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Monday, December 7, 2015

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Jon Ronson, bestselling author of other books I've posted on here, recently released So You've Been Publicly Shamed, of which I have read an excerpt and enjoyed the reviews. I finally picked it up this weekend and enjoyed it for myself.

Public shaming has always been a part of human life. From the burning of witches and the wearing of the scarlet letter to criminals wearing sandwich boards advertising their crimes, we have always been a people who have loved to publicly burn at the stake those whom we feel better than. Social media has made this even worse -- it allows us to anonymously stone anyone who we feel has done the slightest wrong. It also keeps the wrong up on the internet forever. Who have we become?

I unashamedly, unabashedly adore Jon Ronson. I loved The Psychopath Test, so I will pretty much read anything this man writes for any publication he chooses to publish it in. I particularly appreciate, and it comes across very clearly here, that he doesn't present himself to be an expert in anything other than what he does well – which is journalism. I appreciate very deeply that he can tell a fantastic story, and he does it by researching others.

This particular book focuses on public shaming. I think it's particularly interesting, because from a personal standpoint, I have very little shame. I own who I am fully and completely, and there's very little that I'm embarrassed about. However, that being said, if I reach the level of into me that any of his subjects in this book did, that might be an entirely different story. I can say that I have never had my job put in jeopardy based upon my own public writings. I run this blog, and I run a personal blog, and I leave most of my social media open to the public because of both of those pieces of writing. My students of recently found me on Instagram, and I can't allow myself to be particular bothered by that. I just have to own everything I post.

I was familiar with some of the stories that Ronson wrote about in this book, specifically the Justine Sacco story and the wealthy Zumba instructor prostitute. The other stories I found to be incredibly interesting, specifically the one about the Formula One baron who overcame shame almost immediately and entirely. I agree with his assertion that we can only be as embarrassed as we allow ourselves to be, but then again, I've never been supremely publicly shamed. This book did leave me to ask a lot of questions about myself though. Specifically, what could be said about me publicly that would shame me to the point where I would feel that I need to hide? I don't have an answer to that, and I hope to god I never find out, but I do wonder if in fact there is anything. I own a lot of who I am – I am a feminist, I am a liberal, I am a social justice advocate, I make irreverent comments, I say what's on my mind even if it means that it comes across as inappropriate, and I post on social media and the Internet without shame.

Ultimately, I think that this book was an incredibly interesting study of public shaming in the age of social media and how we go about tearing others down. You could look at the story as one of how people overcome shame, but it's really an indictment of those who live for tearing others down anonymously on the Internet. I am proud to say I've haven't explicitly been a member of this; I do this through being an actively aware poster. (Or have I and just not known that I've done it -- and this is where Ronson excels. He makes you question your assumptions about yourself.) I would easily argue, however, that I'm not above a little base shaming myself, particularly in the area of human rights. No matter how you look at it, I found Ronson's book to be incredibly interesting and well worth the read. Any of his books, really, are well worth the read, and this one is no exception.

For purchase below. 

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