Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Filth Shower

For the last few days at least, Sanam’s Gchat status has been “filth shower.” Yesterday, my curiosity finally got the better of me and I asked her why she would say such a thing. Sanam explained. The story behind “filth shower” is, in fact, so perverse that I’d rather not write it out, for fear of the weirdos that would be doubtlessly drawn to my blog if I did so.

Importantly, however, the filth shower didn’t happen to Sanam. Upon learning this, I had to admit to her that I was a little disappointed. I honestly wanted “filth shower” to represent some funny, awful story, or at least a confession. I don’t know if my disappointment stemmed from all the sympathy I was prepared to expressed but now could not or a general sense of better-you-than-me. And this is odd, because I like Sanam and generally don’t want to see filth rain down upon her, swimming into her every nook and cranny and even into her mouth when she finally gives into the overwhelming feeling of disgust and scream and scream and screams.

My reaction prompted me to look for antonyms for schadenfreude, that wonderful German word that refers to joy at other people’s sorry. In this case, I was sad that someone else was happy — or at least that they missed out on misfortune. However, much in the manner that it’s difficult to determine the exact opposite of an apple or and orange, pointing out the opposite of a concept such as schadenfreude can be tricky. For example, schadenfreude has two parts: one person’s happiness and the corresponding unhappiness of the second person. Should you flip one part? The first? The second? Or both? Or would changing both make the concept altogether different from what it was initially, like a double negative or a two-headed dog that dies because it can’t go to the bathroom?

Most websites offer the Buddhist concept of mudita as a contrast for schadenfreude. But I’m sure this isn’t the appropriate word for my reaction — mudita refers to rejoicing in others’ happiness, and that is certainly not the case here. Then there’s pity and sympathy and compassion and all those nice words that refer to sadness felt as the result of others’ misfortune. And none of these are the case here. Finally, Wikipedia also offers envy — unhappiness at another’s good fortune — as another potential antonym, but I don’t think it’s appropriate either. I didn’t want to be in the filth shower, after all. I wanted Sanam to be the one becoming so very unclean.

This process brings me to two possible conclusions. First, my reaction to Sanam’s filth shower — or lack thereof — could possibly be described as “me being a jerk.” Second, the lesson on schadenfreude offered by The Simpsons might have been the right. From the episode “When Flanders Failed” :
Lisa: Dad, do you know what schadenfreude is?

Homer: No, I do not know what shaden-frawde is. [sarcastically] Please tell me, because I’m dying to know.

Lisa: It’s a German term for “shameful joy” — taking pleasure in the suffering of others.

Homer: Oh, come on Lisa. I’m just glad to see him fall flat on his butt! [getting mad] He’s usually all happy and comfortable, and surrounded by loved ones, and it makes me feel... What’s the opposite of that shameful joy thing of yours?

Lisa: [nastily] Sour grapes.

Homer: Boy, those Germans have a word for everything!
So there — it’s either me being a jerk or sour grapes. Though I have to admit neither of those make me sound very good.

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