Mt. Vernon Register-News

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October 21, 2013

Let's stop 'shaming' each other

(Continued)

But a certain kind of parenting and a certain breed of Internet humor have collided and exploded in popularity, producing an endless array of shaming that, though it appears to fit under the same definitional umbrella, has actually begun to stretch that umbrella to its breaking point.

Take child-shaming, in which parents embarrass their offspring publicly. A fourth-grade boy is made to stand in public holding a sign that says "I am a bully," a teenage girl suffers with a sign that reads "I was disrespecting my parents by twerking at my school Dance." Those shamings are disciplinary and understandably denounced by many, but a similar phenomenon often happens online with kids too young to be shamed, including babies. These shamings are done purely (or mostly) for the sake of humor, like a baby girl posed next to the confession "I fart like an old man." They take the concept of contemporary shaming in a totally different direction: shaming as comedy.

In the same good-natured vein as baby-shaming, there's animal-shaming. Making a dog wear a sign that says "I break into the pantry and hide potatoes all around the house" is surely no less cruel than making a dog wear a Halloween costume. There is also, of course, cat-shaming. And ferret-shaming. And parrot-shaming. And bunny-shaming. (And horse-shaming? Yes, there is also horse-shaming.) The trend has recently jumped back to the human species with the humorous blog Librarian Shaming, in which librarians make confessions like "I think most classic novels are rubbish." Shaming has always been a form of emotional abuse, but now it's also a growing genre of humor.

And it can be quite funny! But these deliberately comical uses go hand-in-hand with the worst uses of shaming: the unintentionally comical kind. Guys who are tired of being called creeps have absurdly claimed creep-shaming, for instance. Breast-feeding advocates are sometimes accused of formula-shaming moms. I've also seen social-media-shaming, tattoo-shaming, luxury-shaming, attendance-shaming, snack-shaming, bigot-shaming, privilege-shaming, salary-shaming, single-shaming (i.e., shaming the nonmarried or nonattached), fedora-shaming, Drake-shaming, and filter-shaming. This last word was used, with all apparent sincerity, in an article by an acne sufferer who felt "shamed" for her use of Instagram filters by "selfie queens" (a term someone else will have to unpack).

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