Schadenfraude: the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.
Sounds a bit harsh to think that we enjoy seeing other people miserable, doesn’t it? I have no doubt that most of you are thinking, “That’s not me! I don’t enjoy other people’s miseries!”
If that’s you, you’re lying.
Why do I say that?
What is it that you are reading when you pick up that fantasy, science fiction, romance, horror, mystery, or thriller novel?
Is it the story of how one person was so happy and had a wonderful life where everything was sunshine and roses? Was it how a person’s life turns out perfectly, and how love wins in the end?
Of course not! You’re reading a book of how the main characters suffer. A good novel always involves suffering and misery of some sort, or else it would be some insipid piece of garbage that no one would ever read. You’ll notice that most of the best novels in the world involve horrible things. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a story.
So, we all read because we enjoy the suffering of others. “Well, they’re just fictional characters” you may say. That’s true, but that doesn’t stop you from enjoying their pain and suffering as they tell you a great story.
We’re all a bit sadistic deep down, and there’s something satisfying that we feel when we see other people suffer. It’s the last thing you want to admit, but the truth is that you felt a sense of glee when that high school bully/horrible neighbor/bitchy ex-girlfriend or boyfriend/person you really hate suffers a bit. You usually enjoy it in silence, but there’s still that sense of “Yes! They got what they deserve!”
Of course, no one ever says it out loud, and we all have that immediate twinge of guilt after the moment of enjoyment. But it’s still there…
It seems to me that everyone that reads fiction does so because it allows them to enjoy the sufferings of others in a socially acceptable way. After all, the characters on the pages aren’t real, so there’s no real suffering happening.
But subconsciously, we all picture the people that we dislike/hate as the characters that are suffering. The villain that meets his horrific end due to his misdeeds is that person that tormented us as a child, and the bully that finally gets knocked out by the hero is the bully that gave you such a hard time in high school. You’re the hero of course.
So, it looks like schadenfraude really does rule our lives a bit more than most people would like to admit. We’re all a bit dark deep down inside, and there’s something a bit twisted that struggles to get out. Most of us make an effort to subjugate that twisted something, as letting it out isn’t conducive to functioning in society.
But, writing and reading is what allows us to enjoy a bit of the misery of others in our lives. That misery that we only dream of wishing on our worst enemies can be written into a novel, and it allows us to play out our fantasies of getting revenge on those that mistreated us or made our lives miserable.
Does that mean that the more twisted the book, the more twisted the mind of the author? I’d say no, but I’m to busy trying to stop a Lovecraftian creature from taking over my mind…