It may seem like Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Jennifer Jacquet’s Is Shame Necessary? are in a face-off with dueling viewpoints, but they actually have quite a bit in common. Both take time to explore the history of public shaming, though Jacquet’s book takes an interesting detour into the difference between guilt and shame that we don’t see in Ronson’s, and explore recent examples on various scales. While So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed takes a rather sweeping stand against public shaming, Is Shame Necessary? explores its possible uses while also warning of its dangers.
I have to admit that I went into both books expecting to prefer Jacquet’s take. While I certainly agree that public shaming can and does get out of hand, it also seems that many take thrill in quickly dismissing any type of call out as bullying. While I enjoyed the quick read of Ronson’s book and found myself conflicted by some of the situations he presented, I couldn’t help feeling like he was writing in a carefully constructed bubble. In many cases, there was little consideration for the big ideas the “shamers” were concerned with, just a focus on the fallout.
I think it’s important that marginalized voices have a place to point out wrongdoing without having the tables instantly flipped or without fear of being labeled as bullies (when so often, their whole lives revolve around being bullied). Sarah Seltzer wrote a fantastic piece on So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed for Flavorwire and concluded, “…humiliation breeds the impulse to humiliate. And many of the people who routinely humiliate others on Twitter have probably been humiliated by the world. That’s where we need to begin, not end, the discussion.” I couldn’t possibly agree more.
Though Jennifer Jacquet does take politics into consideration in Is Shame Necessary?, her book is mostly targeted at using shame to encourage large corporations to make change, with little mention of more individualized social justice I was hoping to see. While both books offer an interesting look at modern public shaming, I’m still wishing for a third perspective—one that fully considers the political issues surrounding both the people pointing fingers and those taking blame.