REVIEWS: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

The surge in public outcry, fueled by journalists and social media has bothered me for quite some time. The public outrage and the ability to make your indignation known worldwide via such easy access on the internet which supplies everyone with a podium has resulted in loss of jobs for some who may have said or done something that they never expected to become news fodder for the crowd ready and willing to skewer them. It’s worse than the witch hunts. It reminds me of the fire and pitchfork wielding townfolk coming after Frankenstein’s creation or Steinbeck’s Lennie.

Ronson focuses on several high visibility cases and interviews the targets of public shaming after he realizes that he himself has had a hand in raising public awareness that resulted in the destruction of lives.

Since I haven’t posted reviews along the way of my reading the book (as I used to do and find a much better method of highlighting the finer points of the reading), I’m forced to go with little background to lead into the quoted text.

That said, here’s the first section that caught my eye:

Public punishments were abolished altogether (…) with only Delaware holding out until 1952 (…)

The New York Times, baffled by Delaware’s obstinacy, tried to argue them into change in an 1867 editorial:

If it had previously existed in (the convicted person’s) bosom a spark of self-respect this exposure to public shame utterly extinguishes it. Without the hope that springs eternal in the human breast, without some desire to reform and become a good citizen, and the feeling that such a thing is possible, no criminal can ever return to honorable courses.(pg. 51)

How many times have we felt that sickening thud of embarrassment, that oh-my-God-I-wish-I-were-dead thought of pure despair? Yet we still have this need to do unto others what we ourselves would hate to have done to us. And, to perfect strangers!

This next line definitely stopped me cold. For its truth, for its relativity to what’s becoming an all too evident trend. It comes out in a confrontation the writer (Ronson) is taking part in with a group that is supposedly a shame eradication workshop.

“There is nothing I dislike more in the world than people who care more about ideology than they do about people.”
(pg. 165)

Exactly. Read the comments on a news article covering the latest scandalous act. The public is out for blood. In their fury to support and demand justice for the offended (as well as their own sensitive natures), some require more than mere apology, they literally cry “an eye for an eye” often calling for a absolutely horrifically brutal death to the perpetrator. And the crime? Often just a statement perceived as offensively racial, misogynistic, etc. Death? For some bigotry? Hardly reasonable, I’d think.

Ronson at this point is wondering how some people were able to overcome the overwhelming outrage of public response to a wrong they somehow let slip, while others were completely devastated.Here’s a good one, and time appropriate. It refers to a gentleman whose sex escapades into sado masochism were widely publicized:

But the shifting sands of shameworthiness had shifted away from sex scandals–if you’re a man–to work improprieties and perceived white privilege, and I suddenly understood the real reason why Max had survived his shaming. Nobody cared. Max survived his shaming because he was a man in a consensual sex shaming –which meant there had been no shaming. (pg. 177)

It’s amazing the changes over the past few years in particular about what is acceptable and what no longer is. Just as what never was and is now freely accepted. The bad part of this perfectly normal change is society’s trends is that those who propose these changes are so sadly intolerant of those who need more time to get used to them.

Referring to this same case as above, Ronson notes that SOME people do care, spouses, families, who are put in the spotlight of shame they didn’t deserve. An editor lambasted the judge in the case as amoral for not making a bigger deal of Max’s predicament, though because it was consensual sex–albeit what we used to consider kinky–but still, nobody cared. This:

The fact was, speeches like Paul Dacre’s didn’t matter any more. The people who mattered didn’t care what Dacre thought. The people who mattered were the people on Twitter. On Twitter we make our own decisions about who deserves obliteration. We form our own consensus, and we aren’t influenced by the criminal justice system or by the media. This makes us formidable. (pg. 179)

There you go. We have the power. And we abuse it terribly to destroy lives. Why do we enjoy it so?

Another point Ronson covers in his book is how shame is not always the end goal, but can be the impetus to criminal behavior. Dr. Gilligan, part of a group of psychiatrist tasked with examining the backgrounds of inmates at a Massachusetts prison, found that:

“Universal among the violent criminals was the fact that they felt ashamed–deeply ashamed, chronically ashamed.” It was shame every time. “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.” (pg. 237)

So shame is a driving force as much as a debilitating one. And, I would think, the larger the audience–which social media giving a voice to the world at large–the more inescapable the punishment. With the demand of the outraged, the news media is only too happy to keep the momentum going. Apologies are as drawn out as the penance. Weeks, months. Wide enough and long enough to preclude redemption and a return to normalcy for a long time.

