Secondhand Embarrassment Is Real, And It Sucks

Secondhand Embarrassment

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? A character does something embarrassing in a book or movie or TV show, and you just can’t look (or continue reading) because somewhere deep inside, you’re embarrassed for them? I like to call that secondhand embarrassment, and it afflicts me deeply.

Sure, the main reason I don’t watch reality shows is because I find them insipid and much worse than watching nothing at all. But a close runner-up reason is because I can’t bear secondhand embarrassment, and it seems like all anyone does on a reality show is embarrass themselves. Take The Bachelor, for instance. A couple dozen women throwing themselves at a guy they barely know, and for what? 15 minutes of fame? Money? (Honestly, I don’t actually know what the prize is, other than the guy.) How are you not embarrassed for these women? And if you are…how do you continue to watch it?

The same goes for fictional characters. We’ve all read books that are utterly cringe-inducing for one reason or another—cheesy romances, clichéd dialogue, obvious lack of research—and it’s likely that, at some point, you’ve had to put a book down for a second because it was just too much. Same for TV and movies, sitcoms/romantic comedies in particular. You just know that, at some point, someone is going to do something stupid and they’re going to hate themselves for it. Andrew feels it, too, and will often hide his face on my shoulder if he knows something particularly awkward is about to happen.

Why do people enjoy this? I suppose there’s some schadenfreude involved, and I can see that (I watched and enjoyed exactly one season of “Tool Academy” with my college roommates thanks to schadenfreude)—but in most cases, for me, the secondhand embarrassment just makes it soooo not worth it.

How about you? Do you suffer from secondhand embarrassment, or do you enjoy schadenfreude?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

8 thoughts on “Secondhand Embarrassment Is Real, And It Sucks

  1. Ooh, I hate this sort of thing! I’ll pause a movie or TV episode if it’s too much. Same with books. Or skip ahead a little bit so I can avoid the most painful part.

  2. I have always felt embarrassed for other people (either real or fictional characters) and it makes me feel quite ridiculous because it makes no sense. I’m not the one humiliating myself! Glad it’s not just me who feels this way 🙂

  3. OMG YES! I SO feel this! Sometimes I just cannot get over the embarassing things characters do and it’s just mortifying. And then there are just plain bad choices, which make me yell at the book/tv/whichever medium I’m using “You did not just do that”.
    I feel your pain.

    • Ahhh, sometimes bad choices are just the worst. There’s one book that I actually LOVE whose author clearly didn’t research some stuff…he kept talking about “ancient Vietnamese ideograms” and how one character could recognize it as Vietnamese but couldn’t read it but maybe his brother could, etc. etc….but Vietnamese is written with the latin alphabet! So even if the characters *were* ancient Vietnamese, there’s no reason that a modern Vietnamese person would even recognize it let alone be able to read it. And this is a very widely published and popular author and I wonder how he let that one slip by.

  4. It’s why I rarely watch any mainstream comedy these days – it’s based so heavily on the humiliation of others, I just can’t stand it. There’s plenty of TV I won’t watch, films I’ll avoid like the plague, books I won’t read, no matter how critically acclaimed or how popular, simply because I can’t *stand* that secondhand embarassment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *