Laughing at Others' Pain in YouTube Videos is Degrading

Schadenfreude Redux

Recently, I wrote about the German word, Schadenfreude, which means something like “pleasure taken from someone else’s misfortune.” As I surf the video-sharing sites, I find many clips that seem to invite the viewer to take pleasure from someone’s misfortune. We see hundreds of car crashes, bicycle wipeouts and fistfights. A clip of Miss Teen South Carolina (answering a question incoherently) reaped over 16 million views on YouTube, ranking it the 27th most-viewed video of all time, as of this story, and making it one of the fastest-growing shared videos in history. I am dismayed by the prevalence of video of suffering people. The idea that video-sharing sites may be cultivating these types of clips disturbs me even more. We did not see many Schadenfreude videos until America’s Funniest Home Videos came along. However, there was an explosion of these video clips within the first months of the launch of video-sharing sites. Could this be a coincidence? Or cause and effect?

Searching video-sharing sites for “hot pepper,” we can see people eating more hot peppers than they can bear and see them suffering. Has the increase in video cameras enabled these events to be better documented, and has the popularity of video-sharing sites allowed us to see more people suffering from eating hot peppers? Or could it be that the camcorders and the video-sharing sites are prompting people to eat too many hot peppers?

Allen Funt’s Candid Camera and MTV’s more recent Punk’d show people whose friends have tricked them into suffering. Unlike the suffering-exploitation TV shows, like Fear Factor, these sufferers did not volunteer.

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We seem to have a few emerging sub-subcategories of the documentary genre. We have the Volunteer Sufferer Documentary and the Deception-based Suffering Documentary sub-genres. We assume that the sufferers laughed it off and forgave the perpetrator; otherwise the video would probably never have been posted. But are we sure? Could the suffering have caused lasting damage? Are some sufferers still angry and involved in litigation? Has any video-sharing site been named in a lawsuit?

As I ponder these unanswered questions, I imagine the uncertainty becoming ever more challenging. In an effort to avoid litigation, will some Schadenfreude video producers outsource the suffering to those who can’t afford lawyers, like the homeless or illegal immigrants? Should we be more ashamed of taking pleasure from someone else’s misfortune?

Since we first wrote about Schadenfreude, we discovered sites like Meta-cafe are cleaning out some badly-produced videos on their sites, which should reduce the number of Schadenfreude clips. We hope this is another trend to quality video production.

Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.