We’re threatening to become a nation of finger-pointers, angry, demanding, outraged, and all from afar over situations and people we don’t even know. We judge and jury these people because they don’t conform to our own lofty values and ideals. They’ve called someone a racial epithet. They’ve made a crude joke about women, homosexuals, transgenders. They may be ignorant and unfeeling, but do they deserve to be destroyed because they’re not polite and nice? It’s becoming a close call between what’s offensive, even lacking intent. They’re called “haters” even though most often there’s no proof of hate, just a mere word or statement that someone took the wrong way.

We need to stop looking around seeking offenses and punishing offenders. We need to lead by example rather than verbal crucifixion.

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LITERATURE: Go Set A Watchman

The much anticipated release of Harper Lee’s new (old) novel has been met with disappointment and, of course, outrage due to her in-depth revelation of Atticus Finch as a racist. Evidently this wonderful man’s motive in defending his client in To Kill A Mockingbird was not one of equality for a race, but injustice dealt to his client alone.

While I haven’t read Go Set A Watchman yet, it’s obvious to me that 1) Atticus is a fictional character that (God bless Roland Barthes) readers have indeed written in their own minds and over whom they felt they had control and valid beliefs, and 2) some readers of 2015 are an intolerant bunch when it comes to certain human rights and opinions to the extent of wanting to change history.

My thought right now is, 1) grow up, nobody’s perfect (as are you?) so Harper Lee wrote what she wanted the character to be, and 2) what on earth would the KKK-affiliated Atticus Finch of 1930 think of the 2015 Pro-Choice people? I’m guessing he’d be as horrified and disgusted at the legalization of “killing babies” as we are at the existence of racism.

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REALITY: New Year’s Eve, 2014

Tonight I shall go out and howl into the blackness of the last of the year. I will summon up outrage and hatred, intolerance and annoyance, all that may threaten the peace of a new year. I shall get it all out into the wind, away from my mind, away from my life.

I will make room for the appropriate human emotions in response to that which I have a say. Empathy, understanding, gratitude, grief and sorrow that is honest and real. And allow tolerance, comprehension, learning and ultimate knowledge of that of which I have no experience or control, to flow through me and out into the world.

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John Timmons – December 12th, 2014

For a man is a moment
like rain on a mid-summer day
a white blinding Nor’easter
the paintbrush of autumn
and burst buds of
the spring lilac tree

Or a man is a moment
like the flash of volcano
washing waves of flood waters
shaping hands of a dust storm
the tornado sweeping
the land

Some few moments endure
some few men live forever
known by their art on film
and on paper and
the touch of their hand
on your heart

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REVIEWS: Utopia

I thought “Utopia”, TV’s latest reality show, would be different. No prize, no winner, a time span of a year. But once again, the media knows us better than we will admit about ourselves. Reality shows have the potential of presenting a more realistic version of human nature than dramas, movies, sitcoms. Fiction versus non-fiction. Yet as every writer knows, a story must have conflict.

As a writer, a person, I learn much about human nature by watching human interaction. Beneath the manipulation for ratings of both character selection, encouragement of drama, and serious editing to skip the dull parts, there is a more troubling aspect that worries me. Understanding human nature by watching the contestants is just a small part of it. What I’m seeing more deeply with “Utopia” is a revelation of its audience. We have always sought to expand our experiences, have lived vicariously through the characters of literature, plays, movies, television, video games. But this return to reality? Just as we must look at an accident we pass safely by on the highway, we have a need to watch others at each other’s throats guessing by the producers’ choice of characters and plots.

Funny, how we claim to love everyone and insist that everyone should do the same, yet we entertain ourselves with the conflicts and drama of human nature. Funny, how we deride the bulging pockets of corporations, yet are adding to them by our dictating of what they are presenting to us, the worst sides of being human. And sad, that we choose in our own lives to hide our feelings, to avoid confrontation and honest dislikes and rage, yet insist on feeding on the emotions of others in the flickering lights of our darkened homes.

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WRITING: At Its Heart

Writers, artists, take in what others miss. The subtleties, the hints, the constancy of human nature, both the softness of the soul and the obvious and objectionable to the conscience.

Then digest and regurgitate it into words, strokes of the brush. Because to keep it all inside would be too much.

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REVIEWS: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism

I of course understand that this book is coming from the viewpoint of a likely advocate of capitalism, but then all books are written mostly from an influenced and established point of view and therefore opinionated rather than presented as absolute truth. Still, I like Robert P. Murphy’s presentation.

