“Publicly Shamed” By Jon Ronson: Life After Losing Face

A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control. Publisher of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

What happens when you’ve been victimized by public shaming? Jon Ronson investigates this in his newest book, the reportedly anxiety-provoking but relevant So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Who is Ronson as a writer? Steven Poole, Guardian, describes him as “a true virtuoso of the faux-naive style. He is so good at it that it’s not irritating…Comedy is his disguise and also his weapon. He is a moralist. Some of his best lines seem casual but contain fierce social diagnoses…” And Janet Maslin, New York Times, says “his writerly persona is that of a stellar entertainer-explorer-clown.”

Gillian TerzisThe Australian, considers Ronson’s latest book, out in the U.S. today, to be “impeccably timed.” Here’s why:

Oversharing, once seen as the product of poor (and almost exclusively female) self-­restraint, is more accurately understood in the context of the ‘liking’ economy as a form of strategic revelation in service of clicks, likes, retweets and faves. The social media ‘pile on’ seems to function similarly. The momentum of public outrage and the attendant clicks quickly eclipse any genuine moral conviction.

Driven and amplified by social media, the pile-on seems a contemporary phenomenon. Outrage has been commodified, and savvy media outlets couldn’t be happier about it. But its animating impulses are as old as time: it’s often as much about righting wrongs as it is about basking in the approval from others. Pile-ons, perhaps because of their ferocity, are ripe for backlash…

One such pile-on happened to Justine Sacco in 2013 after tweeting “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Among other consequences, she lost her PR job. “Sacco’s offence, according to Ronson, was not that her comments were racist or ignorant, but that they were stripped out of context — a rookie error for a terrible comedian. The magnitude of her public annihilation seemed disproportionate,” states Terzis.

But Sacco’s only one of a group of shamed people Ronson interviewed for the book. “As Ronson makes patently clear, all these people’s punishments by far outweighed the gravity of their so-called crimes,” notes Rachel Cook, The Guardian.

Unless you’re invisible to social media, moreover, no one’s immune to this type of shaming.

Want to read some of the book before buying? The New York Times has an excerpt.

Selected Reviews

Saturday Paper (Australia): “…Ronson and his subjects are strikingly candid about their fears, which is compelling if not always comfortable to read. But the book slowly turns out to be about something bigger than it seems: a survival guide to living with shame both public and private, an inevitable consequence of being human.”

Janet Maslin, New York Times: “So what does he learn? That even the toughest advocates of old-fashioned shaming techniques think their tactics pale beside social media. And that social media has made people afraid, Mr. Ronson thinks, to speak freely, lest they inadvertently become targets for some crazy reason. Its anonymity magnifies groupthink, and it lets us forget one victim as we move on to the next.”

The Register: “Like all journalists, he is a voyeur, but he is sensitive with his material and self-analytical enough to realise his own part in the phenomenon. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is an interesting commentary on human behaviour and its consequences.”

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