What is California Schadenfreude?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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California schadenfreude is the dislike of the state and the hope that bad things will happen to it. Thanks to frequent portrayals as a land of sun, surf and money, some people feel considerable resentment toward the Golden State. Even some California residents express a semi-serious desire for bad things to happen at the opposite end of the state.

Schadenfreude is a German philosophical concept that means taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. Usually, this comes not from a desire to cause or see harm, but rather as an equalizer for those considered better than the common person. Delighting in the car accidents or wardrobe malfunctions of celebrities is a common form of schadenfreude. California schadenfreude is a quiet or vocal enjoyment of harm or disaster befalling the state of California.

The world knows California for being filled with exceptional weather and a great deal of leisure time. It is unavoidable that California is quite a beautiful place. The large state possesses a range of environments, from the sunny shores of the southern part of the state to the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains. Moreover, the metropolitan centers of the state lead to a seemingly prosperous economy.


Yet for all California’s natural and cultural splendor, it has introduced some concepts to the world that many would rather forget. Surfer speak and Valley girl slang are two easy examples of the vapid and resented reputation California has obtained. Additionally, hearing about the killer waves and great tanning at Venice Beach while you are buried in a snowstorm in Montana can certainly breed irritation.

California schadenfreude often pertains to feelings about natural disasters. California’s dry climate and fault lines makes it particularly susceptible to wildfires and earthquakes. When wildfires destroy the homes of celebrities in wealthy areas such as Malibu, as happened in 2007, people experiencing California schadenfreude are less likely to feel sympathy toward the rich movie stars losing their home and possibly feel a sense of justice being done.

Within the state itself, California schadenfreude takes on a distinctly home-turf issue. Despite it being one large state, California is often considered two distinct cultures, Northern and Southern. Northern California is characterized by a more liberal political agenda, a long history of hippy culture and a general connection to nature and the environment. Mostly because of the mega-city of Los Angeles, Southern California is usually defined by an emphasis on technology and appearance, and its association with Hollywood and media production. Occasionally, these fundamental differences lead to petty wishes for harm to the other side of the state.

It should be noted that California schadenfreude is rarely a serious desire. Very few people seem to express actually wishes of destruction on this West Coast state. The feeling appears to be more of a simple impulse toward moderation. California appears on the surface to be an unusually blessed state, in terms of wealth, entertainment and natural beauty. People dis-satisfied with their own locations can understandably feel mildly resentful of a culture that seems ideal. But even those who dislike the state seem unsure of the origin of California schadenfreude. In an anti-Golden State song, singer Jonathan Coulton simply announces, “I hate California, there’s something out there I don’t get.”


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