Here are two passages that struck me:

The free market’s effects are far from arbitrary. Every time you spend tree dollars on tomatoes, you are ultimately “voting” for some of the nation’s scarce farmland to be reserved for tomato production. Smokers similarly “vote” for some of the land to be reserved for tobacco production. When a business has to shut down because it is no longer profitable, what that really means is that its customers valued its products less than they valued other products that other businesses could make with the same materials. If a business is enjoying high profits, that’s the market’s indication that it is using its resources more effectively than other firms.

While fairly obvious, Murphy’s statement brings it home that the market is driven by the consumer–not the producer–and follows the long established theory of supply and demand. If no one buys your plastic pickle, you’re not going to stay in business much less become a millionaire. This “vote” by the public puts the ball squarely in their own court.

While we may say that marketing is a huge factor in what the public buys, it still, to me, would come down to a rational purchasing decision by the public and if some individuals fall for idiotic advertising claims, it’s still in their control to make or break the company.

This to me was also interesting and noticeable in much thinking today:

Even though the bankruptcy of socialism is manifest to everyone, the intellectual elite continue to despise capitalism. For these people, virtually every social ill can be blamed on the free market, and the solution always involves more money and power for government.

While this seems to be a bit overboard in the “is manifest to everyone” portion and the grouping of the “intellectual elite” into a single mindset, the rest of this statement has been voiced a lot lately. Activist groups are ready to jump on anyone and anything to claim offense of some sort against their own beliefs whenever they do not agree with a product or process and seem to forget that “free market” means not only that people are free to attempt to market their own ideas, the public is just as free to accept or reject them.

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LITERATURE: Some Reviews Coming Up

Happy to be reading again. I have two books finished and am over half-way through a third so I’ll be reviewing these three shortly. Though not in my usual span of several posts as something snags on my brain, I will attempt to do at the very least a very thorough single post on each.

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CURRENT AFFAIRS: Bullying

With the country all abuzz about the most recent and high profile case of bullying by Incognito of Martin, two players for the Miami Dolphins NFL team, it seems to me that we trend our outrage in cycles.

To me, when we (meaning, the fans who buy the tickets and trinkets) are paying millions of dollars to these grown men to get body-slammed (and often permanently physically injured) by another player the size of a refrigerator, to get all up in arms over name-calling is a bit ridiculous.

No, verbal bullying is wrong at any level and I certainly don’t condone it–and I have been bullied in my youth–but whatever happened to “sticks and stones may break my bones, etc.” Whatever happened to the 70s’ take on personal responsibility for response to hateful words? Why are we so wrapped up in the moment that we overlook the fact that people are people and there are mean people in the world that won’t conform to our ideal of perfect manners and respect for others that we have to make a national issue out of every interpersonal communication between two guys who are prepping every day to go out and beat the shit out of another guy on Sunday’s game?

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CURRENT AFFAIRS: Stereotyping

Ironic, how the same people who are so outraged by the Trayvon Martin killing as being solely racially motivated are somehow unaware of their own equally unfounded labeling of Zimmerman, the jury, and anyone who doesn’t agree with them as racist.

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CURRENT AFFAIRS: Student Loans and Mortgages

I seriously cannot stomach this “they gave me all this money to go be a doctor and now they expect me to pay it back” attitude. Who applied for the loan? Would you be happier if they’d turned you down? Who missed their math courses to figure out if it was feasible? Who didn’t consider the more realistic options of working to help cover the costs? Or going to a cheaper university? This is not something you needed to survive or were entitled to but rather wanted. I want a Lamborghini. Who thinks it’s okay to default because jeepers, they shouldn’t have been granted the loans? Who considers it everyone else’s fault but their own?

Maybe costs are too high but then the number of students who do not graduate and those who end up defaulting on their loans only serves to up the tuition costs for future students. And it’d be nice if the universities concentrated on scholarships based on academic merit and financial need rather than athletics. Let the NBA, the NFL and such offer more scholarships based on sports ability.

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CURRENT AFFAIRS: Thoughts on Law

I believe that the crux of law–and political controversy–is that in an evenly divided society, we must understand that a “can” law is very different than a “cannot” law, and that regardless of personal belief, one half cannot impose restrictions on those who hold an opposite opinion. A “can” law does not imply “must” and therefore grants individual freedom of choice whereas a “cannot” law implies “must not.” This reasoning should be applied when considering issues such as abortion, gun control, marijuana use, and similar rulings where personal beliefs are the deciding factor.

