Shame, Guilt, Narrative and Twitter: “I mean just try to see it human, see it human…”

There was fascinating discussion on BBC Radio Four’s Start the Week, on the scaling of public shame. It should be available later today as a sound file. Core to the conversation is Jon Ronson, and the thesis in his latest book is that Twitter has taken shaming to an extravagant and social destructive extent.

Despite advocating the positive use of public shaming (she gives a powerful example of it’s use in California to get tax refusers to cough up what they owe to a State which regularly teeters on bankruptcy), Jennifer Jacquet points out that the low cost of shaming others on Twitter is what leads to the destructivenss.

But there is also a thoughtful and thought provoking reflection from Michael Buffong, the Artistic Director of Talawa on his experience of their current production of All My Sons by Arthur Miller.

Buffong ties shame to guilt and speaks about the socially disastrous effects of it backfiring in circumstances in which the guilty party powerfully asserts his own narrative on events by living down the shame.

Indeed, that very point is well made in this review by Jacquet of Robson’s book

To give just one example: is the Twitter shaming of a columnist who has written vile, ill-considered stuff about the death of a gay pop star less likely to make her repeat offend? Probably not.

As Gilligan points out, public shaming leads to what we often call mortification, a word that should give us a strong clue as to its ultimate consequence. Coldness sets in, a deadness.

To quote Millar, “I mean just try to see it human, see it human…”

If I get a chance, I’ll add some text from the broadcast when they put the edited version online…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty