In a newspaper profile some years back, the irrepressible but demented pulp magazine publisher Myron Fass explained why his “death books”—instant postmortems on dead celebrities—sold so well. Ordinary people, suggested Fass, actually want famous, talented people to die, because no matter how insignificant their own lives are, living nobodies are inherently superior to dead somebodies. Hence, goes the gospel according to Fass, every reader is an assassin in his cold, cold heart.
Its hard to dismiss Fass cynicism as the ravings of a diseased mind as the New Economy winds down. What the Germans call schadenfreude—to take an unhealthy pleasure in others misfortune—has reached epidemic proportions. Every entrepreneurial dream squelched, every mass layoff, every fire sale, is greeted with an unprecedented outpouring of vitriol. Were witnessing the economic version of Fass theory, with insolvency and unemployment substituting for human death.
OK, so whats the big deal? you may ask. Every epoch, launched on a wave of idealism, ultimately is ushered into oblivion by malcontents and cynics. The fall of communism and the entire decade of the 60s are now thematic devices to sell automobiles. Two hours of TV commercials on any given night offer a complete retrospective of The Who. It surely wont be long before the dot-com era is similarly co-opted.
And, of course, thousands of dot-commers brought this plague on themselves, through the three As—arrogance, avarice and abnormal selfishness.
Still, it is one thing to not feel sorry about a revolution in ruins; its quite another to be one of those pathological losers who wants to throw the death switch. While its in full swing, schadenfreude gives off a foul odor. Our lizard brains, too, have their light and dark sides, and the garbage thats circulating out there now seems to be coming from the darkest part of the human psyche—a place where dot-com death books would flourish and Myron Fass would feel very much at home.