One time, at soccer camp, I was doing drills with another kid. This kid was much, much better than me. He was much bigger than me. And he would repeatedly use his weight to push me around and take the ball. That was the whole goal, get the ball past the other guy. It was clearly illegal because he was literally pushing me with his hands. And the training coach did nothing. It didn’t feel good to be pushed around and never be able to push back.
I still hate that kid to this day.
Humiliation does strange things to us. I have countless examples like the above that I’ll probably never forget.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed might be the most interesting book I’ll read all year. In the internet age, shaming someone has become so much simpler. We just fire up twitter. Remember when Justine Sacco made that slightly racist tweet and then boarded a plane only to land in Africa to find out she was the most hated woman in the world? She sure does. And the internet will never let her forget.
Author Jon Ronson gives us the chance to look at Justine from all sides of the equation. As the perpetrator of a poor joke, and to the witch burning she endured afterwards. She’s not alone. There’s the two employees who made a sexual joke under their breath at a convention and the woman who took a picture to document and shame them. The men were fired. Then the backlash turned on the woman, and she was fired. No one made it out unscarred.
But Ronson doesn’t just want to show us people who have been humiliated. He wants to look at the origins, find out if shaming is good or bad for the public conscious, and see if there’s any way to get past a shaming.
The answers he finds are thin at best. Some people tried to apologize for their behavior, and the world hated them that much more. Some embraced their “shame” and fought back and the world regarded them as champions. There’s the reformed prison that doesn’t use shaming as a technique for control and the prisoners actually behave themselves. There’s the study that found that we’ve all had murderous impulses, but only after we had been humiliated by someone, even for something minor.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is incredibly fascinating. It weaves from story to story, providing answers, and then ripping those answers away. We ride along with Ronson, just as confused as he is about what is right and what is wrong, while getting brief asides of his own experiences with shaming. It’s a warning to our reactionary ways, and an appeal to our better selves. Who’s to say what out of context phrase you utter next could have you up in the modern day stockyards?
We can conclude two things, shaming is bad. And this book is fantastic.
4 out of 4 stars.