Thursday, August 11, 2011


Humiliation is one of the hardest feelings to write about. It's different for men and women, children and adults. The essence of humiliation changes over time, with the shifting of values and with new inventions, such as the camera and social networking sites that make public humiliation so much easier to accomplish. Humiliation is a powerful and destructive force. Humiliation can turn people mean. A humiliated person might do something evil just to have the humiliation spotlight shine on someone else. Some exhibitionists might enjoy humiliation. Even today, some people approve of public humiliation being used as means of punishing criminals. Humiliation is inescapable. We even experience humiliation in our dreams.

Most people are passive-aggressive revelers in Schadenfreude. That is why so many people love to gossip and watch reality TV. If someone is betrayed, a natural response is to want to expose the betrayer. A more enlightened person will learn from humiliation. If a girl is dumped by her boyfriend in a bar in front of all his friends (this was one of my friends' facebook updates), she will learn to treat people with more respect.

But what about mortifying, life-destroying humiliation? For example, scoring a goal for the opposing team in World Cup Soccer, or being exposed in a sex scandal.

In his book, "Humiliation," Wayne Koestenbaum writes about his own life as a humiliation magnet. According to the review in the New York Times, Koestenbaum is more interested in humiliation suffered by men. Perhaps because men in most scenarios possess the most power, they are believed to be more susceptible to humiliation. Still, I wouldn't underestimate or show less interest in the humiliation of anybody, regardless of age or gender. I don't think I will read the book, based on the review. Getting that review must have been humiliating! But I am interested in writing about humiliation, something that will make readers uncomfortable . . . in a good way.

Listen to Wayne Koestenbaum talk about his book on Talk of the Nation. It's pretty interesting.


  1. As always, Meriwether, you say it so well. If anyone can write on humiliation and make it accessible by everyone, you can.

  2. Wow! Thanks, Erin. You are too kind.