Schadenfruede is a German word meaning pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.
Reality TV may be a prime example of schadenfruede or there maybe even darker reasons for the popularity of Reality TV.
It is said that Candid Camera was the first Reality TV show. The show featured innocent pranks like moving garbage cans on a busy street while people walked by and reacted. Unlike Candid Camera where more often than not the target of the joke ended up laughing, Reality TV often appeals to the baser motivations of human beings.
Rather than laughter, many of the shows reveal contestants crying, screaming, swearing or at times physically attacking each other. Frequently members of the cast are humiliated for a shortcoming or human frailty. Reality shows often tend to encourage and reward outrageous, mean spirited or devious behavior.
Several University research projects seem to suggest that Reality TV may be having an impact on young, impressionable viewers. The research premise is that Reality TV shows are presented as “real;” most children realize that Spider Man cannot jump off the Empire State building without dying. By contrast, young viewers may perceive what they see on Reality TV as “real.”
I doubt that anyone could argue that many of the characters from Reality TV would be role models. One of the top rated shows is Jersey Shore; ostensibly the show provides a view to the profoundly vapid world of several New Jersey residents in their twenties and their friends and hook ups.
Another Reality TV show, Hell’s Kitchen, features Gordon Ramsey. Ramsey provides critical feedback to restaurant owners and employees. Ramsey screams, yells and humiliates with consummate skill. A clip that I viewed featured Ramsey screaming at an elderly waitress, two inches from her face, predictably she crumbled into tears. How mean and sad and difficult to watch.