Review: So You’ve been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 1 to 3, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: BOTM (book club’s choice)
Recommended for: anyone curious by the title

We were not going to tolerate a resurgence of old-time bigotry, and as a result of our collective fury, Marks & Spencer and Nestlé demanded their advertising be removed from the Daily Mail‘s website. These were great times. We hurt the Mail with a weapon they didn’t understand–a social media shaming.

[…]

I suppose that when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be.

The operative word here being “collective.” When people gather en mass and focus their attention on just one thing, that one thing escalates. It’s human nature, made worse (and easier) by the internet.

This book is interesting but not as interesting as it could have been, which is let down considering it’s written by Jon Ronson. Funny, witty, accessible Jon Ronson and his offbeat choice of topics and his unconventional method of investigation. I was expecting him to dig a little deeper into the concept of public shaming in this age of social media, with the focus being on how and why some things pick up speed and go viral while other things are brushed aside. But instead, Ronson delved into the lives of people who’ve been publicly called out for their (alleged) transgressions, most of which occurred on twitter. He also followed up with these people and discuss how they’re doing now and what their lives are like currently (and existentially) in their post-shame existence.

And these people are Jonah Lehrer (plagiarist), Justine Sacco (AIDS tweet), Max Mosley (former Formula 1 boss), Adria Richards and Alex Reid (donglegate), Mike Daisey (Apple exposé), and Lindsey Stone (silence and respect). Ronson visited with each individual and interviewed them at their leisure. It’s all very casual and friendly. Ronson gave them each a chance to share their side of the story and explain the events leading up to their public shaming, which the internet was particularly not interested in hearing at the time (or ever?). There’s no judgment or dissection of anyone’s conduct or intention; all Ronson wanted to know was how their fall of grace played out on the internet, how that event affected them during and afterward, and how they’re dealing with it now. Like I said, very casual and friendly and on the surface.

The weakest part of the book is the ending. Ronson doesn’t wrap things up in a conclusive manner. He leaves a lot hanging about, as a matter of fact. Which is why I don’t know what to make of this book.

Reading this book and following along on Ronson’s journey was a lot like reading a tabloid magazine in the sense that I didn’t learn anything new, but I did get a run-down of things I’ve only heard in passing. The content of the book is shocking, the people familiar, their stories fascinating to watch (unfold as they combust), and I found it hard to put the book down, even when I had to google references I didn’t understand–dongles and forking. With the exception of Jonah Lehrer, I’m only vaguely familiar with these other stories and I only know them by their brief appearances on the blogosphere. Then it occurred to me that I never actually took the time to think about the repercussion these people faced following their internet expulsion. This book brought that to light, and I’m glad for that perspective.

However, I don’t think I’ve learned much from Ronson’s journey, and I still know very little of the concept of public shaming. The whole thing is still elusive to me; I see it the same way I see natural disasters–vortex-like and unpredictable. There’s no way to tell who or what will be hit next, or what kind of content will get the unanimous attention and ire of the internet and what will be ignored. There’s no pattern, that we can see anyway, and that’s fascinating to me. Jon Ronson doesn’t touch on this in the book, and that’s a letdown. But that’s on me, my expectations are off the book’s mark.

Something I’ve always liked about Jon Ronson’s writing is that he has a way of explaining slippery, difficult to grasp subject matter and putting those things in the form of humorous and/or enlightening anecdotes. Although his writing is funny, it’s never intentionally harsh or cruel, and the people in his stories are never the butt of the joke. I’m glad to see he still takes the same approach with this book.

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4 thoughts on “Review: So You’ve been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

    • 1stavenue April 9, 2015 / 3:55 pm

      Interesting, and thanks! I haven’t seen her full talk yet, just clips of it. This would have been something interesting for Ronson to take on. Actually it would have been interesting to see him include more varied individuals in his sample, but I suppose that’d be too difficult for this book. He would’ve had to tackle nuances and intersectionality, which I don’t think he can pull off.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thebookgator April 11, 2015 / 11:52 am

        Heh (about the nuances and intersectionality). I recommend the full talk. I was a little put off by her at first, but thought she pulled it together really well by the end. I thought it was questionable equating her situation with the anti-bullying movement but she has excellent points about our bandwagon cultural shaming. She equates it with an old-fashioned stockade at one point, which struck me as insightful.

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        • 1stavenue April 11, 2015 / 5:03 pm

          I think she did well considering this was only her second public speaking engagement since the scandal broke, but I agree with you, tying her experience to cyber bullying was a stretch (and a leap). Although she made good points and spoke of them fluently, the move looked (to me) like she’s trying hard to be relevant by jumping on a hot-button issue so people would take her seriously. That said, I’m glad to see her again in a different light and glad she’s taking back her narrative.

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