So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

I really must put down these books and do something else, like clean my house or go to the gym, both as a matter of urgency. Instead, I’ve just finished Jon Ronson’s new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (2015). I was hurrying to get to the end of the Marriage Plot so that I could read Shamed; I have been waiting for months for it to be published.

I read Shamed almost in one sitting and it was great. The subject matter is the experiences of people who have been publicly embarrassed, for example, when the national press or Twitter or 4chan suddenly turned on them; some people are condemned more strongly than others; some of them bounce back and some of them don’t. Ronson tries to find out why. Along the way he takes in Philip Zimbardo and the psychology of people behaving crazily in groups and meets a company that will restore your reputation for you after there’s been a scandal, or at least rejuvenate your Google search results so as to push the offending information down to page 3, which is what redemption amounts to in 2015. As if that were not enough, he uncovers some powerful and convincing arguments that suggest a relationship between shame and violence.

Ronson is a thoughtful journalist who knows how to do careful research and he’s also an amazing storyteller. Most of his books take you on a journey with him as he encounters one crucial interviewee after another, and this could have been disjointed, but he has a lovely way of applying narrative and even suspense to what could have been a series of causally unrelated events. Consider the following line. Ronson has concluded an interview with someone who was both helpful and agreeable and his research project seems to be coming along well. Things are falling into place. He allows himself to relax. But the peace does not last for long.

Then I reread my transcript of a conversation I’d had with Donna last night and saw something I hadn’t noticed before.

It’s like a detective story. We share not only Ronson’s meetings with strange and interesting people and his travels to visit them but also his emotions: hope, suspicion, doubt, confidence, disappointment, compassion. Recommended. 1 Books point. I really need to finish cleaning my house now because guests.

ronson shamed

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