Medieval public shaming in the digital age

The Shaming of Izzy Laxamana. Slate, June 12, 2015.

A strange and troubling article that suggests some weird and nettling social trends. In the article an 11 year old girl sends a risque selfie to a same-age boy. The parents find out, and the father responds by cutting off her hair and then sending out social media pics of his hair-shorn child. Bereft and humiliated, the girl takes her life by jumping off a bridge.

I think it is likely, as the article suggests, that we will see more of such stories of family strife culminating in suicide. As the author points out, the behaviors of all the parties – the girl, her parents, and the society itself – have a medieval feel to them. The girl, from her perspective, in sending the selfie is doing what too many girls are now doing, namely showing their bodies to boys, in short, flirting. The parents are doing what parents have always done: try to protect their child from damaging herself socially and so ruining her life. Mix in some fury toward the girl for her impulsivity and bad judgement, and you have a recipe for much family turmoil.

But with the extension of the social media so far into the life of not just the girl but her family, the parent now has the expertise to use the social media as a means of publicly humiliating the daughter. Once humiliated, the child takes the next almost inevitable next step: suicide.

What we have then is a child and a family behaving as they often have, that is operating out of impulses mingled with well-meant emotions and needs. But with the social media so readily at hand, the smaller family situation swirls out of control and the girl is publicly humiliated and her death, like those of Romeo and Juliet, seems almost impossible to stop.