Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On shaming and second chances and the paucity of first chances

I've been following the internet discussions centered around Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed.  And I've thought, and thought, and thought some more, and I've finally been able to put my finger on exactly what it is that bothers me about the cases Ronson describes.  On the one hand, look at the job titles of the people Ronson describes:  acclaimed author, CFO of a major corporation, PR executive.  All pretty desirable positions.  On the other hand, look at the things these people did to screw up their lives:  falsifying a nonfiction book, yelling at a fast food clerk and posting it on the internet, publicly posting an offensive racist joke.  All pretty stupid things that anyone who's made it through middle school should know better than to do.  And after this, these people think they should get a second chance.  And they'll probably get it.  But the fact of the matter is that good positions like the ones these people screwed themselves out of are far rarer than people who want those positions and are capable of doing them.  So when the mass of people who are struggling to get by from day to day see these people, who've screwed up so egregiously, saying "I should have my position at the top of the heap back," we're inclined to say, "No.  Hell no.  You've already demonstrated that you're a jerk.  Let someone else - someone who hasn't acted out so stupidly - have a shot now.  You had your shot and you blew it.  Why should you get a second chance when so many of us never get a first one?"

To give another example, one closer to my life:  I was a student in the history department at University of New Orleans when the Stephen Ambrose plagiarism scandal broke.  I never had Dr. Ambrose for a professor - by the time I came along, he was at a point in his career where he was able to devote almost all his time to writing and research - but I remember following the news and being horrified.  Horrified not so much because of what he had done - I knew that in every field there were going to be some bad apples - as because of the general lack of consequences.  I knew that if I, as a graduate student, had committed similar acts of plagiarism, that would be it - my hopes of a history career would be over.  But when Ambrose did these things, the university stood behind him, his colleagues rallied around him, and after a brief period of finger-wagging, it was as if this had never happened.

And I think that's why people piled on the people profiled in Ronson's book - because we've seen how people at the top of the heap are allowed to fail, then offered a second chance and enabled to stay at the top of the heap, while those of us at the bottom of the heap know that should we fail in anything even approaching the same degree, that will be the end of what little social and financial stability we've managed to carve out for ourselves.  Public internet shaming is an attempt to equalize things - since we can't do it by bringing the people at the bottom up, we're left to do it by bringing the people at the top down.

Monday, March 23, 2015

REVIEW: Bone Walker, by Crime and the Forces of Evil

"Bone Walker wasn't supposed to be a major project."  So begins the liner notes for this new album from Crime and the Forces of Evil.  What it was supposed to be was a Kickstarter bonus to go along with Angela Korra'ti's Free Court of Seattle series.  Of course, as you read on in the liner notes, you see that it turned into a major project:  Extra musicians coming into the project, enriching (and complicating) the arrangements, health problems and software problems delaying the production, and no doubt countless other more minor problems that by comparison weren't worth mentioning.

But then you listen to the album and you know that - for you the listener, at any rate - it was all worth it.  Ten songs and 4 readings (with background music) transport you into the world of the Free Court of Seattle.  The songs are a mixture of traditional and original material (often within the same song), in a range of moods and tones.  If you like SJ Tucker or Blackmore's Night (to name couple a few of the musicians mining this same mythic vein), I feel confident in recommending Bone Walker to you.  You can get it at Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, or the band's own website.  Do your ears a favor and go check it out.

DISCLOSURE:  I'm friends with the leader of the band, and she provided me with an advanced listening copy of the album in exchange for a review.  Not necessarily a positive review, mind:  A free album can't buy that, and neither can friendship.  (If needed, friendship can buy some awkward feelings and an email saying "I really didn't like it - are you sure you want me to write about it?"  Fortunately that wasn't necessary in this case.)