- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Pan Macmillan India (26 April 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1447229797
- ISBN-13: 978-1447229797
- Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.2 x 23.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,32,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
So You've Been Publicly Shamed Paperback – 26 Apr 2015
|Paperback, 26 Apr 2015||
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superb and terrifying ... So You've Been Publicly Shamed brings together all of Ronson's virtues as a writer, to a more serious purpose than hitherto ... Ronson is a true virtuoso of the faux-naive style. He is so good at it that it's not irritating ... Ronson has beautiful comic-prose skills ... but Ronson's self-description as a "humorous journalist" is not the whole story. Comedy is his disguise and also his weapon. He is a moralist. Some of his best lines seem casual but contain fierce social diagnoses ... towards the end of his new book, someone accuses him of "prurient curiosity". This prompts what may be taken as a statement of the moral approach behind all his work. "I didn't want to write a book that advocated for a less curious world. Prurient curiosity may not be great. But curiosity is. People's flaws need to be written about. The flaws of some people lead to horrors inflicted on to others. And then there are the more human flaws that, when you shine a light on to them, de-demonise people that might otherwise be seen as ogres." At its best, this is exactly what his writing can do ... relentlessly entertaining and thought-provoking -- Steven Poole Guardian He is such an exceptional writer ... an incredibly funny writer ... a perfect sense of comic timing throughout, but he manages to deal with profound subjects ... so enjoyable ... you can be having a laugh while understanding a social phenomenon in a completely unique way; it's such a great book ... We're buying it! The BBC Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman A magnificent book, subtly argued, often painfully funny and yet deeply serious... I'm not sure I can recommend it highly enough Daily Mail A work of original, inspired journalism, it considers the complex dynamics between those who shame and those who are shamed, both of whom can become the focus of social media's grotesque, disproportionate judgments -- Laurence Scott Financial Times Ronson is our current master of smarter-than-average pop nonfiction that combines social science, investigative journalism and no shortage of style ... 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. Saturday Paper (Australia) Ronson's finely attuned ear for dialogue and his skilfully deployed nebbishness ensure a pacy but discomfiting read -- Gillian Terzis The Australian Jon Ronson's great strength as a writer is his empathy with his subject, which seems to bring about trust and openness from his interviewees. 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. The Register immensely readable -- Will Dean Independent [A] brilliant, thought-provoking book - a fascinating examination of citizen justice, which has enjoyed a great renaissance since the advent of the internet Tatler Amusing and thought-provoking Daily Telegraph Certainly, no reader could finish it without feeling a need to be gentler online, to defer judgment, not to press the retweet button, to resist that primal impulse to stoke the fires of shame The Times As in his previous books, Ronson's style is to take us with him wherever the story goes, curiosity his guide. But unlike bestsellers The Men Who Stare At Goats (US new age warfare), The Psychopath Test (the mental health 'industry') or Them (ideological extremism), Shamed is not a critique of those at the fringes of our society, it's about us - or at least the very many of us who take to Twitter to heap vitriol on those we feel deserve it Metro Jon Ronson is one of the funniest writers we have Red Hugely entertaining National Engrossing and terrifying New Statesman Ronson specialises in writing witty, wide-eyed, free-wheeling books ... He is full of curiosity, and writes in a friendly, slightly faux-naif voice, but with strong moral antennae -- Craig Brown Mail on Sunday Compulsively readable -- Rachel Cooke Observer So You've Been Publicly Shamed is possibly [Ronson's] most ambitious project yet ... a brilliantly articulated, sensitively rendered attempt to reform the world -- Charlie Gilmour Independent So You've Been Publicly Shamed is fascinating, insightful and amusing and should be read by everyone Women24 Everyone who has any kind of online presence - including anonymous below-the-line commenters - will find this book gripping ... Ronson remains one of our finest comic writers -- India Knight Spectator [A] simultaneously lightweight and necessary book Esquire I was mesmerized. And I was also disturbed -- Cheryl Conner Forbes Gutsy and smart... Without losing any of the clever agility that makes his books so winning, he has taken on truly consequential material and risen to the challenge -- Janet Maslin New York Times Read this book. Then tell someone else about it. Make sure you leave it in a place where an unsuspecting teen is lingering, they too could benefit from these timely fables of the digital world -- Elisabeth Marrow Wairarapa Times A gripping book, well written, articulate, honest and incredibly relevant in today's society. A book everyone with a twitter account should read ... This is a book that will grip you and really make you think about 21st century society in a different way, definitely one to read, and one to read now New Zealand Library Blogspot Ronson is adept at taking a topic and explaining it through a number of case studies ... His facts are gathered first-hand, his experiences conveyed with sharp observations of scene and character, and his conclusions logical. As contemporary society becomes ever more connected, Ronson's