Bernie Madoff - what a mug!
Schadenfreude is a German word that translates as "the illicit joy that one takes in the misery of others." There are times when it is the perfect word and the Madoff scandal is one of them. From the start, the tale has been a veritable schadenfreude bonanza, complete with rich people going begging and a self-ascribed financial genius going to jail. For those of us who work every day and don't live off capital gains, it's been hard to look away.
On the other hand, schadenfreude can be a tough mistress. After all, while it may be pleasant to imagine Bernie Madoff enjoying the confines of a tiny cell, a lumpy bed and a potentially amorous roommate, the sad truth is that his time in prison will never really make up for the misery that he inflicted upon his victims. It won't restore the credibility of the SEC, which has justifiably been shamed by its failure to stop him, nor will it lessen Americans' impulse right now to stuff their money under a mattress.
But just because we know that schadenfreude won't make us whole doesn't mean we don't like it. The news media understands our weakness for just desserts. Newspapers and television programs has served up image after image of prison cells and courtrooms, and we've learned tasty details like the fact that Bernie took off his wedding ring and gave it to his wife before his processing by the criminal justice system. We know, for example, that he has been wearing a bulletproof vest to court, just in case one of the hordes of people who used to clamor for his advice might now want to put a few slugs in him. We know that some of the charitable groups that he used to work for are now themselves charity cases , and we've watched as as the web of relatives, childhood friends, neighbors, fellow club members and business associates that he spent a lifetime building has dissolved into bitterness and bile.
The latest detail in the Madoff circus has been the release of what may or may not be Bernie's mug shot. While numerous news sources claim that the dull, gray-backed image of the notorious swindler was provided courtesy of the Department of Justice, the DOJ hasn't confirmed it.
Regardless of its provenance, however, the photo is fascinating. It shows a man, mouth itching to smile, eyes beseeching our trust as they stare into the camera. Even now, at the end, it shows a man who seems to think he has all the answers and is willing to share them with us, for a price. In fact, for a carton of cigarettes, I imagine that at this point he'd give you all the advice you could ever want.