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Baader-Meinhof Schadenfreude!!

January 22, 2009

Looking at the Oscar Nominations this morning, I thought I recognized the name of the film The Baader Meinhof Complex, a German film nominated for Best Foriegn Picture.

As it turns out, I did recognize the title, but not because of this movie. A couple years ago the fascinating site Damn Interesting published a piece on a phenomenon that we have all experienced but never knew that there was a name for: The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. You know how you learn a new word or discover a new product, then suddenly you start seeing that product or hearing and reading that word, like, a gizillion times later that week? That’s exactly what Baader-Meinhof attempts to explain.

From Damn Interesting:

You may have heard about Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon before. In fact, you probably learned about it for the first time very recently. If not, then you just might hear about it again very soon. Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one happens upon some obscure piece of information– often an unfamiliar word or name– and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly. Anytime the phrase “That’s so weird, I just heard about that the other day” would be appropriate, the utterer is hip-deep in Baader-Meinhof.

In the last couple of years I can remember a couple examples that happened to me. One was when I bought a Toyota Previa van. I couldn’t believe that I had never noticed these space-bubbles rambling around the city – now I see at least one a day.

The other was the word schadenfreude. I hadn’t heard it in a long time, looked it up, and n0w read it several times a week! A Google image search for the word revealed the picture below.

David Pollard at Salon has some thoughts on schadenfreude:

Schadenfreude. It’s a German word that literally means “joy from damage”. It refers to the perverse pleasure we take in observing or hearing about the misfortunes of others. That pleasure seems to be enhanced by talking about it with others — gossip would be empty without it, and when we hear about a disaster, like the horrendous catastrophe of this week’s Asian earthquake and tsunami, we have an almost instinctive need to share the news with others.

If you don’t think it’s pleasure we feel in these situations, here are some more examples:

  • Our reaction when we hear that another couple’s marriage has broken up, or suffered a sex scandal
  • Our reaction when someone we know (but don’t love) loses their job, or their life savings
  • Our reaction when we hear of an unexpected death or tragedy outside our immediate circle of family or friends
  • The pleasure we get from comedy that recounts the protagonists’ stupid, catastrophic or pathetic behaviours and their consequences
  • The satisfaction we get from hearing about criminals’ dire, even cruel, punishments
  • Reality TV
  • The joy many felt at the bursting of the dot-com bubble
  • Our media-pandered fascination with celebrities’ scandals
  • The pleasure we get from winning a game or sporting event, that we wouldn’t get if there wasn’t a ‘loser’
  • The popularity of movies that dwell on, and exploit war, suffering, and horror

Read the rest of his piece.

Have you experienced Baader-Meinhof lately? Let me know!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2009 7:55 AM

    You have such educational blog posts. 🙂 Bring on the linguistics!

  2. January 30, 2009 10:51 AM

    Thanks Tessa!

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