Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ is both entertaining and somewhat insubstantial. A book I enjoyed, whilst not really connecting with.
It starts by examining those cases of people who have been grandly shamed on twitter, those who have made a stupid joke, or a professional mistake and been pilloried on a global almost unfathomable scale. Obviously shamings aren’t a new thing, so Ronson goes back to public shamings in the old days, with the stocks and so on, then moves ahead to modern shamings away from twitter (Max Mosely) and starts to ask various questions – why do some people feel shame when others don’t? How do you avoid feeling shame? (Would that even be a good thing to do?) Once you have been shamed how do you come back from that? But these questions are somewhat unanswerable and the book feels like it’s chasing a will-o’-the-wisp.
However, it felt to me like Ronson seemed a bit disingenuous in his mission statement. He says he’s examining shame as a concept, but what he’s really writing about is twitter.
Jon Ronson loves twitter. I’m not on it and it kind of passes me by. A mob mentality is needed for there to be a public shaming, and to me the mob has always been the mob. (As ‘The Simpsons’ put it “There’s no justice like angry mob justice.”) And for all the good that twitter can offer, it is just another place where the mob can gather.
Ronson suggests that he joined Twitter with an evangelical hope that it would herald a better world. So whereas he can be hurt that the wonderful people on Twitter are doing these things, I – from the outside – think that’s just the mob and this is another place for them to meet. These public shamings aren’t nice and with this modern technology they can be much bigger than ever before, but I’m not as surprised as Ronson that they’re actually happening.