lessons will become even more important Sunday Star Times Witty ...clever and thought-provoking Publishers Weekly This book really needed to be written Salon One of our most important modern day thinkers, Jon Ronson ... has written one of the most therapeutic books imaginable -- Howard Forman US News & Word Report I very much enjoyed Jon Ronson's salutary examination of what happens when the internet turns on you: So You've Been Publicly Shamed (Picador). One stupid picture, one misplaced joke, and your life can be completely trashed. The book examines a very dark corner of the times we live in but manages to be both entertaining and humane -- Anthony Horowitz Telegraph So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson is the non-fiction book of the year - an alarming examination of victims and victimisers in the new social media sport of mob justice. -- Mark Lawson, Best Holiday Reads 2015 Guardian Jon Ronson is unreal. So You've Been Publicly Shamed - everyone should read that book.He's one of my favourite human beings. -- Bill Hader We love Jon Ronson. He's thoughtful and very funny. [So You've Been Publicly Shamed] is a great book about the way the internet can gang up on people and shame them, when they deserve it, when they don't deserve it and it's great -- Judd Apatow A chilling look at how social media encourages witch hunts -- Helen Lewis An important start to a necessary conversation on internet hate mobs -- Naomi Alderman [Ronson] takes on one of the most egregious perils of life in the age of social media - the whopping magnification of some gaffe or misstep or downright lie - to the point that it achieves life-wrecking power...there's a lot to learn from his funny, insightful look at this red-hot topic New York Times, Top Books of 2015 Yes, it's a breezy read at the sentence level, but Ronson's latest book evokes a sense of dread that lingers. TimeOut, Best Books of 2015
About the Author
Jon Ronson is an award-winning nonfiction writer and documentary maker. He is the author of four bestsellers, Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Psychopath Test and Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries and two collections, Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness and What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness. His latest book is the short story Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie. His first fictional screenplay, Frank, co-written with Peter Straughan, has been directed by Lenny Abrahamson and stars Michael Fassbender. He lives in London and New York City.
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"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" - never has a more false proverb been more convincingly uttered. The power of words has been underestimated; severely, grossly, terribly, massively underestimated. If you don't believe me, ask James Gilligan, described as "about the world's best chronicler of what a shaming can do to our inner lives." In the 1970s, he was a "young psychiatrist at the Harvard Medical School", and was "invited to lead" a group of a "team of investigative psychiatrists" ordered by a US District Court judge to "make sense of the chaos" that were Massachusetts prisons and mental hospitals. What was the scene like?
"Inmates were swallowing razor blades and blinding and castrating themselves and each other. ... Prisoners were getting killed, officers were getting killed, visitors were getting killed."
Such were the inmates that James Gilligan worked with and interviewed. What did he observe and what were his findings?
"Gilligan filled notepads with observations from his interviews with the men.
He wrote, ‘Some have told me that they feel like robots or zombies, that their bodies are empty or filled with straw, not flesh and blood, that instead of having veins and nerves they have ropes or cords. One inmate told me he feels like “food that is decomposing”. These men’s souls did not just die. They have dead souls because their souls were murdered. How did it happen? How were they murdered?’ This was, he felt, the mystery he’d been invited inside Massachusetts’ prisons and mental hospitals to solve. And one day it hit him. ‘Universal among the violent criminals was the fact that they were keeping a secret,’ Gilligan wrote. ‘A central secret. And that secret was that they felt ashamed - deeply ashamed, chronically ashamed, acutely ashamed.’ It was shame, every time. ‘I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed. As children these men were shot, axed, scalded, beaten, strangled, tortured, drugged, starved, suffocated, set on fire, thrown out of the window, raped, or prostituted by mothers who were their pimps. For others words alone shamed and rejected, insulted and humiliated, dishonoured and disgraced, tore down their self-esteem, and murdered their soul.’ For each of them the shaming ‘occurred on a scale so extreme, so bizarre, and so frequent that one cannot fail to see that the men who occupy the extreme end of the continuum of violent behaviour in adulthood occupied an equally extreme end of the continuum of violent child abuse earlier in life.’" [pg 235, paperback]
Is it any wonder that shaming is such a powerful weapon in the hands of the individual and the mob alike? Is it any wonder also that shaming has become so endemic in the world of the tubes - the Internet? Shaming is, in a lot of was, an act of assault and robbery. It robs the victim of something he had held private, and makes it public. This loss of a private memory, experience, can be dehumanizing at times. This is what makes it so attractive and irresistible as a weapon in the hands of the individual or the mob, and what arouses the most violent of passions and feelings of retribution in the victim. Jon Ronson's book, "So You've Been Publicly Shamed", is in his inimitable style, a quick, breezy look at some recent public shamings and an attempt to understand the why.
