Schadenfreude: The Cure For What Ails You

While putting this post together, I discovered a new word. A BIG word. It was a big, multi-syllabic word. And I absolutely love learning new and big, multi-syllabic words! I love it so much, in fact, that I had to use it in the title. So here goes… The dictionary defines the German word “schadenfreude” as: satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.

Last Tuesday night I was in a bit of a mood. I came home, wandered around the house like a lost puppy and plopped, sullenly, onto the floor. I wondered if perhaps changing out of my work clothes would make me feel better. I selected a warm sweatshirt, about two sizes too big, a pair of soft, velour pants and my coziest, fuzziest socks.

“Yes, I think this will help.” I told myself. But as I tried to remove the clothes I WAS wearing… I threw a miniature hissy fit when my blouse got stuck around my shoulders. “GET OFF OF ME!!” I screamed at the stubborn garment while tugging wildly and jumping around. It’s a miracle I didn’t rip it apart at the seams. When I was finally free from it’s death-grip, I flung it on the bed and stomped my feet with extra fervor like some form of bodily punctuation.

All evening I could not shake free of the funk’s torment as successfully as I had the blouse. Wherever I went—fuzzy socks and all—“the mood” went with me. What in the world was the matter with me? Nothing negative of note had happened during the course of the day. So why then, was I so… frazzled? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it gets DARK an hour after I get home? That’s it! Maybe I have SAD (seasonal affective disorder)! Ah-Ha!… finally a scapegoat for which to blame the day’s general malaise.

Both Lee and Stan looked at me quizzically as I slogged through the motions of the end of the day. I’m sure they figured it had something to do with being female and wanted no part of it. Finally, around nine o’clock, I decided that “the mood” wasn’t going to lift anytime soon and perhaps it was best just to surrender. There would be no cheering up on this day. Or so I thought when I went to bed and flipped on the TV… And discovered the beginning of a brand new season of Hoarders!

Think what you will. Judge if you must. But I believe that this program (and so many like it) was created for the very purpose of helping US feel better about ourselves. You know, all the reality shows centered around such crippling addictions, strange behaviors, eccentricities and odd proclivities that they make us feel like we’ve truly got it all together?

I am convinced that there is nothing that quite lifts a person’s spirits as much as witnessing the suffering, insanity and lunacy of countless, anonymous others willing to put their “crazy” on display for the world to see. Schadenfreude in it’s purest, money-making form. Why else would these programs be such a huge hit if it weren’t so therapeutic to watch the personal, intimate struggles of others?

And if you think I am a horrible person for making this hideous (but true) public admission or you already knew the meaning of the word schadenfreude, then by all means you definitely ought to come away from this reading experience feeling better about yourself… for you are more intelligent and sensitive and not NEARLY as shallow and insane as me. And doesn’t that brighten YOUR day?

Advertisements

Irony and Angry Birds

In recent months, Lee and I have discovered both Angry Birds and Words With Friends. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? Well, I am hereby going on record and predicting that Angry Birds and Words With Friends will be the death of life as we know it. They will be the final nails in society’s coffin. They will finish the job that reality TV, YouTube and Facebook started years ago. Maybe those Mayans were onto something after all. The following scenario played out at my house just last night…

“I can’t believe people actually live this way!” I expressed in horror as the latest episode of Hoarders got underway. “I mean, what in the world is so wrong with them that they are incapable of disposing of their own waste!?! Then again… if there wasn’t something wrong with this behavior there would be no TV show, so…” My voice trailed off as I grew ever more transfixed by the strange and severe mental incapacitations of others.

“This is so gross and yet I cannot look away. I am fascinated by this show!” I said for about the fourth time while Lee just shook his head and laughed. He is not a Hoarders-watcher like me. But I did occasionally catch him getting slightly drawn in by the unique drama as he sat on the couch hypnotized by Angry Birds. All the while cursing me for suggesting that he play it in the first place when he got his new smartphone last month. 

We sat in the living room, like bumps on logs, through two whole episodes talking trash about these people and feeling all superior because we had running water, functionable plumbing and could still see the floors in our home.

It didn’t occur to me until a few hours later (after we traded technology and therefore possession of YouTube, Facebook and Words With Friends for Angry Birds for probably the third time) that if we weren’t careful — our floor just might begin to disappear from neglect too. They would find us surrounded by laundry and garbage… glued to the TV, smartphone or computer… utterly unable to function in normal society… passing judgement on a bunch of other people for being lazy slobs.

Addicted to Drama

At the advent of reality TV, I thought myself better than everyone else because I refused to watch shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette or any of those other programs showcasing cheesy, forced romance and contrived drama.

I did not count my personal favorites—Survivor and The Amazing Race—in the ridiculously-fake-reality-TV category. I told myself (and everyone else) that I enjoyed those shows because they highlighted adventure in exotic, faraway lands.

Was I at all addicted to the “drama” that took place on beaches and jungles on the opposite side of the globe? Maybe. Because now there is a wee bit of evidence supporting the theory that I, just like everyone else, most likely was.

I have recently developed a slight addiction to a certain show that has made me question my self-proclaimed exemption from the desire for drama-on-display. The show is Hoarders. And I am actually rather obsessed with it. Like a horrific car crash by the side of the road or gruesome crime scene photos shown on Dateline, I cannot seem to look away. I find myself consistently drawn in by the ewwww-factor and the UGH-factor and the oh-this-is-so-absolutely-sad-and-disgusting-and-unbelievable factor.

