What is it about seeing the mighty fall that causes us to gather for miles around to watch the spectacle? Why do we love to see the wealthy and powerful brought low?
This is what was going through my mind last night when the Twitterverse went into hyperdrive during Rep. Anthony Weiner's press conference. About half the comments were hysterically funny, and the other half were self-righteously indignant. And it left me to wonder: what was this guy's real sin? Was it sending pictures of his junk to some chick on the Internet? Or was it lying about doing it once he was caught?
Then I wake up this morning to find out that Lenny Dykstra is back in stir. It seems this former multi-millionaire and would be hedge fund manager's descent into Hell is near complete, considering he can no longer even afford his bail. He's charged with drug possession and forging documents to lease cars (a charge that apparently amounts to Grand Theft Auto), and is now facing 12 years in prison. And that's on top of his separate charges of bankruptcy fraud.
Why are we even interested in stories like this? I have to admit my own puerile fascination with a good comeuppance, especially if that comeuppance comes on the heels of loud and indignant protests of innocence (as in Weiner's case). Are we all just crabs in a bucket, jealously clawing at any of our fellows who manage to rise above? Or is it something deeper than that?
Does the high-profile failure of others make us somehow feel better about ourselves? For me personally, I have to chalk it up to pure schadenfreude -- which I'll allow makes me something of a sociopath. I don't actually feel better about myself when some big shot gets hosed, I just get a kick out of it.
This is especially true for me about hypocrites, which is ironic because I'm one of the biggest hypocrites I know. But for some reason I find hypocrisy utterly detestable, and I delight in seeing wealthy and powerful hypocrites dragged through the mud. For my money, there's nothing better than a homophobic fire-and-brimstone mega-church preacher caught getting a handjob from a male escort and then being forced to face the music. It's a personality defect I'm well aware of.
However, throughout the whole tawdry Weiner episode, there was a vocal minority pointing out that we as a country have much bigger fish to fry. Double-digit unemployment, a faltering dollar, a looming debt ceiling, and a host of other more important issues to be reporting on than some Brooklyn sleazebag who tweeted his garbage. And that's a fair point.
What does it say about us as a people that we choose to focus on the salacious but meaningless goings on of the rich and famous? Is it just human nature? Why do we so love to see the mighty fall? Why do we delight so much in the humiliation of others?
Mod note: Blast from the Past - "Best of Eddie." This was originally posted in June 2011.