Remember Jonah Lehrer, the once-bestselling author of pop-science books and a Malcolm Gladwell in the making (in whatever way you choose to see Gladwell notwithstanding)? He was exposed as a serial plagiarizer and then saw his attempt at a public apology go up in smoke in front of his eyes, in real-time - you see, the organizers, Knight Frank, had helpfully arranged for one "giant-screen live Twitter feed behind his head" and a "second screen .. positioned within his eyeline" even as he read his prepared speech-apology.
Lehrer's case is at least understandable. Justine Sacco's case was less of a public shaming - though that it certainly also was - as much as a cyber-lynching. In case you are looking for a tale to complete the circle here, then the case of "Hank" and Adria Richards is the one for you. A public shaming via Twitter was followed by an even more vicious retributive cyber-lynching orchestrated by and on 4chan. The author's conversation with "twenty-one-year-old 4chan denizen, Mercedes Haefer" sheds light, though not a whole lot though, on the psychology of shaming. Throw in your prejudices, pre-conceived notions, stereotypes, then add in a dash of the spice of technology, and you get the perfect recipe for shamings in the modern era:
"She paused. ‘But 4chan aims to degrade the target, right? And one of the highest degradations for women in our culture is r*pe. We don’t talk about r*pe of men, so I think it doesn’t occur to most people as a male degradation. With men they talk about getting them fired. In our society men are supposed to be employed."
Shaming is a form of control, an assertion of power over the victim, a no-hods barred degradation of the victim - where physical violence is not possible or not practical.
Reading through the book, I felt it hit a high somewhere around the chapter on 4chan and the lynching-counter-lynching episodes. But it seemed to drift for a chapter or two after that. Reading chapter 9 I started to think, "Is this going someplace?" Perhaps there was a glimmer of light I could see, but where would it lead to? Perhaps it is the inevitable moment of reader-fatigue that one experiences when reading a book where the urge to abandon a book seems to exert an inexorable pull. "But this is a short book. I can finish this. Onward!" I said to myself. And turned the page. The book did pick up. The chapters got shorter, or at least it seemed that way. This however is not a book on cyber-bullying. Emily Bazelon wrote a book on that topic. This is not even a book on how the Internet enables cyber-bullying. Nor is it about hate crimes in cyberwar- there is an eponymous book on that by Danielle Keats Citron.
What "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" is, at the end of the day, a short, breezy look at a few aspects of shaming, with a little bit of history, a dash of personal anecdotes, some curative as well as palliative ruminations, and the trademark (surely by now) Jon Ronson wry humour. Does this book provide any hope, any solution to the malaise of this relentless form of mob frenzy of shaming? Yes, and no.
The weirdest line I can recall reading in a book - actually "incongruous" is a better phrase than "weirdest" - would be this: "Porn professionals were being so nice and considerate towards me it was almost as if I was the person about to have their g**itals electrocuted." I suppose one could call this one of the occasional perks of being a writer, eh Mr Ronson?
