Schadenfreude is a term meaning "pleasure taken from someone else's misfortune." It's that feeling you get when you see someone on a high moral horse get brough low, or that warm fuzzy feeling when you see a terribly rude driver miss their exit. It's that satisfaction you get with yourself when you see someone and think "wow, I'm pretty normal." It's also the feeling that drives the success of American Idol's initial episodes. Everyone loves the first episodes because there are so many people there who are completely awful singers or completely deluded. All sorts of people who are clueless in all sorts of ways - whether it's social skills or fashion sense we are brought face to face with a parade of people to laugh at.
Sometimes these people need to be set straight, and Simon is good at that. Some are unduly arrogant and really do need to be told they aren't good singers or performers. You don't do someone any favors if you keep giving them the false notion that they an have success when it comes to a singing career. Sometimes, however, the people are on there simply so we can marvel and laugh at how ugly/dumb/foolish/terrible/socially awkward they are. Last season was the first season I kept track of (since we got DVR) and so far there have been a couple episodes this season.
More than ever before I find myself feeling a little guilty for laughing or wanting to laugh at some of these people. And while I often appreciate the way Simon bluntly informs people they need to pursue other career paths, he often takes the opportunity to completely shame and insult people. And of course that's on the show not so we can hate Simon but rather so we can laugh. This last episode in Seattle had Simon telling one guy that he was "very odd looking" and that he looked "like one of those creatures from the jungle."
As someone who claims that every person is valuable and who wants to follow Christ's command to love others and accept those the rest of the world doesn't accept, I find myself a little conflicted when I watch the show. Some of the people are obviously going for a laugh, but others are just clueless about their situation. They are purposely let through the process to see Simon, Paula, and Randy so we can laugh at them. I'm not condemning the show or anything but I'm trying to remember these are actual, real people, not just characters. And if I make a habit of laughing at people who are different then it's not really going to help me as I go through life and encounter people like that. What do they need? Not to be laughed at but rather to be loved, accepted, encouraged, etc. So thank you American Idol for reminding me what a jerk I can be sometimes.
Finally as an aside...in a culture where "tolerance" and "acceptance" and "not judging" are considered the only truly right/moral things, I find it curious that the most popular episodes of the most popular show are the ones where we laugh at people for being different.