Joel Stein

Joel Stein’s Awesome Column On Public Shaming

For the past six years, I have been receiving a gift subscription to Time Magazine from someone close to me, and for the past six years I have sent them a thank you note and been gracious about receiving the gift. The only problem is I’m not fond of Time Magazine, because I don’t feel as though I’m getting objective news there anymore. In fact, the only reason I don’t throw it away every week is because I’ve come to truly enjoy Joel Stein’s Awesome Column and I don’t want to miss that one page of what sometimes resembles highly underestimated common sense, and other times absolute brilliance when you least expect it.

In the most recent column titled, “The Shame Game,” Stein discusses the Lance Armstrong debacle and the over-publicized interview with Oprah on her OWN network, pardon the horrible pun. I read the print version, but you can read the full piece here at Time online if you are a subscriber.

If you’re not, I’ll post a few excerpts, which I think the infringement police of all that is Internet now and forevermore will allow me to do. I’m not certain how this works, but I think you’ll be able to read it for free next week online, or the week after, because a lot of the content is released to the public after a certain date…at least I think that’s how it works, but don’t quote me on that.

In any event, I just couldn’t figure out why I had such a problem with the Oprah/Armstrong interview and I wound up not watching it at all. I even programmed the DVR and thought about watching later. But I wound up deleting it completely. First, I’m a runner and I’m not a huge follower of that particular sport, so I felt as if I were eavesdropping on something that was none of my business. Second, I remember a few other Oprah/Armstrong interviews where they both kissed and hugged each other so much I nearly gagged to death. Third, I haven’t watched anything on the OWN network since it began and I figured why bother now? I had been hoping we’d see more LGBT programming there.

I didn’t consider the shame aspect, not once, and certainly not in the way Stein writes about it in his column, The Shame Game.

“I too have been publicly shamed, though not by Oprah, whose shameless producers interviewed me and then used out-of-context clips during her public shaming of James Frey. Which I feel ashamed about. But I’ve been publicly shamed for writing offensive columns. Not all of them, because it would take up all of society’s time, but a few…none of which were ones I was worried about.”

I did catch the Frey interview on Oprah after it had been established that he’d embellished some of the content of his non-fiction book, and if that wasn’t public shaming I don’t know what is. I was actually waiting for her to lean over and slap a big red A on his shirt. And he just sat there, slumped over, taking it all in without a hint of defense whatsoever. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what was going through his mind at the time. Making a mistake is one thing. None of us are perfect. But to be put on a stage in front of millions of people and shamed quite that way brings new meaning to the word sensationalism.

And that’s another reason why I didn’t bother to watch the Oprah/Armstrong interview. I’m just not into public shaming in any form. Period. It’s not just Oprah. I like Oprah and I think she’s done far more good for the world than bad. But a lot of people in the mainstream don’t realize how rampant this sort of shame thing is on the Internets, especially with authors and those of the know-it-all blogging crowd that live to create controversy and brand themselves as far more important than they actually are.

I think I like this part of Stein’s post the most:

“We need to stop the public apologies in which we demand our pound of tears. Oprah, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Jay Leno and Jesse Jackson have become the tailors of our scarlet A’s. I do not believe that the people who watched the Oprah interview felt wronged for believing that an athlete didn’t dope to win a sport they’ve never watched. I believe that interview made us feel better about all the bad things we’ve done, because at least we didn’t cheat at cycling.”

Again, no one is perfect. No one should be expected to be perfect. I could add a few names to that list of the scarlet letter A group, most of whom have been doing their own brand of shaming online where only a handful of people see them do it. But the entire concept of public shaming leaves me wondering whether or not we crave public scandal, or we’re interested in watching imperfection at its best as it might possibly relate to us, as Stein suggests above.

And now I feel guilty and ashamed, because I still haven’t left a review of Stein’s most recent book release, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity, and I’ve been meaning to do that for months now.

Sorry, no photos of Joel Stein this time. He’s a nice looking guy, but who knows what’s considered public domain anymore unless it’s marked and branded that way.

Another Reason Why I Love Joel Stein’s "The Awesome Column"…

First, I’m feeling guilty this morning. I almost broke a few of the rules I preach about here on this blog after I read a nasty comment about one of my books. The comment was made, get this, in a nasty review for another book, and the reviewer made several uncalled for insinuations about the length of my book. And I almost had one of those author melt-downs you read about all the time. I won’t mention any names in this post. Mainly because I don’t want these creeps of the publishing world to get any free publicity. But if anyone has a passion for gossip, please e-mail me and I’ll be happy to tell you who it was.

But I didn’t rant or melt-down last night. And I’m glad. Instead, I sat down and read my latest issue of Time Magazine to take my mind off this amateur book reviewer (and review site) who knows very little about publishing. And when I started reading Joel Stein’s, “The Awesome Column,” I couldn’t believe was I was seeing. You couldn’t get better timing than this. The title of this column was “You Can’t spell TIME Without ‘I’ and ‘Me’! How My Self-Obsessed Writing Changed Journalism.” And it went on to explain how people criticized Joel’s first person writing style and how they attacked him personally when he first started out. Here’s a link to part of the column. Time didn’t post it in full online because they want you to buy the magazine (smile). So, though I don’t promote any magazines here, I do think buying this particular issue just for Joel’s column would be a wise investment.

I particularly liked this paragraph: “Thirteen years later and 13 years wiser, I reflect on that criticism and think, I won! All bloggers write in first person, spending hours each day chronicling their anger at their kids for taking away their free time. Every Facebook update and tweet is sophomoric, solipsistic, snarky and other words I’ve learned by Googling myself.”

Franky, I never imagined that anyone would trash Joel’s writing style. In fact, his first person style is something I’ve always admired. Mainly because I’ve only been courageous enough to write in the first person once or twice. And, I’ve written over fifty novels with my own name and a few with pen names. All with good sales records, and all with viable publishers. I don’t count this blog. Blogging, for me, is informal and I just write as I feel, without caring about the writing police. But writing in the first person isn’t easy. It’s a craft only the bravest writers tackle, and it’s also just one of the main reasons why I love Joel Stein’s work.

But now I love him for writing this honest column and sharing his personal experiences with unfounded, snarky, criticism. I know it sounds like schadenfreude, but Joel’s column saved me from writing a scathing post about an amateur author who seems to take pleasure in trashing other authors online (a concept I simply don’t understand). And though I may not always agree with Joel’s politics, I always walk away from his column with something I didn’t have before, and I always get a laugh or two.