It’s Not Schadenfreude

It’s just an average southern English mid-March day. Not hot, not cold; not sunny but not as grey as many. A decent enough day for a bike ride. An average early-in-the-year temperate climate day.

In Japan there’s been a large earthquake and what looks to have been a very damaging tsunami. A stint riding by the Thames and the post-winter debris caught up near a lock keeps the disaster there firmly in mind.

I know no-one in Japan. It is extremely unlikely to have a direct impact on me; I certainly can’t foresee one. In that I’m just the same as most other people in the UK I guess. And just like them, I’ve found myself fascinated as I watch the footage of it all. The BBC – TV and online – has been full of it all day. Regular schedules are being altered on BBC1 and BBC-HD, and the rolling news channel BBC News 24 can’t get enough of it.

I suppose the abject failure of BBC News 24 can’t be better demonstrated than by the fact that they feel they have to interrupt BBC1 to cover major news. They only persist with it to save face. All rolling news stations are founded on the bogus premise that there is that much news – according to their own agenda – worth broadcasting; that and the vain self-importance of ‘news people’.

The ghoulishness of what we’re all supposed to be like is well demonstrated by the BBC-HD coverage. I can’t think of any other reason to show human misery in high definition. Are tears somehow better when you can see them clearly? Wounds? Broken limbs? Wrecked homes?

It seems we’re all rubber-neckers. At least, it seems the BBC, the nation’s broadcaster, judges that we are. If we’ll slow down to watch a motorway pile-up, then hell yes, we’ll all watch a nation-scale catastrophe, even if it is on the other side of the world.


Flotsam, but on an insignificant scale

Perhaps that’s a key factor, that it is on the other side of the world. A safe distance. It’s not as if you’ll be staring at someone you know dying. That makes it so much better.

It’s nonsensical to sense there’s an incongruity in riding around lanes, struggling a bit up hills, enjoying some hints of warmth from the sun but feeling as if that’s all somehow wrong because of an earthquake thousands of miles away. Nevertheless, it niggles at me the whole time I’m out. I’m not comfortable that I’m willing to,even keen to watch disasters befalling others.

I can make excuses, I suppose, along the lines of it being the ‘power of nature’ that I’m watching and not human misery. That it’s the scale of the event that’s gripping, not the individual pain and loss. Those are true statements … but I suspect that’s not the whole truth. Schadenfreude? No, I’m not deriving any pleasure from the misfortune of others. It’s not akin to a Roman Holiday. Some feeling of ‘there but for the grace of god’ doesn’t work either. We don’t have earthquakes like that here. Something like that is never likely to befall us. There’s no plausible ‘lucky escape’.

Perhaps it’s positive to be reminded of our collective mortality.

I could say the victims of it have my sympathy but that’s futile and vacuous. As if it means a thing. I took some pictures of some debris on the river and thought about the scale of the debris strewn around in Japan.

I said hello to two old boys walking along the lane near May’s Green as I rode by them, pretty confident in expecting an acknowledgement. What I got was the most ‘hale and hearty’ greeting back that I think I’ve ever had. Wonderful. The sort of event to makes you smile, any day, whatever’s going on in the world. And that’s odd too.