Books: So You've Been Publicly Shamed [audiobook]
TV: Good Eats [season 8]
So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Ron Jonson [audiobook]
This is journalist Ron Jonson's book about the resurgence, with social media, of public shaming.
Some months ago, I went to an improv show and got, as I put it, "an unwanted faceful of nutsack" from the cast. A complaint to the theater was met, for the most part, with a dismissive, "he knew what he was getting into with the show" attitude. Things came to a head a week or two back, when I finally posted publicly about it to facebook. That led to a day or two of an Internet firestorm, complete with snarky comment-thread pile-ons, victim-blaming, high drama, and misery on all sides.
I'd heard good things about this book, and now seemed like the right time for me to read it, as I tried to make sense of what the hell had happened.
But I think the thing this book gets right is that it doesn't *try* to make sense of Internet shaming. There isn't any starry-eyed Palo Alto TED speaker showing us the charts specifying how it works, and how we can tooootally über-hack it to make, like, super-big piles of money. Nor is there some wide-eyed woo-merchant, telling us how the whole thing is just a sign that people don't have enough inner clarity, and that's the end of it. And nor, thank god, is it some old fogey complaining that it's the damn kids toay, what with the iPhones and all, running roughshod over proper, civilized society.
Mr. Ronson doesn't explain. He just reports.
And that's a very good thing. Reportage, here, matters much more than any wild-assed guess at an explanation. Honestly, what good would knowing the 'how' of it even do? It's like if you'd just broken up with somebody, and you felt awful, would an endocrinologist lecturing you about mood hormones really *do* anything for you? No, it wouldn't.
Instead, the reporter brings us uncomfortably close to these stories of epic Internet shaming. Someone posts a tasteless joke to twitter, and it's suddenly shared by a million users, and they lose their job, and they can't have an interaction ever again that isn't tainted by their name's first page of google-search results. And the book, at its best, takes us into those moments, to how everyone on all sides feels about it. The opening chapter describes a dogged reporter discovering that a famous pop-psychology writer faked a lot of his latest book's sources, and we see both sides of the event, the reporter by turns determined and baffled, and the psych writer gradually seized up with incapacitating terror that his entire career will fall apart. And in the background, at all times, the vast Internet mob lurks like a hungry, mindless beast.
To some extent, Mr. Ronson makes himself a part of the story. It's not quite gonzo journalism (more like New Journalism), but he's a presence there, in his interviews, in the scenes that he reports on. He has thoughts and feelings and opinions, and he judiciously describes them when, say, he's in the thick of a workshop from a radical-honesty guru. But instead of feeling self-indulgent (like in some books), instead, the way Jon 'puts himself in the room' in his observations and interviews feels honest, and makes the stories feel more immediate and relatable. He's writing about the feelings involved in these public-shaming maelstroms, and the nigh-insuperable awkwardness of even talking about them is part of that.
So I got to the end of it, and I don't know if I really learned anything by it. There aren't any interesting trivia I can trot out from it, or any perspicacity towards the subject of Internet shitstorms. But it was still the book that I needed to read, at this point. It showed me a close, detailed look at this corner of our online lives, and that helps me to, in some intuitive way, put my own experiences in context.
Good Eats [season 8]
This is (yet) another season of Alton Brown's cooking show that explains the science and cultural history of cuisine with a style that draws equally from sketch comedy and children's science programs.
Again, not much to say about Good Eats that I haven't said before. I noticed that season 8 is a little less hyperactive than previous seasons. Yes, it still trucks through its material rather frantically, but now it will occasionally take a moment to breathe and, say, show us a quiet, thirty-second demonstration of how to fold together pastry dough for donuts. Also, their "culinary MythBusters" episode was wonderful -- that concept was a no-brainer for this show, and I was only surprised it had taken them so long to get around to it.
For next week: I'm watching season 9 of Good Eats and season 3 of Last Week Tonight while exercising, and have started watching BoJack Horseman. Next week, I'll write up Prime Directive (the Star Trek novel I just finished reading) and Stranger Things.
 In this, I feel like the book shares a lot in common with Modern Romance, another refreshingly clear-eyed look at the digital age.
Mood: contemplative · Music: none