Letter: Observing the Downfall

Schadenfreude (the enjoyment of another’s misfortune) is usually considered a base emotion. It is like kicking someone who is down or piling on. But in the proper context, such as when the person causes his own downfall by reason of his own repugnant conduct, it can be acceptably gratifying. Under those circumstances it is not even a guilty pleasure.

The word is German and literally means “harm joy.” The Greek word hubris (excessive pride or self-confidence) is also relevant. Power, coupled with hubris, can seduce a person into believing that conventional rules of behavior do not apply to him. If he exercises his power hubristically and fate turns against him, he will be an appropriate object of schadenfreude. Examples are Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, Anthony Weiner and Chris Christie. Donald Sterling has just joined this unattractive pantheon and the pungent aroma of schadenfreude wafts through the country. Sterling is everywhere. In the newspapers, the talk shows, the internet. His downfall will bring out few mourners.

It is not as if his recent racist rants came as a surprise. His attitude toward African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities was not secret, although not as well publicized as it has now become. What makes him particularly deserving of schadenfreude is his sleazy history of self promotion. For years, he has continually purchased newspaper space for the purpose of plastering his smug, smiling face and extolling himself. Both shoulders must be dislocated from patting himself on the back. He has now incurred the wrath of his predominantly black basketball team (which just completed its most successful season and is in mid-playoffs) and the team’s multi-racial fans. The irony of this has a Shakespearean quality.

All of his high-priced press agents, spokespersons, lawyers and spinmeisters will not put this humpty dumpty together again.

Hank Pollard

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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