Schadenfreude. Deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others. It has been a week of schadenfreude across the nation, from a call defying all conventional football wisdom deciding the Super Bowl to an NFL analyst arrested hours later for solicitation and assault to a news anchor himself calling in question his integrity.
There has been plenty of opportunity to laugh at people and kick them while they’re down this week.
How have we as a species arrived at this point?
For the past few months I have taken to Twitter to try to reach out and attempt to join a conversation, any conversation, but for many reasons I stay away from the things trending. Sometimes just words make me go to a dark place so I stay away from the trends but when Warren Sapp appeared I clicked because when I watched the NFL I watched him, specifically, because the camera adored him and he played to it before playing to it became commonplace. When Brian Williams’s name came up I clicked because even though I haven’t watched the news in years I knew Williams occupied the seat once belonging to Tom Brokaw, I grew up interested in the news, interested in what was happening, and felt Brokaw best suited as the anchor to whom I would give my trust.
To watch the public evisceration of these two has been disheartening not because of personal feelings toward them or disgust over what they may or may not have done. How people have reveled in it makes me want to retreat into a room disconnected from everything.
Have we really sunk this low?
Since Thursday I have watched the Brian Williams feed mostly because Twitter had moved on from Sapp. Every five seconds there were 20 more tweets. This happened all through the day Thursday, all through the evening Thursday, all through Friday, and was still occurring at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Retweets of sources saying Brokaw called for his dismissal, retweets of Brokaw himself saying he did not, eyewitness accounts supporting Williams’s story at some level then the retraction of the eyewitness, over and over. In between, people on the right screaming this is evidence the left is destroying the universe, people on the left screaming people on the right do this all the time, many, many painting all “mainstream media” as evil with independent bloggers the last bastions of truth and justice, and all the “comedians” finding different ways of saying the same joke which lacked any semblance of humor from the start. All day. Every day since Wednesday. People screaming at people, people intent on the destruction of Williams and taking pleasure in it, with no end to it in sight.
In the past two and a half days my retreat from watching anything to do with current events feels like the right decision to have made. I don’t think any progress can be made from where we are as a society and a species until someone figures out compromise and understanding need to be of the utmost importance, and none of the screaming leads me to believe we will ever reach such a place. We aren’t even close as we are too busy moving away from each other. We cannot listen, understand, and refute or accept what someone says because we are too busy yelling into the microphone what we think and how we know the other side is wrong without even knowing what the other side is saying.
And beneath the surface is a significant portion of society loving the fact someone famous is having what will likely to be the most-difficult days of his life. Right or wrong in what he did, why are we enjoying what is happening to Williams so much? Precious little of this is about holding Williams accountable; maybe one quarter of all tweets are about journalistic integrity. The vast majority is pointing and laughing at the man in the stocks and getting a kick out of it.
There is no silver bullet to solving the problem here. There isn’t something where we will say, “hold on, an ounce of compassion is worth more than a ton of my pleasure in watching destruction.” It is impossible because we appear to be becoming addicted to it, and because humans are, by definition, imperfect, the next public flogging is likely to happen soon.
Why are we so eager for it to happen?