How We Love To Watch Them Fall: What Does Our Celebrity Schadenfreude Say About Us?
As you’ve no doubt heard, Rock of Ages flopped this weekend. The subsequent press was about fifty/fifty either blaming Tom Cruise or asking if Tom Cruise was to blame.
This is often the case when a high-profile star appears in a film that fails, regardless of the size of that person’s role in said film. Which is odd, really. Movies flop and underperform all the time, and logic would dictate that would have more to do with plot, cast as a whole, marketing, cultural trends or simply a movie that could not generate the interest it wanted (I, personally, had no interest in paying to see a cheesy movie based on a shitty musical from a valley in the timeline of Broadway quality. That’s why the good lord invented basic cable). But, more often than not, the blame falls on one individual, one who had little to no creative input into the project, and there comes a strange celebration when it doesn’t work out—when it stops being “Rock of Ages failed” and becomes “Tom Cruise failed.”
This of course is not limited to film performance. Rather, most of this misfortunate glee falls toward personal failures. The trials and tribulations of Charlie Sheen’s 2011, or Lindsay Lohan’s life in general for the past eight years, or, of course, Tom Cruise, his marriage and his “Small Wonder”-esque offspring are officially entertainment.
I’ll be completely honest, without snarky jokes masking it: I actually get excited when there’s a new “Tom Cruise is fucking crazy” story. Or, when Lindsay Lohan kidnaps some guys and goes on a high-speed joyride. Like, I enjoy it. It makes me laugh, at least internally if not externally. I laugh at something that causes at the very least an interruption in the lives of people I don’t know. And I’m clearly not the only one, otherwise blogs and tabloids and the HLN network would not exist.
So, why do we do that? And when I say “we” I’m not referring to everyone, so don’t worry, sanctimonious people who always remind me that they are perfect and without such mindless proclivities as “celebrity” or “television” or “the internet.” I’m referring to those of us who have some ugly in our minds and souls, whether we admit it or not.
The obvious possibility is jealousy. The pretty rich people have bad things happen to them and it makes us feel better about our own tiny lives. And that’s probably a big part of it. I’ll never have their millions, beauty and fame; you probably will never have their millions, beauty and fame, and when they have even a relatively small hiccup, it makes us feel better about that.
Another possibility? We’re all Batman. We love to see some perceived justice in this world, even though we are the ones assigning the reasons this person would need to be brought to justice. We think Tom Cruise is weird and strange and has beliefs that have potentially harmed people—so, when his movie does poorly or a story is released that could potentially embarrass him, that’s the tiny retribution for his sins. It’s not exactly a good thing, and as excuses go, it’s weirder than volcano aliens, but there it is.
And I’m probably not going to stop. I’m probably going to keep secretly (although, the secret is officially out) enjoying it when famous people do stupid things or when they don’t do well with something. But it’s weird that I do that, that we do that.
Again, except for you, superior people. Good for you.