There’s a Shameful Train a-Boardin’
The Public Shame Glory Train is now departing. First stop: Griekspoor & Border.
When you’re nine years old, $80 is a lot. When it’s $80 for your birthday, that’s awesome! One young Miss Marissa Holland received two gift cards for her birthday and went out shopping, probably thrilled to have her very own money. Being a kid and possibly not thinking clearly in all the excitement (or at all, but she’s 9 and this stuff happens) she sat them on a store shelf.
Enter the swoopers: Tina Griekspoor and Evelyn Border, 35 and 56, respectively. They saw these gift cards on the store shelf, with the child’s name on them, and did what they felt was right- paid for their shit. How awesome is that? Not very. Worse, they went back and tried to purchase MORE things with the child’s gift. Really?
It may not have been the smartest thing for the girl to do, putting the cards on the shelf and not in her pocket but we have no idea what prompted her to do that. And remember, she’s nine. I think, however, we can safely say what prompted these two ladies to snatch her gift cards, however, and in that we can see they had no shame.
Well, didn’t. Thanks to some creative adjudication, Griekspoor and Border got to be the stars of the show and receive the shame they so desperately lacked. The two of them, a mother and daughter sad-sack show, got to stand in front of their local courthouse in what is apparently the center of town holding signs which read “I stole from a 9-year-old girl on her birthday! Don’t steal or this could happen to you!” For 4.5 hours they held up these enormous signs with their six-inch-high letters, and Marissa’s mother drove her past so she could see not only the women who stole from her, but the price one pays when public shaming is at work.
Whatever happened to public shaming? When did we become a society which is afraid to make people feel that they should be ashamed of themselves and what they’ve done? Whenever public shaming happens it’s somehow seen as a big deal. We can look at the Korean Train Dog Poop Girl or the more recent Rotten MySpace Mom cases and see where public shaming is as effective as or more effective than anything which can be done by law. Do you think Griekspoor and Border would have changed their ways if they didn’t have to spend half a workday in the middle of town telling everyone they are heartless gift-snatchers? I doubt it.
Some people are against public shaming. In the case of Dog Poop Girl, people decried the release of her information into the public sphere. No, it most certainly was not right to harass her family and tell everyone her business. At the same time, however, the right of the public to bring shame to someone who doesn’t have it for themselves has long been upheld. Dog Poop Girl gave less than a fuck about decorum or anyone’s health or even the right of her fellow riders not to slip in a pile of dog crap, and for her clear demonstration that she has no shame, the internet brought her some. Lori Drew, who with not a drop of self-control precipitated and participated in a charade which sent a young girl to take her own life, was similarly exposed and shamed by the internet. You may argue whether the young girl in question was already messed up or whatever. That is hardly the point. The point is that Lori Drew, a grown-ass woman, knew better.
Public shaming has had a long and storied history throughout the world as a way to punish without removing someone from society. The idea is that if you can’t access your inner shame before you do something stupid, society will help. It’s one thing to do your crime in secret and even to go to jail for it. That’s a function of law and order, but unless you’re all over the papers nobody has to know what you’ve done. In public shaming, however, your name and face become synonymous with whatever careless, antisocial act you have perpetrated and now everyone knows what you’ve done. Worse, they all know you don’t know how to act. They can avoid you. They can talk about you. They can mock you, point and laugh, they can choose to pity you or to avoid you altogether because now they know what kind of person you are.
There’s hardly any way of getting out of that.