Once forming a big part of punishments, particularly before the 19th century, public shaming has come back with a bang since the rise of social media. In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, journalist Jon Ronson takes a look at some of the people who have become famous for being publicly shamed – people like Justine Sacco, the African Aids tweet woman; Lindsay Stone, who took a photo of herself flipping off a sign at Arlington Cemetery; and various men who’ve been caught in sex scandals – and looks at how the shaming has affected them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that a public shaming is not a very nice experience, and can easily see you lose your job, friends, home and whatever passed for your reputation in the first place – although it was interesting to note that those who suffered most were largely women. It turns out, you see, that the men shamed for sexual indiscretion (like the son of a fascist politician, exposed by a national newspaper as having indulged in German themed S&M encounters) got off lightly – no-one gave a shit about what they may have done and what their infidelity may have said about their characters, preferring instead to save their ire for women who have transgressed, letting them know just how much they’d like them to get raped (no matter what these women have done, rape is apparently always the answer).
Ronson’s gist throughout the book seemed to basically be that a public shaming is too destructive, and that we all ought to be a little kinder instead. While I agree with that in the case of minor transgressions, I can’t help but wonder how different this book would have been if it had been written after Trump came to power and all of the previously secretly racist people started showing their colours in public. Kindness won’t solve shit in these instances (and I believe that the whole ethos of keeping your peace, and live and let live, has directly led to these people feeling entitled to publicly being pricks without consequence), and I’m all for continuing to shame the Nazi marchers and Permit Patties of this world. Freedom of speech does NOT mean freedom from consequences, and while Ronson does make a nod towards this in an addendum (mentioning briefly that shaming can be OK if it supports civil rights), I can’t say that he really sold me on keeping my peace in the face of heinous behaviour. My ethos is far simpler – if you don’t want to get called out for it, don’t be a dick.