Schadenfreude As an Instinct



A few years ago, I led various seminars about movie production in Tokyo and other cities of Japan. Those who attended my seminars have grown to be wonderful creators, and I’m really proud of them whenever I see their work. They’re not my students, but I am excited that many of them have won awards at international film festivals, and are working on foreign productions where they will play a major role in contributing to the development of Japanese movie culture.
Ideally people’s experiences and skills will give them the confidence to create their own work; however, along with the increase in supporters around them comes a backlash. By this, I mean people look down on others or talk about them negatively because their style is different from their own or that of their production team. This is not limited to creators; it happens also to those who are hired based on their skills.

Are you familiar with the word “schadenfreude?” In German, the word consists of Schaden, meaning “harm” and freude, meaning “joy,” so it means “other people’s misfortune tastes like honey,” and it’s also called “meshiuma” in Japanese Internet slang. You feel a sense of joy in improving your skills while negating someone else’s style, or exaggerating your own action/talk as if your way is better than others’ in order to get people’s attention.
According to Nobuko NAKANO, a brain scientist and expert in this field, schadenfreude is a part of human instinct. Naturally, humans are biologically weak, so we need to live together and work together for protection. Thus, we have evolved by excluding those who set themselves apart from the rest of the group. Schadenfreude is an important human instinct. We all have it, and it’s impossible to eliminate it no matter how we try. This is why the issue of bullying will not go away.

As a journalist, of course, schadenfreude is part of me. Thus, when I’m faced with something that’s not my style, sometimes I want to crush it, and I want to exaggerate the idea that “I am right” to those around me. When I think things over rationally, it doesn’t reflect well on me, and there was a time when I was filled with self-hatred. But now, I understand it’s human instinct, so I’m not always negative about schadenfreude.
I have my own rule about this. When I don’t agree with someone else’s opinion, I suggest an alternative plan/solution and explain things practically and rationally (except for when I’m drunk [laughs]). In fact, all the creators I respect have the same style.
It’s easy to contradict another person’s methodology; however, it can’t be considered “creative” unless you have an alternative idea that goes above and beyond – and it has to work. Even though a situation might appear difficult and impossible, a person who can come up with a solution based on his/her knowledge, ability and confidence is a true creator. This is what it means to “develop a skill.”