Skip to main content

So You've Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson

The snowflake never needs to
feel responsible for the avalanche.
I've a lot of time for Jon Ronson. I've followed him on and off through the years, and have fostered an illusory sense of connection going back to a book signing many years ago which, as I'm sure you're all aware, I mentioned previously.  His questioning mind and latent anxiety mix potently and humorously, and his writing plays off between the self-revelatory and the investigative, given he himself features in it so heavily. Nonetheless, the image I have of him is of a nice guy, doing a difficult job and putting himself in the line of fire. As such, this book starts with him realising there had been created a spam-bot (sorry, an infomorph) on Twitter which was, in the terms of it's creators, "repurposing social media data into an infomorphic aesthetic." When he asked for it to be shut, it led to a conversation about Brand Jon Ronson and key questions of identity and positioning in public fora. It also led to a very entertaining YouTube video, linked to below, of the conversation he had with its creators. I'll wait while you have a watch. Might get myself a cup of tea. See you in 12 minutes and 9 seconds, okay?



Lovely. Where was I? Oh yes, the faux-naif (thanks Wikipedia) Ronson, nervous and shrill, is very annoyed by it all until he starts reading the messages under the video. There are calls for various punishments and penances including some that go to extremes, and Ronson gets a little swept up in righteous fury, exalting as the trio of numpties finally do shut the infomorph down. He marvels at the power of social media to get the job done.

But then we head off into the curious cases of famous social media shaming–Jonah Lehrer and his plagiarism, Justine Sacco and her questionable sense of humour–and his assumption that social media has the power to right wrongs is seriously questioned. He goes back to consider public lynchings and pillorying, and asks whether shame, at least on this scale, is a good thing.

He talks to a judge who uses shame to combat recidivism in his state, visits a porn shoot to consider what is for all intents and purposes a shameless industry, tries to work out why some people escape a shaming intact (or as in Max Moseley's case, in even better shape than before) and why others are ruined almost beyond hope. He talks to the members of 4chan, a powerful underground bulletin board where young, disenfranchised web users seek to combat their own entrenched powerlessness by launching campaigns against people they consider to have escaped from justice, and he talks to psychologists whose pioneering approaches to prison reform had some startlingly positive results. He asks why shame is so powerful and what happens to turn good, kind, friendly people, himself included, into braying maniacs once they log-in to their Twitter accounts. 

As always with these things, the journey is what's important. Following him through the adventure of discovery is very entertaining, in parts shocking and in others frankly hilarious. His conclusion is cautionary - that while social media creates a new battleground in the pursuit of civil rights and the combatting of injustice, it also gives a platform for sickness and arbitrary rage to broadcast itself into your life. And he worries that the illness might overwhelm the patient, that in order to avoid the shame of having a contrary opinion, we will all whitewash our online personae until beige homogeny rules–no doubt hyperbole, but it does happen. Ronson invites the reader to draw their own personal conclusions from the evidence he presents, given he himself is conflicted about the value of public shaming, and also to consider standing up for someone in the full harsh beam of public shaming. Who knows, next time it might be you.


Comments

How's about that then?

The Elephant by Sławomir Mrożek

It’s a wonder that Sławomir Mrożek lived to be 83. Maybe the post-Stalin regimes of Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev were less likely to pitch a critical satirist into an unmarked grave or have him dragged off to winter in Siberia than was Uncle Joe. Maybe he just wasn’t widely read and therefore not deemed a threat. Or perhaps his support of the Stalinist persecution of religious leaders in Poland and his membership of the Polish United Workers’ Party (until he defected) stood him in historical stead good enough so that he didn’t find himself on the sharp end of a radioactive umbrella. Because frankly, having read The Elephant, published in 1957 but not banned until 1968, it’s hard to see anyone in the Soviet bureaucracy letting this level of criticism go unpunished.
Take the titular story, The Elephant, one of 42 similarly absurd political satires in this slim volume. A provincial zoo, lacking “all the important animals” is awarded an elephant by the Party, muc…

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

Hi, how’ve you been? I’ve been busy myself, thanks for asking. In fact, I was so busy I began contemplating a terminal hiatus from this, ostensibly purposeless endeavour. However, for reasons, I chose not to take it. So on with the show and back to Helen DeWitt.
If there’s one thing about this dense, frankly mind-bogglingly erudite book to love/find empathy with (apart from my own Canadian edition’s deckle-edged hardbackedness – deckle edges; good or bad? Discuss!), it would have to be the passages narrated by Sibylla, mother to genius progeny Ludo. As a parent to one post-toddler and one pre-toddler, as well as occasional taker-up-of-space in the lives of three other young human beings, there are so very few occasions where a simple conversation can be carried out to its logical terminus without interruption and digression; conversations start, stop, return to the beginning, are interrupted once more, are delayed and postponed, and cycle back again until it’s time to give up, get off …

The Last Werewolf Trilogy by Glen Duncan

A trilogy of werewolf novels, the remaining three books of Duncan’s published oeuvre left for me to read, and I’ve gone and devoured them all in one go. I’ve made similar mistakes before; reading every single book I could find by one author as soon as they’re found. It usually ends up in a colossal mess of plot lines, meaning and symbolism in the gray matter, and an inability to unravel one from the other and explain, convincingly, to anyone why they should be read – especially challenging when one’s former job was to sell books to people on the strength of personal recommendations. Nonetheless, I decided that to read these three contiguously made sense, in so far as I have a strong distaste at being left hanging on for the next instalment, be it television series’, serialised print articles or trilogies. And, *COP OUT KLAXON* to review them in one Mega Review Article was the way forward too. So, here’s the quick and habitual disclaimer / plea for clemency. This way, you’ll have to de…

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr is an author I have been reluctant to attempt to review for some time. His Berlin Noir trilogy cost me some hours of sleeplessness and in the end I decided to skip a review and just be happy to have read it and therefore move it from the pile of unread novels, via the edge of my desk where the “to review” pile occasionally falls over on to the typewriter and spills my pen pot across the floor and thus causes significant risks when stumbling blindly about the room at night too drunk to remember where my bed is or having just been jolted awake by the boy shrieking from the next room and running asleep into walls and doors, to the back half of my giant Ikea bookcase where novels that have been read and have caused my self-esteem to shatter on the diamond-hard edges of someone else’s talent currently reside, gathering dust and moisture until hitting the mildew tipping point and becoming physically dangerous in their own right. This awesome crew consists mainly of Will Self, Jo…