Messy Martyr: Lindsay Lohan and Schadenfreude

Gozamos July 8, 2010
This is a safe place, admit it: you tuned into the live feed of Lindsay Lohan’s trial to get a little joy from it. That’s why I watched.
The Germans have a word for it, schadenfreude. Simply put, it means deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others. America’s Funniest Home Videos has made an empire on the theory. Falling off a trampoline and breaking your own leg isn’t funny. Watching a stranger bounce too high and go head-over-keister on a trampoline is downright hilarious. For me, there is no schadenfreude more potent, more deliciously, shamefully satisfying than watching a privileged little princess get knocked down.
I watched the video of a 2007 Paris Hilton sobbing in the back of the police car as she was carted off the jail a hundred times and loved every second of it. Here was the embodiment of all that was wrong with America- the unchecked greed, the arrogant idleness, the spoiled rotten sense of entitlement- getting what she was due. It wasn’t cruel or unusual. Paris Hilton broke the law (shamelessly and probably because she thought she could get away with it) only to be punished. I didn’t feel bad for her. She deserved it.
Watching the live feed of Lindsay Lohan’s probation hearing yesterday, I expected to derive the same pleasure from the circus. The actress, who has become daily tabloid fodder under her own steam, has lied to authorities about her probation, drug and alcohol use, and been arrested twice in her young twenty four years for drunk driving. She broke the law so she deserves jail time, right? Might as well pop some popcorn and pull up a chair to watch the train wreck!
While the verdict was read, Lohan shrank down in her chair, cowering behind her lawyer, and burst into tears at the news of her imminent jail time. It was hard to watch, sad, and, most surprisingly, it wasn’t funny. Lindsay Lohan has become a source of eye-roll worthy Twitter quotes, scowling paparazzi pictures, and late night monologue punch lines. For me, she’s become a punching bag, an easy joke. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that she was human.
I’m not suggesting that Lindsay Lohan should not go to jail. She is an adult and responsible for her own actions. She might even benefit from the prison time. I’m not even suggesting that she go on some untouchable ‘Do Not Mock’ list. What I am trying to convey is the hungry pleasure that was my initial reaction to her misfortune shouldn’t have been. My first reaction should have been compassion. A little sympathy for someone who is obviously struggling with addiction, surrounded by people who don’t have her best interest at heart, and in a scary situation isn’t a bad thing. Even if she is a celebrity.