Cultures of Shame

Because I’m on holidays from work and uni at the moment I’ve had time to actually pay attention to what’s going on in the world and to pay a little more attention to popular culture happenings as well (i.e, I’ve had time to watch T.V).  I was watching the Politics of Privacy (an episode of Media Watch) which was discussing the media in Australia, in the wake of the News of the World/ Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal.  They played excerpts from previous episodes detailing accounts of news stories in which celebrities have had their privacy invaded, and explained how the media often justify those invasions of privacy as being in the public interest.

David Weisbrot: Ah, but if you looked at the media there was only one interest. There was simply the interest in publish, publish, publish, the right, so-called right to know – mostly what they’re talking about, even in their own stories, is celebrity tittle-tattle. It’s not political intrigue, it’s not stories about misuse of public funds, it’s celebrity tittle-tattle.

— MEDIA WATCH INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR DAVID WEISBROT (PRESIDENT, AUSTRALIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION), 13TH AUGUST, 2008

It got me thinking about how so many of the stories that we see are attempts to shame people. Most of the examples that were used were about people such as Ruby Rose, Pauline Hanson, Jess Origliasso, Candice Falzon, David Campbell purportedly doing something sexual. Women’s magazines are often full of ‘articles’ or images of celebrities doing something ‘bad’ of doing something ‘wrong’, of somehow not conforming to cultural norms. They’re ridiculed for; getting fat, having cellulite or wrinkles, having sex,  having gay sex, being addicted to drugs, having cosmetic surgery, having affairs, not wearing underpants, being vain, having mental-health issues. People in the limelight are ridiculed basically, for simply being human.

I guess I’m wondering what it is in our cultural psyche that feels the need to expose people, to humiliate, ridicule and shame people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that getting fat, having cellulite or wrinkles, having sex,  having gay sex, being addicted to drugs, having cosmetic surgery, having affairs, not wearing underpants, being vain, having mental-health issues are wrong. I mean that as a culture we’ve decided that they’re wrong/bad and that we’re going to expose people when they engage in those activities – but why? Out of all the ways we could choose to be, as a society, why do we choose such hate-filled ways of being?

 

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