Lucretian Pigs


The Roman poet Lucretius famously wrote, ‘Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis, e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem.’ In English, that’s ‘It is pleasant to watch from the land the great struggle of someone else in a sea rendered great by turbulent winds.’

What do we call that feeling today? Schadenfreude, the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. People often show signs of schadenfreude, of course, but these days, we seem to have pretty pronounced tendencies when it comes to who we get all schadenfreudey about.

Case in point? Marissa Powell. Or, as she’s better known in 8 billion social media mentions over the past 24 hours, the Miss USA Pageant’s Miss Utah. In case you’ve been out of digital device coverage, the story goes like this: beauty pageants have a part in which contestants get asked questions, which they then answer more-or-less extemporaneously. Ms. Powell was asked the following question:

“A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

Her answer was rocky, rambling and perhaps not even entirely coherent. She used poor grammar. She didn’t really make a point and her answer wasn’t really responsive to the question.  [Because it was broadcast worldwide, you can find complete video documentation without much effort; I won’t post the video here.]

Ms. Powell was pretty well skewered for her (admittedly) lame response in newspapers, online media, social media, and on television. Made to look like an empty-headed fool. Criticized for everything from her model-good looks to her state of origin.

Okay, haha, I get it. She’s pretty and she said something dumb in public. Schedenfreude, right? But before we get feeling all superior to Ms. Powell and delighted in her very public and mean-spirited humiliation, let me make a couple of points here.

First, responding extemporaneously to unanticipated questions is inherently difficult. Not many people do it well, even under the best of circumstances. Doing so in front of a substantially-sized audience is even more difficult. Now add lots of bright and hot lights, uncomfortable hair, makeup and wardrobe, TV cameras instantaneously beaming your every utterance worldwide, and the factor of wanting to succeed at a competition. Now, imagine yourself in the same situation. Think you’d fare much better?


I’ve seen a lot of people answer tough questions in public – done it myself more than a time or two – and I’d encourage you to think again.

Second is the (not) little matter of gender. Women who commit verbal gaffes in public, as it turns out, fare considerably less well than their male counterparts. Compare the reaction Ms. Powell received to the treatment received by some men  in similar situations, like, for example, athletes being interviewed. Stupid, trite, cliche, unintelligible, inane. Too many instances to count. Do they get critiqued? Sure. Humiliated? Not to the extent Ms. Powell endured, and not very often. 

I appreciate verbal communication as much as anyone, and I wouldn’t look for genius at the Miss USA Pageant but I’d encourage a little care before we try to make a complete buffoon of one of its contestants.

I believe there are some dark influences behind this whole schadenfreude thing we got going. 


Charles Barkley Got a Crush On Me

sir charles barkley

He came to an NBA champion Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers team as a wild-playing rookie from Auburn. He was thick, big and broad, a little undisciplined, never able to control his weight.

In his final year playing professional basketball, his team’s media guide listed him at 252 pounds but, as a rookie, he seemed closer to 350. His face was round and childlike. He was, for want of a better word, pudgy. It looked like he hadn’t yet quite lost his babyfat.

Next to the sleek, controlled and experienced pros he played with on the Sixers (e.g., Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks), he looked like a puppy who hadn’t grown into his paws.


One night during Barkley’s rookie season, thanks to the person I was dating at the time, I enjoyed the game from courtside seats. It was amazing to see these athletes play the game from that close; there’s nothing like proximity to make the game come alive.

I remember one play in particular.

I was speaking to the person next to me when I saw her eyes open very wide and she said the word “God” almost inaudibly. I looked to the court just in time to see the huge and growing form of Charles Barkley flying at me in pursuit of a loose ball. In my memory, it looked something like this, only moving way faster:


No time to move.

The next thing I knew – literally, the very next thing – he slammed into me at full speed, driving me into the court and destroying the chair I was seated in. And when I say destroyed, I mean collapsed it pancake-flat.

He pushed off my chest to get up and back into the game. A Spectrum employee came over to pull the chair off the floor and place a new one in the now-vacated space. I, of course, was still prone, only slowly regaining awareness. My friend helped me up and into the new chair and after a few minutes another Spectrum employee came over to give me a towel to wipe myself down (it had taken me a few minutes to realize just how wet I was). That was it.

I’ll never forget being full-out flattened by him but, to this day, Charles Barkley has never said a word.

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