So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
This is my second foray into the work of Jon Ronson. Much like The Psychopath Test, this book is a short, jaunty read, tightly woven around a core theme, which in this case is shame I found the book to be enjoyable and thought-provoking, but there are a few points where I felt the book was too shallow and which ultimately make it feel a little flat.
To give the book it's due, it really is entertaining. I especially recommend the audiobook, which Ronson reads himself. I can't say it is a happy book. It is, after all, a book about shame. But it is exciting, interesting and magnetic. Ronson slowly introduces various victims of public shamings, some of whom seem guilty and deserving of their shame, others who seem entirely the victim of chance rather than some terrible mistake of their own. Reading how each shaming unfolds is sort of like watching a car crash in slow motion. I wanted desperately to stop events from moving forward, but unable to, couldn't stop reading. Whether it's the author accused of falsifying quotations or the PR Rep who made an offensive joke online, each case is riveting, and Ronson brilliantly intertwines them all.
Using these cases, Ronson raises several points that I found very interesting and relevant. For instance, there are a number of cases where men are involved in public scandals, but walk away without the ensuing shame and vitriol. There are comparatively few examples of women who are able to do this. In fact, in cases involving a woman, especially on the Internet, the public shamings are extremely intense, often including violent and personal threats. I found this thread of commentary interesting as mainstream journalists often seem hesitant to discuss the treatment of women by the Internet community. While men are sometimes insulted, women are often attacked with threats of rape, assault and death. Ronson's treatment of this issue is commendable simply because it is so often swept under the rug. Similarly, Ronson attempts to confront the symbiotic relationship between journalism and public shaming, something else you rarely hear discussed. Whether or not you agree with Ronson's conclusions, the numerous points he raises are certainly thought-provoking. Long after I had finished the book, I continued thinking about it and talking about it with my friends and family. To me, this is the sign of a good read.
The biggest shortcoming of the book is that it feels shallow towards the end. So many clever ideas are discussed throughout, but there was never a point where I felt he brought all those threads back together. Many of them just faded away. I was especially disappointed by the disappearance of the discussion about the relationship between journalists and shame because he seemed the prime person to explore such a topic. But he just quit bringing it up. It never reached a resolution or even a conclusion. Similarly, there's no real conclusion to the book as a whole. He reaches the end of many of the individual narratives and thus, the book ends. I had hoped for a discussion on research and laws targeting cyber-bullying or perhaps personal opinions suggesting how we might prevent such shamings, but, aside from his decision to stop participating in such events, there weren't any. I don't mean to sound overly harsh, but I was letdown by the lackluster ending after such an promising book.
Despite my disappointment, I would still recommend So You've Been Publicly Shamed. It was a thought-provoking book that made me seriously consider the powerful effects of social media on people's lives. It raised a number of interesting questions about journalism, gender and shame as a social weapon. If you're at all interested in Internet culture, journalism, psychology or sociology, this is a good choice for you and I encourage you to check it out. I enjoyed it, and I intend to continue following Ronson and his work.
Also, as a final note, if you do read the book you might want to look into Ronson's Internet presence since the release of the book. It seems he's been the target of a few Internet shaming campaigns.