When a human being experiences a challenging time in their life and is subsequently subjected to endless jokes and memes trivialising their pain, something just ain’t right.
Kanye West’s name has been all over the media reporting on his recent rants in his concerts and most recently for being hospitalised. I have to say I was troubled by some people’s reaction to it all.
It was almost as if people’s empathy went right out of the window, people were quick to mock Kanye and label him as ‘crazy’.
Was I wrong in thinking the reaction would be different? Psychological research has shown that although empathy is one of the strongest pro-social emotions human possess, people do not empathise with everyone all of the time (Batson & Ahmad, 2009). Especially towards ‘out-group‘ members- people who belong to groups in which the observer is not a member of.
Out-group members are seen as completely different to the observer, so un-alike to themselves it’s as if the outgroup member doesn’t experience the same things they do. This results in people favouring those similar to themselves and more likely to discriminate against different others.
For example, if you have a friend going through a rough patch you feel more inclined to support them than a celebrity who has recently fallen on hard times. This may explain the reasoning as to why people were so reckless in their comments and showed no attempt to put themselves in Kanye’s shoes.
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Kanye’s latest albums and I’m not going to act like I agree with some of the things he has said in the past or most recently. However, that doesn’t give me any reason to take pleasure in seeing him fall and not respect him as a fellow human going through a hard time. I feel that if your situation ain’t all the way right you shouldn’t be throwing stones in a glass house.
The lifestyle of an artist is so out of touch with regular normalcy it must be hard for them to be on a platform where their personal and public lives are scrutinised, they work in an industry where feelings aren’t often considered and are pushed to promote music at all hours in the hope to garner success. All this doesn’t leave much time to rest the mind and body and let their guard down to say they need a break from it all.
“The worst thing is to call someone crazy, it’s dismissive”
People who seem to experience mental health difficulties are stereotypically seen as separate from society, labelled as wackos or even worse weak. Stereotypically, men are said not to show emotion and be a pillar of strength in order to maintain this unattainable masculine ideal, that I find extremely dangerous.
This type of stigmatised attitude towards mental health has many consequences. Everyone has a mental health and it is our duty to look after our wellbeing and support others to do the same. We are quick to like & retweet pictures and videos showing a supposed happy state of mental health in a smiling selfie but can you imagine someone receiving a lot of positive attention if all they posted were the moments they felt a bit down in the dumps?
It is this lack of open and honest discussion in the face of unrealistic perfection on social media that can lead people to feel ashamed of saying they just aren’t feeling okay in their real life relationships with their friends and family.
The media is often quick to build people up but is twice as quick to drag them down. The tabloids as to be expected were all fighting to have the ‘exclusive’ on what they believed had happened to Kanye.
Is this type of media coverage a surprise?
We have long been exposed to this reductive mentality on making fun out of an entertainer’s life, leading some to form their own opinions but the masses to adopt this way of thinking. Seemingly taking joy from seeing others fall is known as Schadenfreude (Heider, 1958)- taken from the German words ‘Schaden’ meaning ‘harm’ and ‘Freude’ meaning ‘joy’. It is enjoying seeing some experiencing misfortune especially when they are perceived to be in a more enviable position. (Takahashi, Kato, Matsuura, et al., 2009).
In fact, research has found the higher a person’s social or economic position, the more we like to see them fall, causing us to experience a sense of relief and feel better about ourselves (Van Dijk, Ouwerkerk, Van Koningsbruggen, & Wesseling, 2012). This could be used to explain some people’s responses to Kanye but it doesn’t excuse it.
The moment we stop favouring division in a time where let’s face it the world is in a chaotic state of flux, the least we could do is stop being intent on division and stick together. Easier said than done, I know but what’s to say we can’t try. It’s simply not okay to label someone as something when we don’t know the full picture and are assuming something we don’t even understand. It is unfair and not called for. Treat others like you want to be treated.
- Batson CD & Ahmad NY (2009). Using empathy to improve intergroup attitudes and relations. Soc Issues Pol Rev 3, 141.
- Heider F. (1958). The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley
- Takahashi H, Kato M, Matsuura M, et al. (2009). When your gain is my pain and your pain is my gain: neural correlates of envy and Schadenfreude. Science 323, 937–939.
- Van Dijk, W. W., Ouwerkerk, J. W., Van Koningsbruggen, G. M., & Wesseling, Y. M. (2012). So You Wanna be a Pop Star?” Schadenfreude Following Another’s Misfortune on TV. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 34, 168-174.