Viewfinder: Joy and Pain

Joy and Pain

Schadenfreude is a German word meaning “pleasure taken from someone else’s misfortune.” It sometimes becomes a loanword in English and other languages. Loanwords (e.g., Schadenfreude) have no direct English equivalent. This word does not appear in most modern dictionaries. What does this have to do with video? Read just a few more sentences to find out.

The Buddhist concept of mudita, “sympathetic joy” or “happiness in another’s good fortune,” is often explained as the opposite of Schadenfreude. I find it interesting that there is no English word for a concept that Buddhists have only an antonym for.

As I surf the video-sharing sites (YouTube, Revver, Veoh, Grouper, etc), I find lots of clips that seem to inspire the viewer to take pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. There are plenty of groin injury videos on the Web to keep people entertained. We can see hundreds of car crashes, bicycle wipeouts and fistfights. It does not take much skill to shoot a person falling down. The cameraperson just has to be in the right place at the right time.

These types of videos were popular on America’s Funniest Home Videos, along with other TV shows around the world that were comprised of (what we now call) user-created videos.
It is fascinating to see so many Schadenfreude videos on the Internet, compared to TV. Programs like American Idol have their share of pleasure taken from someone else’s misfortune, but there are clearly far more on the video-sharing sites. What does this say about Web videos? More importantly, what does it say about mankind?

It seems like there are too few videos that become popular because they tell great stories by using good video production skills. I’d like you to look around the various video-sharing sites and try to find an example of a well-produced video that tells a good story with dramatic structure.

Many video producers have analyzed the structure of ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama in an effort to define the parts of a good story. The modern application of five-act structure (as described by Gustav Freytag) includes five parts, or acts: exposition (inciting incident), rising action, climax (or turning point), falling action and dénouement or catastrophe.

I wrote more about dramatic structure in another column named Why Do People Like Stories? (May 2005). Go to our Web site and read it to learn more before you start your search for a well-produced video. Let’s try to find some redeeming video shorts out there on the sharing sites. When you find one, please send an e-mail to or log onto our forum and paste a link to the video that you think does a great job of telling a story. Please look for videos made by other people like you.

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