I’ve always been intrigued by the word shadenfraude (of German origin meaning “satisfaction or pleasure at someone’s misfortune”), and I’ll admit I’ve felt it myself numerous times. For me, it’s an icky feeling, and I’d much rather be experiencing feelings of altruism. (I’m a Dictionary.com fan; altruism is defined as “the practice of unselfish concern to the welfare of others”.)
I thought about schadenfraude last night while enjoying one of my guilty pleasures: leafing through a pilfered issue of People magazine. That’s an admission I’m not proud of sharing with you – I’ve been known to have sticky fingers in waiting rooms where glossy magazines linger. On Friday I was in not one, not two, but three waiting rooms which all had what I refer to as “trashy magazines”. I held out until the third waiting room. I felt nervous because I was waiting to see if my old car passed its smog test. I stared at the April 14th edition of People in front of me, and perhaps I borrowed it…permanently.
I opened the issue with Gwyneth Paltrow smiling Mona Lisa-style on the cover and noticed the editor Jess Cagle’s letter. I don’t usually read People’s editor’s letter as it’s way too intellectual for me given the magazine’s context. But I spotted the word “schadenfreude” in one of his paragraphs, and I was intrigued.
Of the marriage separation between actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin, Cagle wrote, “But to be honest, their announcement also made me sad. I’ve been there…The feelings are universal and inescapable, so I’ve been a little surprised at the glee and schadenfreude with which Gwyneth’s detractors have greeted the news of their split. Reading the vitriol online, you’d think Gwyneth didn’t have a friend in the world.” Cagle added that Paltrow most definitely has supporters; they are simply quieter than the haters. He wrote that he regards her as “maddeningly tone-deaf” in how she talks about the difficulties of being a movie star mom, and that she sells $315 pillows on her lifestyle site Goop!
As a mother, I feel genuine sympathy for any children of famous people when their parents divorce. I don’t feel a touch of schadenfreude in that respect. But I can’t relate to Paltrow in any way except for the fact that we both loved our fathers deeply, and they both died awful deaths; hers from throat cancer and mine from pulmonary complications.
Who knows the real reasons why Paltrow and Martin split up? No one knows except them and maybe their therapists and best friends, and that’s how it should be. The truth is given a choice these days, I’d rather read a moving human interest story that inspires me as I go about my life rather than read about a couple worth 150 million who own four estates, and who have more opulent pillows than I ever will possess.
I’ve been a furtive People reader for years now. At one point I even splurged on a subscription. I wish I was drawn to a more respectable publication such as Time, but my tastes were influenced by being an L.A. girl. I was born & bred in a town populated by famous folk and I had a fascination with those connected with “The Business”.
I used to get a titillating kick from reading the movie star profiles. Now when I scan those pieces, they don’t do much for me except make me like I need to spend $300 in beauty products. I tend to forget that the photos of stunning movie stars have makeup artists, hairstylists, couture clothiers, and Photoshop behind them. The Paltrow article included a “selfie” she apparently took without a stitch of makeup. In that photo she looked like a completely different person in comparison to all the other glam shots of her throughout the piece. Despite my having a problem with her selling those three-hundred-dollar pillows on Goop!, I appreciated her sharing a real-life shot with the public.
The details of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s breakup are fading quickly from my brain, but I haven’t forgotten a really cool article in the April 7th issue of People called “Amazing Animals Gone Viral!” In particular, I’ve become enamored with Boo the Pomeranian, who lives in nearby San Francisco. This isn’t just a fluff piece (pun intended – ha ha ha!), according the to article Boo “represents a new phenomenon called The Viral Pet Philanthropist. Through donations from fans, Boo and his owner have raised tens of thousands of dollars for poverty and children’s causes, from the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to Charity: Water.” Boo’s owner, who has chosen to be anonymous but is suspected to be a Facebook executive, says “It’s a huge privilege to use Boo’s popularity to give back and make a positive impact.” The eight-year-old Pom has a Facebook page with over 11 million fans, and is the model for a Gund stuffed toy.
The issue contains profiles about other pets who have made a profound difference in their owners’ lives, such as “A Vet Heals with His Best Friend’s Help” and “Feeding a Cat Helped Her Beat Anorexia”. Those two profiles were particularly poignant pieces.
The sweetness of Boo and the generosity of his fans raising funds for charity will stay with me. The Paltrow-Martin “conscious uncoupling” and the particulars of their massive estate will fade from my memory in a few days.
I’m finding that in getting older and healing from postpartum bipolar disorder, I’m cultivating greater compassion for others. From time to time I know I’ll cave and read a gossipy magazine article. (Or a few.) Nevertheless, I’m making a concerted effort to read things that lift me up. As I discover people, projects and animals who are making our world a better place, I feel motivated to do the same. Maybe I’ll even get in touch with Boo’s “people” to see if they want to make a donation to the International Bipolar Foundation. You never know unless you try! 😉
Boo’s Public Figure Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/Boo