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A Good Public Shaming

July 27, 2015

In a new book by Jon Ronson, there is said to be “a great renaissance of public shaming sweeping the land.”

He writes about how ordinary people can make a mistake, like saying something on social media that comes out wrong, and “the next thing they know, they are being torn apart for it, jeered at, demonized, and fired from their jobs.”

Ronson’s focus is social media which he says has given people a voice that they are using in ways that are “merciless.”

Our focus is on the media, which we see selling shame.

Take the Daily News. For weeks, the newspaper has sought to shame anyone who says anything less than fawning of Caitlyn Jenner. The newspaper searches social media for any marginal celebrity’s comment that can be portrayed as politically incorrect. Even an obscure comedian whose entire repertoire is being irreverent was criticized the other day for making a Jenner joke.

Of course, shame and shaming have been in resurgence for some time.

Think of the ink and trees used up on Bill Cosby or think of those attractive 20-something high school teachers who have sex with nearly 20-year-old boys and then get 20 years in jail. Think, in years past, of Spitzer. Think Anthony Weiner even now – he can’t get a job without being shamed again for the hundredth time.

Think of our pols. We have Albany Gallery of Shame, which tallies every lawmaker who has run afoul of the law.

Of course, much of it is indeed “deserving.”

But, ironically, the resurgence of public shaming seems to coincide with increasing shamelessness. No?

A public shaming is supposed to be a powerful tool for enforcing social mores. But it’s just not working.

In some instances it may even have the effect of encouraging the conduct. Some people may be doing shameful things just to get attention.

And that’s the part we really find shameful – not in the individual as much as the media. It’s the tabs. There are no news headlines now, there are only exclamations of righteous indignation. For shame. For shame.

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