A couple weeks ago I happened to come across a TV Tropes entry for the television program Revenge. It was summed up pretty accurately in the article as a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a book I really, really need to get around to reading some day (I’ve glossed over the Cliffs Notes, though)– but that’s all beside the point today. I just wondered exactly why some executive thought the title Revenge would in any way compel people to watch the show.
Although, sadly, the more I think about it, revenge is itself pretty much its own motivation. I have to admit that I find some amount of satisfaction in seeing someone get a comeuppance they seem to deserve. Schadenfreude is, after all, a perfectly legitimate emotion to feel– it’s a primal instinct that helps to reaffirm our tendency towards being social creatures. When you f#$% up, you’re gonna get it somewhere down the line. Humans as a rule like to know that the karma bank is solvent, and paying out dividends on time and to their rightful clients.
Where it gets ugly is in the urge to act on that oneself. The people that wronged us should get their just desserts, but for us to see that happen we have to be on the outside of it. Otherwise, when you start working towards the goal of revenge, suddenly the nature of the catharsis changes: you’re not seeing something bad happen to someone you dislike, you’re actively causing harm to that person, and that’s what your brain rewards.
Besides, the perfect revenge isn’t about stomping someone down below your level: it’s about raising yourself up so that you end as far above your aggressor as they pulled you down with them.
I’m working on it.