I have long been fascinated by the inner workings of the human psyche. And based on ratings alone, I am not the only one. Let’s be honest… you’re Norman Rockwell neighbors, working 8 to 5 and grilling out on the weekends don’t exactly make for an interesting case study. But your crazy lady-next-door-with-a-million-cats-and-60-tons-of-trash-on-her-front-lawn kinda does.

Questions spring to mind such as: Why is he or she like that? What is wrong with them that they feel the need to cling to dead squirrels, pre-WWII cans of tuna or rotted jars of peanut butter? When are they going to tire of climbing over laundry, furniture and pizza boxes to get to their toothbrush? How are they OK with rats and roaches running rampant over heaps and piles of junk collecting in every nook and cranny of their living spaces?

I’m not sure if it is a form of escapism, or a way for us to affirm our own “normalness” as we watch others so tragically struggle just to keep both feet on the ground. Perhaps it is nothing more than our innate voyeuristic nature at work. But one thing is for sure… As long as there are humans on this planet and television cameras rolling, we will tune in and watch other people’s drama (be it real or fabricated) while it unfolds before us in our living rooms, with the curtains drawn and a bowl of popcorn in our lap.

A Tiny Taste of Fame (Just small enough to choke on)

“So this area is called the ‘Dashboard’ and this is where you pull all of the strings to create the pages that people see.” I explained to my mother who knew very little about blogging and cared even less. Then I showed her around my blog and eventually over to the WordPress homepage and the Freshly Pressed section.

Pausing ever-so-reverently on the Freshly Pressed area. My eyes glazed over like Homer Simpson’s when he sees a beer or a donut and I dramatically drew a circle in the air around The Page with my index finger and with an equal amount of drama said to her: “Mother, THIS is where I can only hope to end up some day. THIS is the goal. THIS would be THE place to be.”

A day or two later, I did the same thing to my boyfriend.

I can be a bit of a drama queen.

My fledgling web log was just 10 days old. I had 13 subscribers and anywhere from 40 to 80 hits a day. And then last Friday something amazing happened. Going to my blog to check the stats (as I had begun doing religiously) hoping each day that the numbers would climb, I told myself not to expect much. I literally SAID to myself: “Don’t be disappointed if the numbers are low. You are NEW at this and it will take time for people to discover it.”

But the numbers weren’t low. They were skyrocketing! And I immediately thought there must be something wrong with WordPress and that this had to be a mistake of some kind. I knew enough to be able to check where the majority of hits were coming from and I saw that it was the WordPress homepage. So naturally I went there. And that’s when I saw it. My baby. My blog… right there in the middle of the page. The picture, the name…  I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing.

It was for real.

I called my boyfriend. I called my parents. I emailed my friends. I wanted to run yelling through the streets: I’ve been Freshly Pressed!! I’ve been Freshly Pressed!! I did refrain, however, for fear of looking like a lunatic since I’m pretty sure that a large slice of society probably would assume that “Freshly Pressed” is something akin to water-boarding. But on the inside I WAS running and yelling.

Since it was a Friday, I was fortunate that my blog stayed on FP for 3 whole days (plus one more if you count the day that it slides back to the “earlier” site). Four whole days of extra exposure to the world and readers and hits and comments and spiking stat charts and emails and “likes” and subscribers! I had never experienced anything remotely like the rush I got from it. By the end of the 4th day, I was exhausted. I looked like a junkie in desperate need of a fix. My eyes were red, I was cranky from very little sleep and I just generally looked like shit. It was then that I realized how HARD it is to stand under the white-hot light of overnight celebrity. No wonder so many people crack under the pressure.

It was going to be short-lived and I was aware of it every second of every day. And it was wearing me out. Staying up late to watch the numbers, answer comments and emails, read other people’s blogs and nurture new virtual friendships. I kept thinking: I’ve got to stay after this or it will all slip away! Soon the clock will strike midnight and my carriage will turn back into a pumpkin, my gown to rags and my fine white horses to rats… I will be the little-ol’-graphic-designer-from-Ohio-who-writes-for-a-hobby once again. I will be just another regular gal doing the 8 to 5, eating frozen Lean Cuisines and watching Hoarders with my cat.

What can I say? I did the best I could for 4 days. My family and boyfriend—God love ‘em—did their best too. My boyfriend asked me daily what my numbers were and whether or not I was getting enough sleep. He and my parents reiterated how proud they were of me. They graciously listened as I told them about some of my new online connections. My parents showed their friends my blog while at a dinner party instead of passing around pictures of grandkids.

On Tuesday morning I logged on to my computer and  much to my chagrin, the numbers were abysmal compared to the day before. Back to normal I guess. My moment in the spotlight had expired. Like the rollercoaster that is 60 seconds of sheer unpredictable terror and thrill and then comes screeching to a halt… The ride was over. I then glanced at the clock: 15 ‘til 8… I grabbed my purse, my keys, my coffee … and headed to the office.

As I pulled out of my driveway I heard the faintest voice as though over a muffled loudspeaker say: Please exit quickly to your left in order to make room for the next passenger.