From Disgust to Delight: Schadenfreude in the Creation of Left-wing Subjectivity
The concept of schadenfreude in the Oxford English Dictionary is understood as ‘the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others’, understood in this research as a sensation or “pre-cognitive intensity”, which affords the subject a certain self-satisfaction in an automatic, unconscious process. Left-wing, late-night political comedy news shows validate the use of a ‘justice-based’ schadenfreude, based on the perceived deservingness of the misfortune of conservative figures, as shorthand to inform and confirm their viewers’ subject position as liberal thinkers.
By focussing on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, this thesis sets out to claim that schadenfreude, both found immediately in Daily Show content and in an extended ‘mood landscape’ fashioned via remediation of the original content, operates to become a key signifier of left-wing subjectivity.
Following Benedict Spinoza, this research presents a two-sided vision of schadenfreude as an ‘affect’, positing that it entails an equation of ‘disgust’—based on “trajectories of repulsion” from an external affecting body—and ‘delight’, along an axis of conservative misfortune. This project highlights the intersection between mediated schadenfreude and Judith Butler’s paradoxical elements of subjectivity; subjection, and becoming a subject. To develop this question further, the thesis turns briefly to right-wing spheres of schadenfreude, a secondary location to ascertain theextent of the ‘ephemerality’ of affect as it is placed in media structures.
Through analysis of the show’s semiotic and rhetorical techniques of analogy, intertextuality, and vignette across various video clips on YouTube, and their adoption by secondary media institutions such as The Guardian and The New York Times, the thesis isolates the manner in which mediated schadenfreude works to interpellate the audience and craft a left-wing ‘mood’, using the conservative body and its humiliation as a site to articulate liberal political subjectivity.