I need a new word, or maybe the word already exists and I just need someone to educate me. We’re all familiar with schadenfreude – the enjoyment derived from observing the misfortune of another. But what do you call the guilt or creepiness one feels in reaction to wallowing around in schadenfreude? This feeling doesn’t tag along every time schadenfreude goes out to play, sometimes it just feels good to see someone else feel bad, especially when the misfortune they experience reveals them as a hypocrite, a liar or not as perfect as they claim to be.
But sometimes, in addition to the event or occurrence that allows us to see the fallible, lying, hypocrite behind the curtain, there’s a third party … an innocent third party who’s sustained as much or more damage as the person whose actions brought about our delight at their downfall. So how can I enjoy giggling and clapping my hands with glee as I break into the Schadenfreude Shuffle, when there’s a real, live person out there for whom the situation is no laughing matter?
This is the dilemma in which I currently find myself following the announcement that has brought shame to the House of Duggar — the family featured in TLC’s bafflingly popular show 19 Kids And Counting. It seems the eldest son of the Duggar clan, Josh, has confirmed that roughly a dozen years ago, he acted in a manner most vile while in the company of younger children.
I’ve never actually watched the TLC series. Years ago the family was profiled in a documentary, or on a show like Dateline or 20/20 or some such thing, when they only had thirteen or fourteen kids, and they struck me as terribly bizarre. They were building a home big enough to hold their ever-expanding brood, while using said brood as free labor to complete the task. They were bland and weirdly plastic as they paraded around in the matching outfits they were so fond of. I remember one scene when they all piled out of their van wearing khakis and red polo shirts, looking like Target employees in the idyllic town of Stepford.
That documentary was enough for me. So when they eventually got their own show, I had absolutely no desire to check in and see if their weirdness had abated. One look at the mother, Michelle, still sporting her I’m In A Cult! hair-do told me everything I needed to know.
I would have been fine judging them from afar, relying on limited data, personal bias and a hairstyle that only works when worn with a dress straight out of Little House On The Prairie. But then she of the prairie-hair had to go and lend her voice to some political robo-call aimed at spreading hate and misinformation about the trans community.
“Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men – yes, I said men – to use women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls. I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool’s private changing area?”
While I can slather myself in guilt-free schadenfreude when news breaks about a toe-tapping politician getting his holier-than-thou ass busted trying to solicit sex in an airport restroom; I find it considerably less comfortable gloating over the recent stain on the Duggars’ wholesome reputation … uncomfortable, but not impossible. I managed to update Facebook with a comment regarding a new TLC series focusing on Josh Duggar’s actions, which would also be called 19 Kids And Counting. Is it in bad taste? Probably. Is it funny? I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t think so.
A couple of years ago, the question of whether rape jokes are appropriate or funny was being hotly debated on the internet. And when I say “hotly debated on the internet,” I mean long, well-thought-out comments citing examples, dates and names, that make strong arguments about the lasting effects of sexual assault and why joking about such a heinous act further damages victims and detracts from the severity of the crime, followed by such scathing replies as “fuck you dike,” “no means yes, yes means anal” and “you need to get rapped.”
My take on that situation was that rape is never funny, but rape jokes sometimes are. And I think the same holds true for the situation into which Josh Duggar has put himself and his family. Would it have been better if he revealed that he’s trans? Of course! It would have been karmic retribution so intense it couldn’t be measured on existing karma scales. And unlike pedophilia, being transgender doesn’t require traumatizing innocent victims. It does, however, come equipped with an ever-growing community offering acceptance, support and a voice too strong to be shouted down by the likes of Michelle Duggar.