional. I stomp through life with a facial expression that is the unhappy marriage of Rodney Dangerfield and Donald Trump telling someone “Yuh Fie-yid”. I mutter to myself regularly, and a couple years ago I actually shook my fist at some children. I have no doubt that if I had a front yard I’d be yelling at neighborhood children about keeping off of it and confiscating any baseballs, tennis balls or hackey sacks that landed in my vicinity.

Maybe I should pick up a copy.
Nahhh. Where’s the fun in that?

Why then, shouldn’t I delight in the misery of others that I happen to observe? It’s a little gift from God Almighty/ Heavy G to my way of thinking. Schadenfreude is similar to laughing in class or in church. We shouldn’t giggle, be we can’t help it, and the repression of giggles just makes us want to break up more. As a student my friends knew they could get me to laugh with a certain look or drawings of various students or teachers. Then they would delight in my getting busted by the more comedicly challenged teachers. “Is there something funny Mr. Swen-son? Care to share your joke with the rest of the class?” No, I didn’t want to share the hilarity of the drawing that Jeff Marney had just passed me depicting Mr. Whitman tied to a tree and being set on fire by the chess club, or being sat on by the pear shaped 300 pound history teacher Mr. Spencer. I’d plead the fifth, take the detention and kick Jeff’s ass later at my leisure.

Lately I have been fascinated with the bend-but-don’t-break comedy theory. Things we aren’t supposed to be laughing at, but can’t help it…boundary pushing. I have often maintained that comedy and humor comes from the uglier and darker areas in life, but it is one of the best things in this cold, hard world. It makes life worth living…comedy, love and…oh I don’t know… cookies? So schadenfruede becomes a slippery slope. Too far in one direction and you are a humorless drone. Too far in the other direction and you’re a cruel bastard. The happy medium is to strive to be a cruel drone or humorless bastard…OK terrible analogy.

So what misery and misfortune at the expense of others is acceptable? A bird dropping a deuce on someone else’s head? Yeah, that’s a classic. 100 points of funny. Fat people falling down or splitting their pants? Maybe… Cars splashing puddles on pedestrians? Hmmm depends on the driver and the victim. As a teen, my friend Tiny used to delight in holding Quarter Pounder’s with cheese out his car window and slowing down when he saw over weight joggers waddling along in sweat soaked athletic gear to see if he could get them to run faster. Sometimes he would shout something to the effect that the jogging was not offsetting the jelly doughnut inhalation…or that “KFC is only 6 blocks away…you’ll make, it Richard Simmons”. They usually did run faster, which was funny, but it wasn’t to get hold of the burger…it was to get hold of Tiny and wring his neck for being a wiseassed punk. That would have made me laugh too. It is safe to say that the things I would giggle uncontrollably at in observing are the same things that would infuriate me when I am the victim. I am not a thick skinned man. I’m more than a little ashamed to admit that I can generally dish it out, but can’t take it. I like teasing. I hate being teased. Perhaps my one saving grace is that I am self-deprecating.

I think given God’s obviously sick sense of humor, that schadenfreude in appropriate doses is a healthy thing. Nietzsche said God was dead, I’m not so sure how he knew (maybe he was there?) Nietzsche was German too wasn’t he? Maybe God is German…it would certainly explain his sense of humor. Who are we to second guess Heavy G when it comes to humor? He gave us incontinence, Indian accents, irritable bowel syndrome, midgets, trailer parks, George W Bush and Walmart customers. So bust a gut… just not within eye or ear shot of the victim(s)

People of Walmart

  1. Too funny. Love the one about holding the cheeseburger out to the joggers. Wickedly funny.


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