Johnny Depp is go­ing broke, and the schaden­freude feels good

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Don­ald Clarke

Gore Vi­dal was, con­trary to stub­born be­lief, al­most cer­tainly not the first per­son to say: “It’s not enough to suc­ceed; oth­ers must fail.” Vari­a­tions on the maxim ap­pear through­out the cen­turies. The abil­ity to de­rive plea­sure from an­other per­son’s mis­for­tune is a foun­da­tion of civil­i­sa­tion. It is what sep­a­rates us from the an­i­mals (the less un­pleas­ant ones, any­way). Never mind de­light in fail­ure as a com­ple­ment to our own tri­umph. Laugh­ing at catas­tro­phe is even more use­ful as fil­lip when our lives are un­sat­is­fac­tory.

Why do you think the peas­ants de­lighted at the ex­e­cu­tion of Louis XVI? Yes, the re­place­ment of ab­so­lute monar­chy with a nascent democ­racy of­fered vis­i­ble reifi­ca­tion of en­light­en­ment philoso­phies. That’s bleed­ing ob­vi­ous.

More im­por­tantly, if you’re cov­ered in dung and have noth­ing to eat but conkers, the guil­lo­tin­ing of a wealthy po­ten­tate mo­men­tar­ily sets the world back in bal­ance. My foot may have gan­grene, but my head is still at­tached to its shoul­ders.

There are al­ways lower grade ex­am­ples of such cosmic balanc­ing. The most re­cent is the (makes in­vol­un­tary gur­gling noise) des­per­ately sad busi­ness of the failed Fyre Fes­ti­val in the Ba­hamas.

To get a sense of how hu­mans ap­proach such things, it’s worth pon­der­ing the con­trast­ing re­sponses to that bash and to con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing the Dublin GamerCon event in March. No­body much laughed when chaos de­scended on GamerCon as pun­ters were stranded in end­less damp queues. All kinds of peo­ple from all kinds of places were in­con­ve­nienced. There’s noth­ing much funny about that.

The Fyre Fes­ti­val was a little dif­fer­ent. Cus­tomers were charged around $12,000 for VIP pack­ages to the tit­u­lar mu­sic event in the Ba­hamas. They would, in the­ory, emerge from their state-of-the-art ge­o­desic domes to en­joy (al­ways a flex­i­ble term) gourmet meals and mu­sic from the likes of Blink 182.

Be­fore go­ing on to de­tail the sub­se­quent dis­as­ters, we should pause to con­sider that last sen­tence. If the event had gone well it would have cli­maxed with a con­cert by one of the bratty faux-punk bands that helped make the mid-1990s so un­bear­able.

That didn’t hap­pen. Un­lucky early pun­ters ar­rived to find the rel­e­vant beach in a state of un­pre­pared­ness. They were fed sand­wiches made with Easi Sin­gles and were asked to make wa­ter in less than lux­u­ri­ous port-a-pot­ties.

Even­tu­ally, a lo­cal band be­gan play­ing, but it was al­ready ap­par­ent that the fes­ti­val was not go­ing to take place. The jour­neys home were plagued with fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions. Good news fi­nally ar­rived when it was con­firmed that Blink 182 were still many miles away. The word we’re look­ing for here is

schaden­freude. It’s hard to think of any happy story that was greeted with such hi­lar­ity on so­cial me­dia. Sure, many per­fectly de­cent folk had been in­con­ve­nienced. But the feel­ing was that at least some peo­ple with more money than sense had got what was com­ing to them.

The or­gan­is­ers’ brash hubris fu­elled the re­joic­ing. In the lead-up to the event, var­i­ous su­per­mod­els had allowed them­selves to be tangled up in Fyre mar­ket­ing. Bring­ing the year’s early schaden­freude clas­sics neatly to­gether, Ken­dall Jen­ner was iden­ti­fied as a (try not to gag here) “spokesmodel”.

Just as no­body wept for the cre­ators of Jen­ner’s ap­palling Pepsi com­mer­cial, there was no rend­ing of gar­ments for the floun­der­ing en­trepreneurs be­hind Fyre. In­deed, the chortling was merry and ca­cophonous.

There is a no­tion that satire is at its best when it “punches up”. Digs at the pow­er­ful, rich and com­pla­cent are more worth­while than those at those on lower rungs of the so­cial lad­der.

Schaden­freude works in the same way. If a poor old man falls over it is very sad. If a rich young man falls over then . . . Well, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily funny. We’d bet­ter make sure he hasn’t bro­ken any­thing. It would be as well to check that he wasn’t de­liv­er­ing alms to the dis­ad­van­taged.

Let’s try again. If a rich young jerk falls over then it’s al­ways a little funny. If he’s on his way to an alt-right meet­ing then we may be tempted to give him a push.

This is some­thing we need. We need it more than ever. A bar­rage of dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion is con­tin­u­ally low­er­ing our self-es­teem. What­ever the truth of the sit­u­a­tion, we feel poorer, fat­ter, uglier, stu­pider and less fash­ion­able. Those at the top of the tree have an obli­ga­tion to bal­ance the books by be­hav­ing as ir­re­spon­si­bly and self-de­struc­tively as pos­si­ble.

Ha ha, the toffs are poo­ing in por­taloos. Ha ha, the su­per­mod­els are be­ing hu­mil­i­ated in dis­as­trous com­mer­cials. Ha ha, Johnny Depp’s go­ing broke.

Fail for us. Fail for us. Re­mem­ber what hap­pened to Louis XVI. We could still do that to you.

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