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Come Back, Shame
You've been gone so very long.
On Sunday, me and the boys had a chat about honor. I don’t recall being the one to propose this topic, despite some highly dubious claims to the contrary. The investigation is ongoing.
After reading‘s latest piece, for some reason I was reminded of a college experience from the mid-90’s. Or rather, of a set of experiences which had become part of my daily routine back then. From these experiences, I noticed something about our cultural decay that had to do not specifically with honor, but with its absence.
In other words, I learned about the death of shame.
The school I was attending back then wasn’t especially noteworthy. It was just another run-of-the-mill urban campus nestled between housing projects and a residential ‘hood that might as well have been. While not a “historically black college” it was the kind of place where guys who looked like me were in the minority. Maybe that’s relevant, maybe not.
I guess the reason I bring it up at all is that my morning routine always had me dropping by the Student Center for breakfast. It was the kind of time and place where white skin was in short supply. So were men, for that matter; the SAC was mainly an island of sistahs at that early hour, both as customers and servers. Some of these Nubian princesses were impressively done-up given that the sun had yet to rise. Others were essentially draggling around in their dorm pajamas, hair comically askew.
What the vast majority of them had in common was the lounge. Ostensibly a “study hall,” the room was a little glass box across the promenade from the cafeteria. In it there were an assortment of legless chairs and couches, like giant pillows that were bent and stiffened into furniture. The ladies (and a few gents) spilled themselves across this cozy grey lair, at the front of which stood a jumbo CRT (Note that this was back in the day when the acronym meant “cathode ray tube,” and not an excuse to punch white people).
I would pass by the glass box on occasion, sipping my coffee as I spied on its occupants. What went on inside filled me with many questions. Some of them were curled up asleep (Why not stay in bed?) while others indeed had their noses in books (Why not go someplace quieter?). The remainder appeared transfixed by the TV screen and the strange sounds it made. Or, at least, I imagine those would sound strange now, to ears of a similar age. Back then they were part of a popular soundtrack, one of reactive, hyper-emotive, humanlike noises, an idiot’s opera of oohs and ahhs, jeers and cheers.
There were many species in the taxon, names like Jenny Jones, Montel Williams, Ricky Lake, Sally Jesse Raphael. There were even weirdos like Geraldo Rivera and Phil Donahue, hanging on for dear life as the daytime talk boat sailed into a sea of monsters and madness. And of course, at the bottom of that sea’s darkest trench lay Jerry Springer and his circus misfits, who spastically screamed and brawled for the amusement of bored fat hausfraus and train wreck aficionados everywhere.
Or at least, I thought that was the bottom. But in those early morning breakfast stops I would learn of another man, if he could be called that. This person-shaped creature was — and shockingly, still is — named “Maury Povich.” Even more shockingly, I learned that he was still doing his show up until March of 2022, capping off 31 years of broadcast excrements.
I mean excellence. For how could something last that long otherwise?
If you look at Povich’s slender Wikipedia page, it mentions a recurring bit called "Who's the Daddy?" and adds that critics called it “trash TV.” Apparently that particular segment — in which the results of paternity tests were revealed on air — was a little past my time. In fact I don’t remember much of the actual content of the show, and what little I do is like the ragged edges of a fading nightmare. Mostly I see young girls sporting whorish makeup, high heels and mini-skirts, many of whom were within spitting range of what you might call a toddler. Some of them are presented like Jon Benet, as contestants in some diabolical form of beauty pageant. The slightly older ones are held out for public rebuke, meanwhile, sat aside weeping (usually single) mothers who claim to have lost all control.
There are other ugly, half-formed grotesqueries, I’m sure, stashed in whatever cobwebbed drawer of my mind stores such debris. The reason they exist at all is that I eventually found myself inside the glass box too, nestled among that pile of black chicks like a rogue Zambezi missionary, or Bobby De Niro’s wettest dream.
After a while, I hardly paid attention to the show’s content. Instead, I would check the faces of our assembled meta-audience, trying to gauge the reactions to the reactions. For example, when Maury’s studio version booed and jeered (which was often), would the effect be mirrored in any way among my classmates? When they laughed onscreen, would I see traces of a smile? Would their brows furrow when the TV pitchforks came out (which they inevitably would)?
