Growing up Catholic in the Sixties, I was more than well acquainted with the concept of shame. “Shame on you!” was a common reprimand to children who stepped out of line. As I got older, I started to see the propensity to shame people as a negative thing. And it can be. Making people ashamed of their natural feelings and inclinations leads to a low sense of self-worth.
Nowadays, however, I think we’ve completely lost the sense of shame to the point where we can hurt and abuse others and still go about our normal lives without any sense of contriteness or trying to rectify the situation.
The #MeToo movement exposed the sexual predation, harassment and assault perpetrated by many men in the public sphere. From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby to Matt Lauer, we were horrified to discover how many powerful men have used their position to prey on women (and in some instances men). The behavior of these men -ranging from sexual remarks to nudity to sexual assault – was rightly denounced, and the perpetrators seemed to pay a price. For a while.
Take the case of Charlie Rose. Not long after he was fired from CBS over allegations that he paraded around naked in front of female interns and made inappropriate sexual comments, a report came out that Rose had been shopping around a comeback show in which he interviewed men who, like himself, had been accused of sexual harassment and predation. In other words, he had the audacity to attempt to profit off of the very heinous behavior that made him temporarily slink away from the public eye. My initial thought was, Have you no shame?
Little by little, however, these men will weasel their way back into the world of entertainment because we live in a world without shame. Not long ago, I read a story about an appearance by comedian Louis C.K. at a Chicago nightclub. (“No apologies, no notes at Louis C.K. show,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 21, 2019) C.K. had been exposed (pun intended) for his propensity to masturbate in front of female colleagues behind the scenes of his standup shows. During his Chicago show, C.K. alluded to the allegations against him by proclaiming that everyone had a “thing” that would be embarrassing if others found out about it – as if his behavior was a harmless peccadillo and not a case of harassment. He painted himself as a victim, alluding to the fact that he used to sell out giant venues and was now playing to a small crowd. No shame indeed.
I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that famous men seem to have no sense of culpability for their own actions. After all, our current president bragged on video about grabbing women “by the pussy.” If ever there were a poster child for a world without shame, it’s Donald Trump.
Our society seems to have a high tolerance for the misbehavior of men, especially white men. For example, despite allegations of rape against Brett Kavanaugh, he was confirmed to the highest court in the land. Victims are consistently doubted and put on trial as if they were the perpetrators of harm. Even when we choose to believe the allegations, we seem to have a need to forgive and forget, thus allowing predators to get away with their actions and survive, if not thrive.
And that’s a shame.