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The tool of shaming someone publicly for breaking the law or violating the social contract in some other way is as old as time. But with the advent of the Internet, and specifically, the rise of tools like Twitter, shaming can go viral instantly. Instead of your immediate community knowing what you did wrong -- and deciding whether and when to forgive you, because they may have a sense of the broader context and of who you are as a person beyond that misstep -- the entire world now becomes aware, instantly, without any of that context. And the results, as Ronson shows, can be horrifying and potentially disproportionate. Imagine cracking a joke that you know that some folks might consider off color to a buddy sitting next to you at a conference presentation -- then having the woman in front of you turn around, snap your picture, smile at you -- and tweet about how offensive your comments were to women, already a minority and arguably struggling to find a way to feel comfortable in Silicon Valley's "bro culture". That's "D***legate", and it's one of the case studies that Ronson looks at to explore how the Internet has transformed public shaming from one form of potentially violent public pillorying and whipping to a non-violent but far longer lasting and even more damaging variant.
Since Ronson's focus is on the post-Twitter era, you won't find much here about folks like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, although Ronson explores an argument that suggests sexual misdeeds are viewed with more tolerance by potential shamers than other transgressions (in contrast to the past, when swingers "outed" by the News of the World committed suicide). But whether the name is a familiar one -- Jonah Lehrer, popular science writer pilloried for inventing quotes and for recycling his own content -- or someone unknown, such as the teenager turned into a pariah for mocking what she saw as a self-evident and superfluous sign at Arlington national cemetery requesting silence and respect -- he does a good job of exploring different examples of shame and reasons for shaming, as well as the societal and historical context.
Ronson does occasionally fall into the trap of what I refer to as "stunt" anecdotes: going off to explore things as a participant and taking notes because he knows it will make a good part of the copy to be a fly on the wall. So, the workshop on how to manage and address shame in which he participates becomes a gratuitous anecdote, and some other similar segments felt like overkill.
My five-star rating is as much for the timeliness of the topic as for the book's style and structure, which are really more average than the rating would suggest. It's an OK book, on a standalone basis, but it's the first to really assemble in a coherent fashion all the individual anecdotes and events around this particular theme. It certainly made me think. I've long been aware of the dangers of having a personal "brand", and been vigilant about what I say on social media and my privacy settings on Facebook, for instance. In the social media universe, there simply is no privacy -- or at least, none that you can count on -- and few of those "shame victims" that Ronson profiles in these pages are evil or malicious. Stupid, foolish, careless -- yes. Thoughtless, absolutely. But the shaming, the "mass online destruction" in which people seem to take such delight, seems so disproportionate. "We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside of it."
This is a great starting point for dialog and discussion, and for that reason alone merits the full five stars.
I'd been thinking about this topic quite a bit before I saw this book had been written, because there have been several examples recently of massive, scorched earth web campaigns against things that I thought was fairly innocuous. It seemed like yet another example of how quickly seemingly civilized people can turn into a vicious pack of animals, and it's frightening, even in the service of a "good" cause.
The web can be a powerful tool for justice when other avenues have failed, for example, when an individual is fighting a powerful company. On the other hand, sometimes the punishment can vastly outweigh the crime, and peoples' lives end up ruined for one tasteless joke on Twitter, or even a complete misunderstanding.
Ronson goes through numerous examples, some of which I'd heard of and some of which I hadn't. He then connects internet shaming to historical public shaming, and explores other sorts of shaming, going so far as to visit the filming of an S&M movie.
It's interesting and entertaining from beginning to end. I was particularly fascinated to learn that there are now companies who (for a very large fee) will "obscure" your internet presence, so embarrassing things won't be quite so prominent.
My heart gave it five stars because it was fun to read. My head might ding it one, because it never really comes together with a coherent theme. Much as he did in The Men Who Stare at Goats, he tells a lot of very entertaining stories, and then tries to tie it together by connecting dots that don't really connect. A lot of things - like the trip the the S&M club - are just enjoyable non-sequiturs. It seems like he's trying to overthink something that's not really that complicated - just a natural extension of human nature into the digital age.
There's no great epiphany, and it's not clear anything can be "done" about the situation. Still, the book is very entertaining, and serves as a good cautionary tale, both for our own behavior, and for our reactions to the behavior of others. Highly recommended.
Overall, the anecdotes about people who have been publicly shamed are interesting, but the book seems kind of aimless at times. It also only explores the subject matter at a superficial level, not delving too deeply into causes or consequences of this new trend in social media justice.
It was fast read, and Ronson's style is agreeable and easy. I'm just not sure the actual content was fleshed out enough to warrant the price of a book.