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the answer was “No.”
Their eyes were typically frozen in a half-lidded state, the facial muscles hanging loose and dead. The word “zombie” is overused these days, but that was the impression I got. Not NPCs, not victims of hypnosis. The living dead, for whom the latest tawdry, shameful display was merely a conflagration of light and sound that could not be gnawed on, but looked enough like something that could be to draw their gaze.
Mind you this was in the time before “The Internet” was much more than a bunch of chatrooms and message boards. The thing it evolved into is typically where the blame gets pinned, when we discuss the epidemic of shamelessness. We point to free pornography, games and other depersonalizing time-sucks. Sure, names like Povich and the recently-departed Springer will occasionally get tossed into that ring, but usually only in the form of “We should have seen the warning signs back then.” The way I’ve come to think of it, these shows weren’t a warning sign but a true reflection of what had already happened, pictures of a forty-car pileup that’s been on fire for decades. The dazed eyes watching the flames were already so accustomed to those that they couldn’t even try to care.
What became of those little whored-up children that Povich and others like him pimped out to the world? Never mind their disgusting parents, for whom Hell has already carved out a suitable slot. As an involuntary participant in a freak show, what does the child look at the next day? Is she excited to watch herself on TV? And the week after she does, what emptiness must she feel? What hideous depth of humiliation does she plumb, upon realizing that this is not just the past, which is something she could someday misremember in her favor? When she understands that it’s document, a monster forever threatening to climb out of a closet and eat her. Does she eventually turn to porn? Has anyone ever studied what happened to these kids? It sounds like any point of entry to such research would be horrific.
In any case, I was haunted by the future faces of those girls, knowing their lives were violently detached from honor and dignity at such a tender age. And not just the girls, of course; one of the phantoms haunting my mind’s eye is that of a morbidly obese boy, no older then ten. He sits hunched beside his own single mother (no swimsuit model herself), who publicly admonishes him for sneaking resources that he’s not equipped to purchase on his own. Who stocks those shelves with cakes, cookies and other psuedo-foods, one wonders? I guess it doesn’t matter. What matters is he’s a fat, homely little pig-monster, who should be ashamed of himself.
Maybe that’s even true, to some extent. But not like this, Lord. Not like this. Not dragged before this sanguineous mob of smug little dickheads and sanctimonious cunts.
But what about that mob, you might ask. That hooting and gasping Greek chorus which narrates the morality play unfolding on stage. Why did they buy the ticket, and what exactly are they doing there?
Their job, is my short answer. But not just that.
They have been told in advance — or perhaps even intuited — that their best chance to get seen on TV is to play to the cheap seats. They were pioneers of virtue signaling, Pavlovian infants trained for maximum fake outrage and applause. They cheer Baby Mama like she’s a conquering hero, when she demands her boyfriend assist with raising his bastard. Scowl like they just smelled a mass grave, when said Baby Daddy giddily declines. Though they pretend otherwise, they’re every bit as dishonorable, every bit as shameless as the spotlit targets of their pity and wrath.
Meanwhile, the Student Center’s legions of the dead watch them impassively, the mirror opposite of their splenetic display. And the same questions arise. What are they doing? What does it make them feel, or distract them from feeling?
I took one of the breakfast crew girls out on a date, once. Not one of the zombies, but one of those with her nose in a book. I asked her why she studied in the TV room, and her answer was that she always studied with the TV on in high school, and she was just used to the sound.
This makes sense on one level, but is totally bizarre on another. I could understand listening to music while reading, and even to music with lyrics. But this talk show soundtrack wasn’t like any of that. It could only provide distraction.
But maybe that was the point, to distract from something that was going on all around us, that permeated the air like toxic smoke. The smell of a burning world, full of broken people beyond the reach of honor and shame. Or beyond its clutches, as they would likely describe it now. Unchained from honor. Liberated from shame.
And so here we are: 2023, in the year of Our Lord.
We no longer bother to pantomime a concept like shame, not even on the daytime talk shows. Instead we are told — commanded, almost — to be proud of every inch of ourselves, no matter how many of those there happen to be. The fat boy of yesteryear — who’d likely pretend to be a girl now — is instead raised up as an emblem of body positivity. “Healthy at any size,” as they say.
