Are We Losing Our Appetite for Celebrity Schadenfreude?

By Jason Menard

How much is too much? And when does our penchant for engaging in schadenfreude take a back seat to our base level of humanity? Will Britney Spears be that test case?

As we all know, Britney’s been on a one-way slope downwards. From the heights of a pop starlet career to her current Hare Krishna-inspired hair style and guest appearances at rehabilitation clinics, the meteoric descent of her career has been evident for all to see. In fact, we can’t even blame her much maligned ex-husband for this fall.

It’s all Britney, all day, and we’re watching. But our perspective, slowly, seems to be changing.

Normally society loves nothing more to build people up for a fall. And if this person is raised artificially – whether it’s artificial talents, artificial looks, artificial breasts – we seem to love nothing more than watching them plummet back down to reality. Yet this time there’s something different.

Dare I say it? We actually seem to feel sorry for Britney. We actually seem to care.

Well, some of us do. There are the hyper-cynical bloggers and commentators who get off on being insensitive. But that’s an immature reaction to a problem with maturity. We’re watching a little girl lost and that seems to have resonated with people who normally wouldn’t think twice about watching a starlet fall.

Take, for example, Craig Ferguson, the host of the Late, Late Show – better known to many as The Drew Carey Show’s Nigel Wick – put a moratorium on Britney Spears jokes. “ I’m starting to feel uncomfortable about making fun of these people. And for me, comedy should have a certain amount of joy in it. Attacking the politicians and the Trumps and the blowhards, go after them. We shouldn’t be attacking the vulnerable people.”

Wow, a heart. And you know what, he’s right. There’s nothing wrong with celebrity bashing or comedy when it’s perpetrated against those who are on top of their game, but it’s something different when we all stand around like spectators watching someone who is so evidently crying out for help, and instead of lending a hand we heap further scorn upon them.

Maybe it’s an addiction, maybe it’s post-partum depression, maybe there are issues to which we’re not privy. But the main thing is that there’s something obviously wrong with this girl and to derive pleasure from it is no better than mocking someone for a mental disability, their skin colour, or their religion. All it does is send the person further and further into despair – and the way the end game plays out could be tragic.

Take, for example, Anna Nicole Smith? Anybody surprised she met an untimely fate at a young age? What about the skeletal remains of people like Nicole Richie or Kate Bosworth – do we need a Karen Carpenter redux to see the problem?

Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the people themselves foremost, then with their friends and family. Unfortunately, these celebrities often find themselves surrounded by sycophants and yes-men, looking only to leech of their star-power and suck them dry before moving on with their lives, leaving only a spent shell of the person in their wake.

But we, as a consuming public, need to take our share of the responsibility. The good works that some celebrities undertake are shrouded in ignorance because we care more about the latest bedroom scandal or display of nonsensical behaviour. We’re so focused on the negative that we completely disregard the positive – so is it any surprise that these attention-starved people are willing to threaten their lives in return for public notoriety?

Maybe we need to take a cue from the stars of yesteryear, or more appropriately, the fans of the past. Sexual orientation, bedroom antics, personal habits weren’t a matter of daily consumption and discussion. What mattered were the work and the talent. We appreciated what they could do on vinyl or on the screen and the rest was ancillary information. Shockingly, we cared more about our own lives and those around us than we did of these stars with whom we had no personal involvement.

Of course, those days are long gone. The proliferation of tabloid magazines, television shows, and even full-scale channels dedicated to feeding our ravenous hunger for celebrity scandal shows that the market for schadenfreude is good.

But how many crashes, how many failures, and how many deaths will it take until our taste for this wanes? Or, as evidenced by our new-found sympathy for Britney Spears, has that already started to happen. We can only hope because any joy we get from watching these people crash doesn’t only impact the stars, but reflects horribly on us.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

1 thought on “Are We Losing Our Appetite for Celebrity Schadenfreude?

  1. Pingback: TrapperKeeper: Just as Spears was our Blue-eyed Child of Misfortune, ‘Blackout’ is the Requiem of our American Dream | Art Nouveau Magazine | High Style in Hard Times

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