Monday, April 21, 2008

Schadenfreude History: Geraldo and Al Capone's Vault

This is the twenty-second anniversary of a moment Geraldo Rivera would just as soon forget, but no one will let him. We're certainly not going to let him off the hook here. His overhyped television special "The Opening of Al Capone's Vault" has its own chapter in the book Schadenfreude, Baby!

Geraldo's penchant for showboating and putting his own feelings into a story earned him many critics, even before he opened Al Capone's vault on live TV to find nothing but a couple of empty bottles. That's why his public embarassment was the cause of so much Schadenfreude.

And because Geraldo's style seems to have paved the way for a whole breed of opinionated reporters who now dominate the airways, "The Opening of Al Capone's Vault" has become a symbol of self-aggradizing, celebrity journalism with nothing at its center.

In the following YouTube clip, Geraldo took time away from being hit in the face with with chairs and drawing lines in the sand in Iraq to laugh along with his detractors. (Taking the advice of psychoanalyst Claudie Sies).

And let's give Geraldo his props. As Neil Steinberg wrote in his book Complete and Utter Failure, “the definition of real failure is the presence of true consequences—a fall, as opposed to a neglect to climb.” In other words, you have to get off your butt and try something before you can fail spectacularly at it. Could you get yourself a prime time TV show and a big enough audience for an embarassment of this size? I didn't think so.