That’s not all they say. Those little Jon Benets they trotted out, painted like ads for some horrible clown-porn fetish site that almost certainly exists, would be cheered and feted too. Once more, these girls would likely be boys playing dress-up, which would cause the cheers to soar ever higher, to crescendo in a cleansing blaze of ecstasy, as though the heavens opened up and all the manna that poured forth was lava.
The parents of these boygirls and girlboys will deduct their share of shameless glory too. They will by lofted onto digital palanquins, toted around from show to show. The preferred format is “news” now, if only in the sense that everyone’s shot from the waist up. They are courageous heroes too, of course, just like those tiny ruins they call their offspring. But they’re also terrified victims like them, also outraged by anyone with the temerity to judge them. Their dissonant qualities all march together now. These are the brave, terrified, outraged saints of the post-honor world.
They lie publicly and shamelessly to themselves and others, and so do the news critters who showcase them. The latter species can hardly be blamed, though. They have become mere stenographers for a political class whose latest whoppers put all former members of their breed to…
Well, not shame.
Because, what does that word mean? Is it ancient Sanskrit? I find can hardly pronounce it.
The “age-restricted” (but really, platform-consolidating) video above shows two dishonorable men. While the man on the left denounces the scourge of crack cocaine, the man on the right shamelessly films himself free-basing it. Why does he film it? Don’t ask. What’s important to know is that he’s worth more than I will earn in ten lifetimes, for the skill of having been born with a certain name.
Never mind as well that attempts to cover up the tawdry business deals conducted by these two men might have just ignited WWIII. It’s practically a crime to ask about such things. Perhaps it will literally be one soon.
Bearing this in mind, you can ignore the monsters hiding in closets and under beds; all is document now, and those who would inflict shame on the shameful have been all but silenced. As for those who’ve conducted themselves shamefully — which is all of us, at sometime or another — most paths to the restoration of honor and virtue have been sealed off by the permanence of the web. Barring a miracle, there’s no hope to erase or flatteringly misremember what’s been happening this past decade, throughout the West and beyond it.
All the dishonors of the recent past have been forged in diamonds and chromium steel. You will have always behaved the way you did during COVID, in the face of transgender madness, across the witch hunts of #MeToo, the riots of #BLM, the thefts of #IStandWithUkraine. You can no longer escape the dishonorable world and your shameless place within it.
So you’ll pretend such concepts as shame and honor never existed at all. And when a little voice whispers otherwise, you’ll find a way to distract yourself from it.
Maybe you waste countless hours on Twitfacebooktube, where you harangue and deplore the latest scapegoat and heresy. Your face doesn’t move when you type these little broadsides and launch them into the ether. It’s a dead mask, guarded over by dead eyes that stare at glass boxes but cannot not see their contents.
Maybe you Netflix-and-chill. What’s on these days? Everything and nothing. Mostly nothing. Not even Maury. Do you still laugh when something’s funny on one of these shows? Shiver when it’s scary? Is anything funnier or scarier than what’s going on around you?
We are heirs to the greatest anti-fortune that Mankind has ever known. The debt of honor is almost bottomless now, a freefall into the sort of ultimate nihilism that has legions cheerleading for child castration. For those of you who encouraged the spending, all that’s left is to cross a few T’s, which look like raging Rubicons to the rest of us. And yet that bill is swiftly coming due.
I get the feeling that whatever remains of honor must be quickly gathered up and repaired by those who grasp even a tenth of its worth.
The same goes double for shame. When you feel ashamed, you are comprehending the existence of beauty and moral order, and recognizing that you have failed to live up to these standards. You are realizing that you were weak when strength was required, vain when you should have been humble, loud when you needed to shut the fuck up and listen.
These are all good lessons. Shame burns like matches you shouldn’t play with, and hot stoves you shouldn’t touch. And it should burn, because the lack of it will cause precisely the kinds of housefires we’re seeing now.
Human beings need shame, in other words, both as individuals and as a civilization. Even before honor, we need it, because it’s fear of shame that helps us forge and maintain those kinds of codes in the long run.
P.S. If you found any of this valuable (and can spare any change), consider dropping a tip in the cup for ya boy. I’ll try to figure out something I can give you back. Thanks in advance.