I have quite literally put this review off for most of 2015. I read it in March! My feelings for it are not very complicated: I liked it. I liked it a lot. It’s just that the subject matter is itself complicated and worthy of a better review than I am able to give it. Especially since I’ve left the review til December 30th.
Ronson centers his book on the phenomenon of internet shaming. Internet shaming might be new, but shaming in and of itself has a long history. I found Ronson’s exploration of shaming history to be the most fascinating part of the book. He talks about its use as a punishment and then talks about why it was eventually phased out. He also goes into detail about several high-profile shaming incidents and the effects the shamings have had on their lives. Most of these people aren’t sympathetic, but Ronson makes it all but impossible not to feel sorry for (most) of them anyway. They’ve all done bad things (in varying degrees) and have suffered disproportionately for those bad things.
I can’t remember having ever internet shamed someone (not out of any moral superiority, rather because participating in public emotional displays is always out of my comfort zone). Still, next time the internet goes wacko over some idiot putting their foot in their mouth, I might think slightly differently about the situation. There’s been a lot of discussion about shame in the media and on the internet lately and that can only be a good thing.
I did have a couple of issues with the book. The first is that Ronson covers a lot in his book, but I wish he had delved deeper in parts. He had an opportunity to take this somewhere farther and didn’t seize it. No Monica Lewinsky discussion? C’mon! That’s like square one. There’s a section in the book about prisons that just did not work for me. I still don’t know where he was going with it or the point he was trying to make. And finally, he lets his white male privilege show a little too much when a lot of internet shaming is directed towards the non-white, non-male population as a way to police opinions and behaviors the bros of the internet don’t like. When he does touch upon the topic of gender and race, it’s either glancing or completely tone-deaf.
Bumped this review up a star because the audiobook version was fantastic. Ronson does a great job of narrating the book himself in an entertaining and understandable way.