So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Published by Riverhead Books
Genre: Nonfiction, Psychology, Sociology
For Fans of:
For the past three years, Jon Ronson has traveled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us, people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly or made a mistake at work. Once the transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know, they’re being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.
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.
Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws and the very scary part we all play in it.
We have a culture of shaming. We have a culture of other things too. Fast food. Sports. Coffee. Literature.
But public shaming is a culture that we all engage in and fail to realise that it can affect someone’s life negatively.
Take Justine Sacco.
In 2014, she boarded a plane to Africa but not before she tweeted a silly, racist joke. She slept, and when she safely landed in South Africa, her reputation did not. She was a trending topic on Twitter and had lost her dream job.
It is people like this that Jon Ronson introduces us to in “So you think you have been publicly shamed”- people who have made relatively silly mistakes, whispered stupid jokes to a friend at conventions only to be overheard and have the joke posted on Twitter with a 317 million monthly audience.
And he gets it. It is relatively easy to jump aboard the shaming train, easy to point accusing fingers without comprehending the broader context, but it is with those same fingers that careers are lost.
I zipped through this book in a day. Ronson makes it easy to. He writes like he is talking to a friend, with candour and as this Youtuber pointed out, with a lot of kindness. His prose is peppered with humour but also empathy.
Ronson also explores what motivates mob mentality, why the public can be all too happy to jump on the blame train. He explores Gustave Le Bon’s idea that in a crowd, the cultivated individual becomes a barbarian, that when one joins an organised crowd, “a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilisation.”
But then again, Ronson points out that Le Bon was a fierce sexist.
Nevertheless, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed does not provide a comprehensive analysis of why people whip themselves up into a frenzy whenever someone says or does something stupid on the internet. It is not a social psychology paradigm, nor is it meant to be.
Instead, Ronson does what journalists do. He gives a voice to the voiceless, he lets them tell the world how they felt when they were attacked on social media, when they lost their jobs. He lets them tell us their side of the story.
Maybe that is enough.