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Word of the Week: Spaßgesellschaft

Germans are serious, cold and not very outgoing people who don’t like dancing and rarely laugh or smile – fact or lie?

Especially in the end 1990’s and the early years of the last decade, quite many members of German society were clearly convinced that the latter was true. They were concerned about a seemingly frightening tendency in German society/youth culture – the tendency to become a Spaßgesellschaft (fun society, hedonistic society).

You might ask yourself the question how come a society where people have fun is considered a major problem… The term Spaßgesellschaft, or Spassgesellschaft, appeared for the first time in an article by the Berlin-based, left-leaning newspaper TAZ on January 23, 1993. The first substantial article about the Spaßgesellschaft was published by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel in August 1996 (“Sei schlau, hab Spaß – be smart, have fun”).

The term Spaßgesellschaft was created as a sort of derogatory description of the alleged evolution of German society from a collectivistic, family-oriented culture (including values such as a sense of responsibility, selflessness, assiduity, work discipline) to an individualistic and depoliticized society, which is characterized by hedonism, egoism, compulsive consumption, shallowness and a focus on leisure time instead of work.

According to the critics, the Spaßgesellschaft was symbolized by fun events such as the Love Parade, by the increased importance of private television with its talkshows, reality shows (i.e. “Big Brother”) as well as permissive comedy series’, and it ultimately reflected the stultification of German society (shocking…).

Interestingly, against the background of today’s increasingly politicized youth culture (demonstrations against tuition fees, nuclear energy and a planned new train station in Stuttgart), Spaßgesellschaft is nowadays mostly used by Germany’s youth itself – obviously not in its original derogatory meaning, but in an ironic and amusing way. This version is full of self-mockery and subtly ridicules how exaggerated fears at the turn of the millennium were. Thus, the original statement is suprisingly both – a fact and a lie.

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