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From hero to outcast: The rhetoric of schadenfreude and its implications
Merton, Elizabeth Catherine
Boyd, RichardMcClish, GlenMartin, Stephen-Paul
Media outlets across the United States have long relied upon stories covering disgraced celebrities. The prevalence and popularity of these types of stories is difficult to deny, though very little rhetorical analysis has been dedicated to their structure, significance, or effect upon audiences. Through the lens of generic criticism, this thesis analyzes the media's portrayal and audience reaction to the fallen celebrity. Close examination provides evidence that the fallen celebrity narrative can be best understood through a genre of schadenfreude. The German concept of Schadenfreude provides a suitable frame for identifying and understanding coverage relating to disgraced media stars in that it explains the prevalence of rhetoric evoking envy, justice, and vilification. Analysis of editorial coverage, published on the Internet and in widely read news papers, of the Lance Armstrong scandal provide evidence of similar characteristics, arguments, and judgments. This thesis proposes that the genre of schadenfreude thrives in modern capitalistic societies because of the audience's ambivalence regarding its promise of equal opportunity for all. Celebrities both personify the promise of capitalism and provoke more uncomfortable emotions, such as envy, in the audience. The genre of schadenfreude functions as a balm, offering relief from the discomfort roused by negative comparisons between celebrity and audience. A more harmful byproduct of the genre of schadenfreude is its power to mask underlying social problems by encouraging the scapegoating process.
Rhetoric and Writing Studies
Arts and Letters
Master of Arts (M.A.) San Diego State University, 2013
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