Yes, I couldn’t believe the title “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” when I saw this Jon Ronson book at my local book store, I just had to buy it. I couldn’t believe that someone had actually dedicated an entire book to this current and important social issue. Maybe there are more works like this, but if that’s the case, it’s certainly not something I’ve seen before.
Where do I start describing this book? It’s damn good, and it is about one of the most important issues of today: Online behaviour. This is so crucial to tap into and write about as so many of us are tied to our devices. Social media has become an integrated part of our lives to such an extent that a person is considered abnormal if they aren’t “social”.
The first time I ever paid attention to a “public shaming” was when the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch was in the receiving end of one hell of a shit storm, after revealing, that his company didn’t really care much about catering to “fat kids, as fat unpopular kids” weren’t their demographic audience. Their focus was “the hip, beautiful and trendy kids”, so there was no interest in making big sizes. The interesting thing about the shaming, was that their CEO had revealed these thoughts in a 7-year-old interview at the time that had laid dormant in the internet world, until a female journalist brought it up and broadcasted it out there to the masses. Abercrombie and Fitch were under attack on all their social media sites, and were later seen caving in to the pitchfork mob, by saying that no, they were going to start making clothes for big kids. I was amazed.
First of all, if you are a luxury brand and you say that your target audience are filthy rich people, then you could say that it’s discrimination towards low-income people if you are to use the same logic as the angry mob who attacked A&F online. If I’m making a product specifically directed towards a group of people then why would that make me offensive? A&F are a preppy brand and have worked hard to be perceived that way, so why would people get angry? If I own a brand and only want to make clothes for petite people or obese people, isn’t that my right? A&F had to bend backwards to the angry online mob and just go along with the ridiculous haters.
After reading Ron Jonson’s book, it was a reminder of how trigger-happy people are, how they just jump to a conclusion and jump on a trend and how companies and brands just cave in showing no strength at all, if an employee upsets the sensitive online masses. This is something I’ve thought of many times myself when I’ve seen people who have been destroyed by the online mob, first of all, why all the hate and 2nd, why do they all end up getting fired?
Are brands and companies such cowards that they would just do anything to appease public sentiment no matter how misinformed or wrong that sentiment is?
A personal experience I had, in terms of respect and freedom of speech, was when I lived in the States and decided to campaign for a politician. As I wasn’t a US citizen, I couldn’t really contribute much, but I was allowed to stand next to the convention centre holding a poster with the name of said politician. I thought to myself, cool why not, I loved the idea of being a volunteer and just do something. What ensued was something I would never forget. I stood there, straight up and down holding a poster when all of sudden a group of radical protesters, set up camp right next to me and the other people who were volunteering. Their aim was not to just stand there and peacefully express their political leanings the way we did, no, their aim was to disrupt us through intimidation and insults.
One of these guys literally walked up to me, putting his face only inches away from mine, hurling one abusive comment at me after the other, because of the fact that I was holding up this placard. Doing so had made me a target. Expressing my opinion had made me a target for people who disagreed, who felt that no democratic candidate could be voted for, as they were all shit and part of the establishment. This was the first time in my life, I started to doubt freedom of speech, I looked at a police officer standing right by, wondering why the hell these people weren’t arrested. But thought to myself that thinking that way was what would eventually lead to a dictatorship, after all this was freedom of speech, so I stood there, motionless and quiet, staring straight ahead of me holding this placard, refusing to engage in any conversation with these abusers, doing my best to ignore people who violated my personal space and did nothing but to disrupt the peace.
After seeing the online footage of “trigglypuff” and mindless protesters that are currently going viral, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve hit an official low point. Freedom of speech is not the equivalence of sabotaging other people’s right to engage in freedom of speech and expressing their opinions. Yet that is exactly what is happening. A group of people disrupts the peace hoping that by doing so they will completely silence a person whose opinion has offended them.
The only problem is this: that anything can be labeled as offensive to some.
