What a Shame

Shame is a powerful notion, be it the verb form or the noun form. As I type this, the head of a nearby university is resigning in disgrace over ineffectual leadership. The SXSW festival is hysterically reworking their panels after being shamed for canceling some. I'm not a fan of internet mob culture, but there's no denying it's a big part of modern society. Two books I've just finished - one fiction, and one non-fiction - delve into the murky recesses of shame, and neither of them really finds a concrete answer, but gave me plenty to think about.

The non-fiction was 2015's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. Ronson recounts the stories of several people who have lately found themselves on the wrong end of a group of internet warriors, carrying their proverbial torches and pitchforks. From Jonah Lehrer, who was raked across the coals for plagiarism, to Justine Sacco, who attempted to skewer racist white privilege in a tweet and found herself on the business end of a skewering of her own. These unfortunate souls and many others were destroyed by people attempting to shame them into non-existence, or at least out of their jobs. Ronson takes a curious, almost breezy tone in his book, which seems strange, given the severity of the subject matter. Think about how easily a joke gone awry could haunt you for the rest of your life online. It's like something out of a horror movie.

Some "crimes" are greater than others, and Ronson does do his best to discern between a dumb teenager taking a dumb selfie and outright fraud. Still, the book is mostly carried along on the facts of the cases, and not so much by Ronson's involvement; a simple list of the people and the circumstances that befell them would have had the same effect. Still, it was a helpful read in that it made me take a careful look at not only how I treat people online (I passed that test, having never jumped down anyone's throat) but at my own online content as well (deleting a few tweets and cleaning up some blog posts that could be taken the wrong way).

The other book brimming with shame was Sarai Walker's 2015 novel, Dietland. If I were going to boil this book's premise down into a single phrase, it would be: Feminist Revenge Fantasy. I'm sure a lot of readers are instantly turned off by that, but I was interested to see what a character who was tired of being shamed for her weight would do in retaliation. Dietland is two stories in one: The main story centers around Plum, an overweight woman who has scheduled a drastic surgery so that she can achieve the figure she's always dreamed of. No more shame. No more rude comments from people on the street. No more glares of disgust or contempt. She's led to a house of women who want to dissuade her from her plan, telling her that she's fine just the way she is - it's the world that has the problem, not her.

The second story is of a secret organization terrorizing the misogynists of the world, committing kidnap, murder, and other acts of violence. Plum and her friends have tangential connections to the mysterious Jennifer group, but aren't actively involved...yet. Plum feels nervous, but at the same time elated when she hears of people getting their just deserts for mistreating women. It's certainly understandable that women are reaching a snapping point as far as the shit that society shovels onto them, but in this book, innocents aren't spared either, being considered acceptable losses for the advancement of womankind. I...wasn't a fan of that.

Plum is an interesting protagonist, though her journey to self-acceptance is not terribly realistic. I must also mention that I almost didn't make it past page 17 of this book. Walter abuses so many similes at the outset, I couldn't stop rolling my eyes. The writing settles down after that, though, so I'm glad I pressed forward. Dietland won't change anyone's mind about the shame that women must endure about their bodies; it preaches to the choir. But if you're looking to see a rapist or two get what's coming to him, it's got just what you need.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed: B
Dietland: B-


Post a Comment

Copyright © Slice of Lime