It's that time of year when the tabloid press likes to have a field day at our expense. By publishing countless photo-led "articles" featuring "Boozy Brits" enjoying themselves after a few too many mulled wines, the British press attempts to shame and police people's behaviour, stirring up moral panic around alcohol and female sexuality in the process. And by circulating the hate-mongering content on their social media channels, they're inviting all of us to join in.
Much has been written about public shaming in recent years, including the standout book So You've Been Publicly Shamed, in which Jon Ronson explores various instances of names being dragged through the mud following an online misstep. He explores in depth the life-changing aftermath: from job losses and mental health woes to relationship breakdowns and entire families torn asunder. The internet and social media have made it easier than ever to turn someone into a worldwide hate figure overnight and, really, no one is immune. Even the wokest among us could have an ambiguous tweet or caption taken out of context.
How would you cope if this happened to you? Chances are, you'd want to seek some sort of revenge once the dust had settled, but how far would you go? Shamed, a new hour-long drama from Channel 4, which airs tonight, explores how one woman's public humiliation at the age of 17 shaped the next decade of her life – and the lengths she goes to for retribution. Starring Faye Marsay (Game of Thrones, Black Mirror) as the protagonist, Sarah, and Nick Blood (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Babylon) as Nathan, Shamed makes you wonder whether you've ever been personally culpable in ruining someone's life over the internet. It will have you pondering whether you've ever shared or commented on a viral video of an identifiable person doing something they'll probably regret.
While Ronson gives voice to some of the not-completely-blameless victims of public shaming, rarely do we hear from the innocent people disgraced in the media – whether by the mainstream press or via the free-for-all of social media. The woman whose vengeful ex shares her intimate selfies on a revenge porn site; the man whose body is dissected like a piece of meat on TubeCrush; or the girl whose drunken missteps are immortalised on YouTube and seized upon by a lecherous tabloid press. Shamed is fascinating in this respect. What happens to someone once the online lynch mob gets bored and moves on to someone else?
We won't delve too deeply into the plot because it's difficult to do so without giving too much away, but Shamed also touches on various other of-the-moment issues that may tempt you to give it a go: slut-shaming and the sexual double standard; the grey area of who is responsible for our ill-advised drunken behaviour; the vulnerability of youth; and the ease with which we can film and share sexual acts with complete disregard for the consequences.
The drama isn't based on any particular real-life events but instead focuses on what the long-term effects of abuse and online shaming might be. Every aspect of Sarah’s life and mind is upended for a decade, while the men who got her into the situation don't even remember the incident. "Through this drama I’ve been able to explore shame, male power, revenge, responsibility and accountability – all issues that receive widespread coverage in the news at the moment," writer and director Anthony Philipson told Refinery29.
It's certainly fortuitous timing for Shamed to be broadcast, with allegations of historic abuse and impropriety by male authority figures coming to light almost daily. "As members of the public, we have high demand and consumption of stories that involve shaming," said Philipson. "But when we hear these stories in the media we don’t always take a step back and think, 'This is a real person, or this incident has real consequences on this person’s life'. I want the audience to feel that in the end, in some way, they are complicit."
Shamed airs on Tuesday 19th December at 9pm on Channel 4.
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