An interesting story mentioned in Ronson’s book is that of Lindsey Stone, who liked to post funny pics with her co-worker on her private FB. One of these pics went completely viral and “destroyed” Stone, making her loose her job and branding her in a negative way all over the internet. Ronson finds out that there are companies that offer to “alter” your google persona, by making sure that unflattering facts or stories about you end up buried deep down in google land…
The company in question and Ronson decides to help Stone to create a “new her” that will yield positive search results. They do so by creating several profiles for her on social media including a blog where all she writes about are politically correct topics. Nothing that could be even remotely perceived as being offensive.
Ronsons concludes with the most accurate description of how our society is at the moment “We were creating a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland”.
There is also another brilliant quote ” We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside of it”. Which is sort of what human beings always have been doing, they just change the reasons as to why a person should be “lynched.”
And he concludes with “The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people. Let’s not turn it into a world where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless”.
I don’t think that there has ever been a time where speaking up and sharing your opinions has been more important. If intimidation by a group of people should be allowed to change the values of a brand, fire people who mutter unsuitable jokes online and/or the government should be allowed to imprison people who engage in so-called “hate speech” on their social media profiles. Then the time has really come for everyone to just shout out as loudly as they can and fight back.
But I ask myself how likely that actually is. Take where I live for example, I mean this place is a case study in how a dictatorship works. You have one neighbour that is like Hyacinth Bucket on steroids, then you got all the other people living here tiptoeing around, fearful of confrontation, hating the lady, avoiding her at all costs. Yet whenever anyone is talking about “taking her down” during a meeting or whatever, this never really happens. People obviously hate confrontation and let themselves be subdued in the process, all to avoid feeling uncomfortable during a potential argument. Because of this I got a neighbour who runs this whole place as if she owns it, getting her way all the time, or…well… that was before a pack of Norwegians moved in…;)
My brother and I were discussing this evening how dangerous it is with people who are stupid and angry. Of course, people have a tendency to accuse those who disagree with them of stupidity, but my definition of idiotic behaviour is this. If we are both looking at 4 apples, then those are 4 freakin’apples. Nothing is going to change the fact that we are looking at 4 apples if 4 apples are right there. If you can count to 4 and you get 4 apples, then that’s your answer, sure we could come with all sorts of philosophical meanings surrounding what human beings perceive and what is real etc;etc; But the majority of people who would argue about the 4 apples not being 4, are those type of people who have never read anything about philosophy. If we are to play by the rules of grammar and mathematics, there are clear guide lines on how we navigate the matrix in order to function within the matrix. Yet there would be people who would argue that 4 apples are not indeed 4 and it is in my opinion way more likely that those who denied the existence of those 4 apples, would be the more aggressive ones. Since they wouldn’t have any facts working in their favour to back their claim.
Reading the excerpts from Adria Richards interview with Ronson for example, made me marvel at her total lack of logic. Her argument didn’t make any sense, yet she seemed to believe it. There was no logic involved with a number of the shamings mentioned, just trigger happy people, throwing themselves on an online trend, instantly, without doing any background checking.
Sure there has been some bizarre online news that I’ve laughed at, but I don’t think I’ve ever thrown myself on the shaming wagon. Even with Cecil the Lion I was a bit like, yeah poor thing, but what was up with people sharing the contact info of that dentist?
It is disturbing and odd, to see how many people back down and run into hiding, when faced with bullying and wrongful criticism. As an artist that have my share of haters, I think it is pretty fair to say that “there-is-nobody-home when someone hates you”. There is no sense, there is no logic, no matter how good you are at defending yourself you will always lose, you will always lose because you are trying to talk sense into a person that will not accept that 2+2=4 even if their lives depended on it. They want to be right, they want to hate you, they want their perception of you to be right no matter how much evidence is pointing in the other direction. That is precisely why it is important, to not back down and not give in to those who refuse to admit that 4 apples=4 apples.
If you are wrong about something and you behave badly, well then you would obviously excuse your behaviour to the offended party but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about people who are in the wrong and who refuse to see it, refuse to admit it, refuse to believe it, refuse to think critically and refuse to see reason. Who mercilessly bully innocent people, just because they dissagree with what they think that person is saying, or what they think that person represents. Such as the ridiculous myth of “white privilege.”