Schadenfreude is a cute word of German origin that means “pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.”
My LA-based friend The Angry Screenwriter (T.A.S.) emails me with the news of deals that have fallen apart. Not his deals, but the deals of other screenwriters or TV writers he knows.
He relishes in their misfortune, primarily because he has had so many deals fall through that he feels it’s his right to gloat. It’s easy to be vindictive like this if you’ve been screwed a few times. I understand. I’ve found myself enjoying the news that someone’s deal fell through. My Catholic upbringing then makes me feel guilty, then I get to thinking about the bad karma and I try to rescind my bad thought.
The Angry Screenwriter asked to expand on this theme:
Many years ago I heard the following maxim: “success isn’t enough, others must fail.” I also heard it this way: “success isn’t enough, your friends must fail.” When I was younger I couldn’t relate to this. But the longer I spent in Hollywood getting deals, almost getting deals, having deals blow up for reasons having nothing to do with the script I started to become hardened.
I found myself getting jealous when somebody else got a huge payday or a movie made while my projects were wallowing in development hell or being messed with by a producer.
Even though I’ve had movies made and earned some serious coin, I feel that I’ve been wounded enough to feel justified in not being sad or sorry for someone who has a deal fall through.
I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish I could be more Christian or understanding or sympathetic. Somewhere along the way I heard of the word schadenfreude and I realized that I was experiencing it. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I could be supportive and encouraging to people who had something fall through.
But I can’t. At least not at first. My immediate reaction is “good. Now you know what it feels like.” But as I get older and more mellow I find myself trying to be understanding and not be happy.
So if I can give you some unsolicited advice: don’t let your schadenfreude get in the way of being a kinder human being.