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Celebrity and Schadenfreude: The cultural economy of fame in freefall

Littler, J. & Cross, S. (2010). Celebrity and Schadenfreude: The cultural economy of fame in freefall. Cultural Studies, 24(3), pp. 395-417. doi: 10.1080/09502381003750344


This paper explores the popularity of contemporary expressions of delight in celebrity downfall, or Schadenfreude towards celebrity culture, and questions to what extent they can be understood as cultural critiques of economic inequality. For just as the economy has its own parables, so do ‘cultural’ expressions contain parables of normativity about economic life. We argue that Schadenfreude's relationship to ‘equality’ can be read in terms of social, cultural and economic blockages, and investigate some of the history to this feeling by exploring different arguments over the meaning and status of ‘equality’ in modern and post-modern societies. This survey of its contested meanings highlights the distinctions which have been made and elided between property and identity, the economic and the cultural, and the political and the private. These geneaologies are used to interpret Schadenfreude, and to highlight the tension between two different aspects of contemporary subjectivity: ‘integrity’ and marketability of the self. By drawing on these contested genealogies and theories of equality, we are also arguing that Schadenfreude toward celebrity in its most common contemporary form cannot be seen merely as a superstructural phenomenon of a neo-liberal base but rather as stitched into and as of a piece with this neo-liberal culture. We argue that whilst Schadenfreude is able to be articulated in different directions, it overwhelmingly works to express irritation at inequalities but not to change the wider rules of the current social system, and its political economy often actually entails it fuelling inequalities of wealth. In these terms, Schadenfreude can be perceived as being intimately related to autistic economic culture and as being able to be perpetuated by coasting on its own status as an autistic response.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Cultural Studies on 01/06/2010, available online:
Publisher Keywords: celebrity, cultural economy, equality, Schadenfreude
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: City, University of London (-2022) > School of Arts & Social Sciences
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