What Happened to Shame?

Category: Weekly Columns

Before I delve into the subject of what happened to shame, I want to share some news of which I’m very unashamed and proud.  I have a new radio show called “The Bruce Sallan Show–A Dad’s Point-of-View,” which is inspired, if not actually based, on my columns.  It is broadcast on KZSB AM1290, The Santa Barbara News Press Radio Station, and can be heard “live” on Thursdays from 11:00 a.m. 12:00 p.m., PST with re-broadcasts each Thursday evening from 9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., PST and Saturdays from 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m, PST.  The show is available to hear on the Internet anywhere in the world via “live streaming,” which is accessible on my web-site (brucesallan.com). Each show is archived, also on my web-site, for listening anytime, without commercials.

Right now, the format of the show is in five segments.  The first one features me introducing each show, giving the call-in and e-mail information, taking calls, and presenting each week’s topic.  What follows next are three segments, each with different guests, “The Men’s Room,” “Teen Rap,” and “Single Parent Seeking.” The last segment is me, again, wrapping up the show with a summary of what was discussed, more calls and e-mail, and a peek or tease about next week’s show.

It’s a fun and challenging new venue for my views on parenthood, marriage, teens, boys, gender issues, and all the other things I like to write about.  I hope that you’ll tune in sometime, listen to the archived shows, and call or e-mail if you’re particularly interested in a given show’s topic.

Speaking of radio, the other day I was listening to a radio talk show that was quoting an article from the New York Post about the popular dresses for this year’s high school proms.  According to the article, callers, and talk-show host, the choices ranged from sleazy to stripper.  One caller said she went shopping with her daughter and they could find nothing that either would consider appropriate for her to wear.

A quote, in the article, came from a dress storeowner in New York who described this year’s style choices as pretty much saran wrap or worse, as far as exposing the girls’ bodies.

It brought to mind the extreme changes in societal attitudes regarding shame.  It no longer exists among much of our secular society.  We see regular examples of celebrities who skirt what used to be career-threatening episodes with little more than a slap on the wrist. In the case of an infamous hotel heiress, her “accidentally released” sex video actually propelled her to fame with her sordid behavior.

Some sports stars regularly get caught doing things that in the past might have caused ruin to their personal lives and careers, whether it is the use of drugs or infidelity.  Ironically, it seems that only gambling, as in the case of a well-known former baseball player who bet against his team, seems to cause some damage to a reputation.

For that matter, the whole notion of “reputation,” to many people, seems to have gone in the trash heap along with shame! There was a sixties song, called “My Boyfriend’s Back,” by the Angels, that had the lyric, “He’s gonna save my reputation.” Doesn’t that feel quaint in comparison to the lyrics of Lady Gaga or any of the hip-hop and rap artists today?

Let’s not even talk about our politicians.  The fact that some politicians can avoid resignation and shame when they are exposed in a scandal is in itself shameful.  They sometimes apologize, spouses by their sides, in a carefully choreographed, tearful, public display for the likely purpose of retaining their jobs.  The specific examples are too numerous to name as well as unnecessary.  I’d rather not add to the tabloid fame of these individuals who, more often than not, are famous for their infamy.

In old Hollywood, there were publicity people at all the studios whose primary job was to protect their charges, the actors, from themselves and their occasional lapses in what society viewed then as acceptable or unacceptable behavior–aka “shame.”  The gossip columnists of the time could ruin a career by exposing an infidelity or inappropriate behavior or comment by a star.

Now, it’s often the opposite as this behavior seems to be celebrated and often enhances careers.  Such exposure is often courted with shame not the result at all–instead, it may bring a reality show.

As a parent, I believe this change in attitude is dreadful and gives our children fewer heroes to emulate and encourages deeds that can be harmful and destructive.  The idea that middle-school girls will text around naked or partially naked photos of themselves is a perverse outgrowth of our current permissive society, especially in our bigger cities, less religious households, and generally more secular country.

Simply, I say this state-of-affairs stinks and that the idea of shame as a society weapon is a good thing.  It kept me from doing things I might have otherwise regretted, as it did the same for my childhood friends.  The loss of shame as a “consequence” in our society is a loss for the innocence of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood.