Part I (edited)
Chapter four: God That Was Awesome of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson explores the psychological trauma that victims of public shaming experience. Ronson is primarily interested in the story of Justine Sacco, who tweets a racist comment about her white-immunity to AIDS, intended as a joke at the disproportionate statistics of individuals with AIDS. Her attempt at humor horrifically backfires when the tweet spreads and the online community erupts in outrage at her ignorance. Not only does she lose her job as the head of global communications for IAC, but her image is irreversibly defiled by vicious tweeters, newspaper outlets, and people following her to the gym. Sacco falls into a pit of depression, left hopeless and emotionally fragile at her ruined future. Ronson contrasts this story with that of Ted Poe, a former judge in Houston, Texas, infamous for his punishments aimed to publicly shame convicts. While Poe’s punishments leave his defendants emotionally scarred at the painful reminders of their mistakes, they interestingly change people for the better. One graduates with a college degree and another devotes his life to teaching the dangers of alcohol.
Ronson’s essay raises an interesting question about the dichotomous effects of public shaming: how can we effectively use public shaming to generate positive effects? This question stems from the two environments public shaming is used in God That Was Awesome. Sacco is publicly shamed under the merciless anonymity of the online community, while Mike Hubacek’s public shaming punishment by Ted Poe is under a friendly and understanding community, that responds to him with “Things will be okay” or “God Bless you” (Ronson 87). This question will be used to explore the different environmental and societal factors of public shaming in the hopes of shedding light on its effectiveness as a form of punishment. This question also branches off to a variety of other sub-questions. Does public shaming work in more empathetic societies? What conditions are necessary for public shaming to be beneficial? Understanding the underlying properties of public shaming is important in formulating strategies to reduce the chance of recidivism and overall improve society.
My first source, “The Politics of Digital Shaming” by Rita Koganzon presents itself as a promising source for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is a direct response to Ronson’s essay, “So you’ve been publicly shamed.” A skim through the source shows that the author references to most of the topics Ronson discusses, but more importantly, using Ronson’ essay, she seeks to find an answer to a question similar to that which I posed in part 1: How can we overcome shame so that we can simply shrug off the effects of an Internet mob when, inevitably, it comes after us?” Essentially, Koganzon attempts to explore how people can take public shaming and instead turn it into something self-beneficial. Secondly, the title suggests that the role of public shaming in the digital environment and outside the digital realm is addressed. This emphasis is important because it speaks to the environment aspect of my question, with special consideration to the two environments specifically discussed in Ronson’s essay: the online community and the Texas community, in which public shaming generated different effects. This focus in her essay might offer an answer to which environments do public shaming work best.
While this publication does seem to promise direct answers to my question and proves to be credible (it was published in Center for the Study of Technology and Society), I fear that her arguments might not be entirely based on established theories or research since there’s no abstract, only her opinion. This might mean that I would need to couple her conclusions with other sources that bring concrete factual data to her arguments.
My second source, “Shaming in Corporate Law” by David A. Skeel, Jr. also seems reliable, since it’s a University of Pennsylvania law review. The title suggests its emphasis on the law aspect of public shaming and could offer a unique perspective to my argument by providing legal insight on the role of public shaming. This source also catches my attention because it balances the opinionated review of my first source with legal, factual data. Furthermore, a brief skim of the first few pages informs me that the review discusses the various communities in which public shaming works and doesn’t work. I find this most valuable since understanding the influence of environment on the effects of public shaming is essential to my argument. Lastly, the article also addresses both the advocates for and opponents of public shaming. Understanding both sides of the argument means I can craft arguments that specifically address possible counterarguments.
The only problem I can see with this second source is that it might introduce law terms that I would have to first understand and define in my essay. The possible complexities in law vocabulary might make it difficult to present an argument in 1,000-1,200 words.
Koganzon, Rita. “The Politics of Digital Shaming.” The New Atlantis, no. 45, 2015, pp. 118–126., www.jstor.org/stable/43551438.
Ronson, Jon “God That Was Awesome.” So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. New York : Riverhead Books, A member of Penguin Group (USA), 2015. 304. Print.
Skeel, David A. “Shaming in Corporate Law.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review, vol. 149, no. 6, 2001, pp. 1811–1868., www.jstor.org/stable/3312899.