A youth asked this question on an online discussion board recently, “Why do I laugh at other people’s misfortunes?” The best answer: “Because you’re glad it’s not happened to you.”
I noticed the other day some of the fastest growing blogs and websites are the ones that focus on “epic fails”. For those of you not familiar with that vernacular, it basically alludes to someone (or something) who has attempted something (rather simple) and it has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Things like learning how to ski for the first time and face-planting in the snow, or jumping on a bed and hitting your head on the ceiling. What about the viral video of a little boy putting his finger into his baby brother’s mouth, only to have his face contort in pain when baby brother chomps down hard? “Owwww, Charlie, that hurts!” Hysterical! Another prime example is years ago when President Ford unexpectedly tumbled down the steps of Air Force One. When it comes to “fails” it would appear no one, not even a president, is immune to these types of humourous, yet slightly embarrassing pratfalls,.. and we laugh because we’re just happy it hasn’t happened to us….yet.
“Epic” is also when someone purposely decides to skateboard down a flight of stairs, or snowboards off a cliff, or tries to wrestle an alligator, knowing that failure may take them out of the gene pool, but success will instantly elevate them to epic “stardom”. I call it “people doing incredibly stupid things, with usually expected painful consequences”. I am constantly amazed by people who actually want to be filmed in the act of doing something that is sure to end badly. Their pain becomes our gain as we watch their escapades with such perverse pleasure, that we laugh ourselves silly at their misguided misfortune.
My children often make fun of my pratfalls, mostly done quite inadvertently I might add. I seem to be an endless source of amusement to my kids. It’s not that they delight in my pain, but they can’t help but laugh if I should trip over the dog, or walk into a door or nose-dive on the ice. Usually I laugh along with them because all I bruise is my ego. However, there is a distinct difference in laughing with someone than laughing at someone.
I remember one soccer match in high school where I was carried from the field, not once, but twice because I foolishly tried to impede the progress of a girl on the opposing team who was two times my height and weight. The laws of physics were stacked against me. I don’t remember the impact(s) so much as the derisive laughter afterwards…especially from the opposing team!
Why is it that we have such a strange obsession watching others hurt themselves? The Germans even coined a word for it: Schadenfreude – which translates literally as “joy from adversity”. The popularity of shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos, Wipeout, as well as Bloopers and some Reality T.V. indicate that people love to see other people trip, nose dive, face plant, fall down, tumble, splat, crash, splatter, etc. etc. It is considered ‘slapstick humour’ but now we call it “epic fails”.
A recent video I watched showed a thief caught in the act of trying to throw a brick through a window in order to rob a store. Unfortunately the brick bounced off the glass and knocked the thief senseless until the police came and carted him away. I must admit, it’s funny to watch a “bad guy” get his comeuppance!
It’s easy to laugh at other people’s misfortune when we consider the person a “bad guy” or if we don’t know the person. It’s not as funny when we’re the one being laughed at. When bad things happen to us either inadvertently or by our own foolishness, it’s not funny.
Epic Fails are not limited to physical pain either. It would appear we take as much or more delight in watching someone else fail in a relationship, or fail in moral character or destroy their good reputation because of sin. We are rather heartless here. As an audience, we may point and laugh at the fallen, all the while thinking: “Glad that’s never happened to me”….yet.
Scripture says: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, for the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.” Proverbs 24: 17-18
The next time you watch an epic fail video, or laugh at someone elses misfortune, do so with this in mind: “there but for the grace of God, go I”.
Epic Fails come when we least expect them!
Great post Lynn!
Wow, what a great post, Lynn. I always think I’m just being a prude when people laugh at these things. I watched one clip awhile ago where a girl (either in her late teens or early 20s) had an “accident” in a jacuzzi. Everyone was hysterical about how funny it was, but all I could think was, “That poor girl. What kind of friends does she have to put this up on You Tube?” It’s amazing sometimes.