 

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NEW MEDIA: Breaking Through The Fourth Wall

Technology has given us social networking and social networking has given the audience (of any medium: newspapers, internet, television, telephone, etc.) a voice. That voice of the reader/viewer has just broken through the literary fourth wall.

Normally the fourth wall is breached when an actor turns to an audience and addresses them directly. In its most subtle form, it would be the actors gathered around only three sides of a table, thereby silently acknowledging the existence of an audience by granting them the fourth side of the table, not having an actor sit with his back to the viewer. In literature, the narrator speaks directly to the reader, not merely from first or second person point of view but rather by stating that he is speaking from the page as you, the reader, read his words. In our age of technology, the voices of the reader/viewer are now able to join the act so to speak via twitter.

Watching The Bachelor, a so-called “reality” based television drama, I noticed a strip along the bottom edge of the screen (usually reserved for news alerts or weather warnings) and realized they were real-time tweets from viewers. The irony is that the tweets were real-time but the show was not, being shot several weeks to months previously.

It’s no big deal and we’ve come to accept these intrusions without question. Yet the thought of the fourth wall being breached from the outside is a big step in the process of presentation. Think about it.

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CURRENT AFFAIRS: Blame and Benefits

As a retail shop owner in a small town, and as a resident of Connecticut, I can sympathize with the storekeepers in Sandy Hook who lost some good holiday business because of the horrendous tragedy that occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012.

However, I’ve read articles that have put forth that some of these store owners feel “left out” because they too, have been victims of the tragedy. That’s what this “Cash Mob” movement is all about–to bring some money into the local stores to make up for the losses they have incurred because of media and public interest who came, parked, but didn’t buy. And, by that inundation of non-purchasing bodies and their cars in the town, keeping away the possible shoppers. Here’s the group behind it in their own words: I Love Sandy Hook.

What bothers me first of all, is that they would use the tragic event to elicit financial help. Yes, they’ve suffered some loss, but nothing, absolutely nothing compared to losing a child or a loved one. While I understand the relative loss to the event, I couldn’t in good conscience use it to make up for that loss. Hold an after-Christmas sale. A Welcome Spring! blitz. Whatever. But to cry victim is repugnant to me. There is business insurance that covers loss of income though not likely for something other than a natural event such as fire, tornado, flood. Still, when you’re in business there is always a risk. A farmer cannot depend on the public’s tastes anymore than the weather. A fisherman cannot depend upon the sea. Retailers cannot depend upon nor sue the public for a poor economic period of time. You can’t sue the town for fixing the road in front of your store inhibiting traffic flow. It’s called the cost of doing business; it’s built into the price.

Secondly, how much did they really lose versus the economic influence of the times. And, while some lost business, I somehow doubt that the local eateries–which lead the list of businesses taking part in this “help us” day–likely made out better than they normally would. Diners, gas stations, and horrid to say, but florists and funeral homes gained from the tragedy. Shall they be asked to reimburse those who didn’t make out so well? Calling oneself a victim implies a perpetrator. Should the town have kept out the press, the curious, the have-to-be-a-part-of-it public? How will these businesses feel when a few years ahead someone wants to use the town for a movie on the tragedy? Will they feel the same way?

Third, the businesses ARE being helped to overcome their loss; by special grant from the Governor of the State of Connecticut: Economic Assistance Grant  To the tune of a half million dollars for a small handful of businesses.

As a retailer, if this happened in my town, I’d be closed for “Cash Mob” Day. I’d leave a closed box outside my doorstep with a request that if anyone were generous enough to come and plan on spending $20 in my shop, I’d prefer they instead drop it in the box. The funds to be distributed to bills incurred by the families of the victims who on top of the loss of their loved one, had the indignity of maybe having trouble paying for funeral expenses as well.

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CURRENT AFFAIRS: Social Networking

The devastation and pain caused by Hurricane Sandy in October was not about you and your activism on the cause of global warming. The horror of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was also not about you and your opinions on gun control. These tragedies are about victims and how we can help THEM. It is obnoxiously pompous and cruel to turn their pain into your podium.

Personally I have supported my first activist group this week. It is one which will hopefully keep the Westboro Baptist activists from their planned demonstrations at the funeral and memorial services of the Newtown victims. The Westboro “church’s” cause and platform is something I find despicable and their completely tasteless and thoughtless disruption at a family’s time of grieving is something I cannot avoid helping to stop.

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