I haven’t read Jon Ronson’s new book about shaming culture. But I suspect this Buzzfeed reviewer is giving it short shrift, since she thinks political correctness is such a risible concept that it belongs in scare quotes. Here’s the crux of Jacqui Shine’s review:
What makes this book an uncomfortable, if distant, cousin of GamerGate and men’s rights activist logic is that it, too, relies on a series of false equivalencies and muddy distinctions in order to elevate being shamed on social media to epic proportions. These sorts of distortions are dangerous because they minimize — and even threaten to erase — far more systematic and serious problems that have taken years to even reach the public consciousness. Based on the premise that everyone shares Ronson’s worst nightmare — an undeserved public flogging on Twitter — So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed shows a total disinterest, even disdain, for social and interpersonal power dynamics. Ronson seems to see every kind of public shaming as equivalent, no matter the audience (a handful or hundreds of thousands), platform (a courtroom, Twitter, a prison, a hotel conference room, newspapers and media websites), the identity of the shamer (a judge, a freelance journalist, an entire publication, a bunch of strangers), or even the cause (racist jokes, off-color photos, plagiarism, kinky sex, abuse of political office, sundry felonies).
She criticizes him for comparing the cases of Justine Sacco and Adria Richards, the donglegate shamer, for showing too much equanimity and failing to say, unequivocally, that one is bad and the other is good. That equanimity is, of course, “a major strategy of aggrieved white dudes, like men’s rights activists.” The last line is similar:
In a world where people who have historically been powerless have a new means with which to fight back — or at least make their voices heard — it’s important to notice when this empowerment is made out to be dangerous.
Perhaps shaming culture would be worth defending if it really was the social media equivalent of shooting kulaks. That seems to be what she’s saying. But when that sentiment is expressed on a site that makes piles of money by stoking these online mobs, it seems rather self-serving and unreflective.
When not teaching its readers how to perform anilingus via cartoon, a major source of content on the serious news outlet known as Buzzfeed is offensive stuff people are saying on social media. It’s one of those standbys that can be adapted for any media event people are tweeting racist stuff about. The reviewer says Ronson’s book “shows a total disinterest, even disdain, for social and interpersonal power dynamics.” Is a company seeking to profit from these shame-mobs part of those power dynamics?
For the sake of argument, I’ll grant that some people have it coming. Perhaps we could even come up with a set of agreed-upon rules, a celestial privilege abacus, by which we could decide the amount of shaming a person deserves given their social position. That’s not realistic, though, and in practice it falls to people like Shine to improvise them. When those people are writing for websites that make lots of money from the encouragement of public shaming, do you think we can expect them to do that in a fair way?