Monday, August 29, 2005

Schadenfreude

     Tired of one-word titles? With over 860,000 English words, I still have a ways to go before I repeat myself. At the very least, it might be fun to write a post with the definition of "Is".
     For those who don't know, Schadenfreude is a German word that means pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. The word came to mind watching the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina slamming into New Orleans. It still remains to be seen whether Katrina represents the demise of the city or not, much to the chagrin of many meteorologists, newscasters, and general unwell-wishers. Unfortunately for me (and you), as a developing story, CNN and Fox and other news outlets are updating their stories instead of writing new ones, meaning that I'm finding it very difficult to find anything from before the hurricane struck to link to and quote. Here are some archived articles from Fox, which is actually very good about keeping access open to old news: Link 1, Link 2. Neither of these have some of the "best" quotes, like one forecaster who said that once the predicted 20-foot flooding starts, there may be no place to go for a trapped resident but to climb up telephone poles. But, he said, the massive number of fire ants (which have an average of 2 mounds per square yard in New Orleans) will follow you up for the same reason. And eventually, "the ants will win". That's the kind of gruesome talk normally reserved for middle-school campfires or for grade-B horror movies. One Parrish President couldn't help himself from being cute when he said, "I'm expecting that some people who are die-hards will die hard."
     I'm really not slamming people following this story. This is real news, unlike missing Alabama Princesses in Aruba or the President "clearing brush" on his estate in Texas. And it has the potential for real tragedy. Plus I know I feel like I'm looking over my shoulder, hoping the storm weakens considerably before it hits Atlanta, which seems to have shared building codes with two of the Three Little Pigs. But you also can't shake the feeling that people are watching this the way they watch NASCAR races - looking for the big accident. Already a number of people who have been warning about New Orleans for decades are coming out to say, "I told you so."
     Why do people enjoy others pain so much? For how many years now have the Right-wing media accused "liberals" of "hoping the US will lose" to the terrorists? This seems like projected schadenfreude, attributing their own personalities onto Democrats. It was Republicans who were gleeful for Clinton's failings in Yugoslavia and Somalia. Check out this article from World Net Daily (an honest to goodness Right-Wing publication - I double-checked this time) calling Clinton a war-criminal in 1999 for: supporting Muslim self-determination, interfering in a region with hundreds of years of complex religious and cultural wars, for starting a war instead of just joining one in progress, for leading troops despite being a "draft dodger". It's not hard to see why they're eager to attribute evil intentions to people against the Iraq War - they did the same thing 6 years ago.
     I guess in some ways, however, we have to feel like parents to these people we see on television. I hope there are very few deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi, but I have to shake my head at the idiots who were windsurfing on the Gulf yesterday. I'd like to smack the morons who decided to stay in their houses 10 feet below sea level and are now calling 911. And unfortunately, near misses only seem to encourage these people. Growing up in Florida, we didn't own storm shutters or plywood boards for the windows. And the house was 60% windows, from floor to ceiling. (Sliding glass doors, if you want to be technical) We rode out hurricanes and tropical storms. I even drove to work one day through a weak tropical storm in 1995 without realizing it. But after Andrew hit in 1992, my family (and thousands of others in Florida) declared that it was foolish to stick around for the next powerful storm. My father declared his intention to evacuate if another Category 4 or 5 storm aimed for South Florida. So perhaps Katrina will save lives in the future. Maybe it's just too bad that bad things have to happen for good people to wake up. Maybe it's too bad people are so eager to watch it.

5 comments:

Ben said...

People enjoy watching others suffer, and they love the chance to say, "I told you so."

I couldn't have cared less about politics and current events back in 1999, but that article you linked to does show one major difference between then and now. Clinton had supported Milosovic just two years earlier, in 1997, and in 1999 was calling him a war criminal. Bush, on the other hand, has never dealt with Saddam as anything other than an evil, mass murdering dictator. Perhaps Clinton might have been criticized less if he had been consistent in who he supported instead of supporting one side at one point, and then changing to the other side halfway through. Just a thought.

scorcho said...

Actually, Schaddenfreude is the name Smiley gave me. In fact, he'll be so excited to know you used the word.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Great post, Scott. The tabloid media must be some disappointed that the red ants scenario didn't play out as hoped.
Q

Shannon said...

I was following the story today, watching CNN, and one now homeless gentleman who decided to stay at his Mississippi Coast home commented that all the previous hurricaines had been hyped as much, and nothing so dramatic happened. So, he had decided to stay. It seems like there's a lot of blame being placed on the media for "Crying wolf" so many times.

Damn that red ants scenerio's a good one for a summer blockbuster-"Hurricaine"

Sylvana said...

Three Little Pigs, Crying Wolf...are we talking about what if the Brothers Grimm did the news? That would actually be pretty interesting. But of course it would all be exaggerated hype.

And Bush is just trying to help clean up the mess his daddy helped make. Aw, ain't that sweet?