The Culture of Shame

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Last week brought another example of authors behaving badly as author J.C. Cliff publicly lost her shit on Goodreads (which has since been taken down) over a review that she thought was negative and borderline bullying. Ms. Cliff rallied her presumably loyal audience to flood Goodreads with objections to the 1-star review, tagging it as malicious and telling her readers to “flag that bitch”. After an onslaught of public objections on social media to Ms. Cliff’s seemingly baseless accusation and arguably juvenile reaction, Ms. Cliff published an extensive apology (or fauxpology as some are calling it), which included claiming that when she said “flag that bitch” she was not referring to the reviewer but to the review. (For the record, the proper insult in that case would’ve been “flag that shit” because the review was an object while “flag that bitch” would be appropriate for an insult aimed at a person. Such misappropriation irks me, like using “that” to refer to a person instead of “who” as in “Ms. Cliff was the one that…” Shudder.)

Personally, I stayed out of it (I’ve never read or heard of Ms. Cliff before this kerfluffle), and I’m not now going to discuss Ms. Cliff’s “fauxpology” or any further details of her meltdown. There are plenty of other blogs who have already done it justice with an eye toward the purpose of reviews and other, wiser people than I who have discussed what an author’s response should be toward them. There’s always the “no bad publicity” rule of thumb too–like me, how many others have never heard of Ms. Cliff or her work before now? The downside there being, how many are less likely to buy her work now that she freaked out so badly on a public scale?

What strikes me about this latest public meltdown is not so much the meltdown itself, or it potentially more damaging attempt at an apology that basically blamed everyone else for the author’s drama. I’m curious about the reaction to Ms. Cliff’s meltdown and what, if anything, that says about the community at large.

Social media has revolutionize the concept of public accountability. Or, as Jon Ronson puts it in his TED Talk “Twitter gives a voice to the voiceless, a way to speak up and hit back at perceived injustice.” In mere minutes, public objections to a company’s or a government’s or a person’s behavior or actions can explode with the teeth of influence. For example, only a few days ago, AMC movie theater franchised announced plans to allow texting  during movies. The outcry on social media was so fast and furious, within 48 hours, they trashed the entire concept. When it comes to the power of the people, few platforms can compete with the power wielded by a few million potential customers on social media.

More than ever, public accountability is key to keeping TPTB, well, accountable. Yet in a world rife with cyber bullying to the extent that people have committed suicide because the feel their lives have become unbearable as a result of cyber bullying, the culture of shame has almost become a spectator sport. Where do we draw the line between holding entities accountable for ofttimes severely shitty behavior and effectively flogging them in effigy in cyberspace?

In Romancelandia, we’ve had more than a few of these situations where an Author Behaves Badly or a chapter appears to discriminate against the specific content of a book. And each time, the public outcry is loud and…merciless. Sometimes even vicious. Do we do more harm than good when we respond with such vitriol? Can we do anything to change this Culture of Shame? Should we? Or is shame the only currency we have to reign in the crazy?

Perhaps, it’s not coincidental that I stumbled on this interview by The Guardian with Monica Lewinsky, perhaps the most recognizable person victimized by our culture of shame. Even 20 years after her life was eviscerate by political scandal, she says “the shame sticks to you like tar.” Is that our goal? To shame someone so complete that, 20 years later, their life isn’t define by their intellect or business savvy or accomplishments or even the kindness of their hearts, but by the shame they were made to feel by a rabid public? (And this was decades before social media was even a phrase in the zeitgeist).

I honestly don’t know where the answer. It is crucial that we hold people and organizations accountable for their actions. Full stop. But where does accountability stop being justice and start being the very cyber bullying to which so many of us are vehemently opposed? Ms. Cliff may be today’s example–and honestly, I just wish she had a best friend who could step up and say, “Ah, no honey. Step away from the keyboard” much like one might look at your totally rad 80s retro (and not the good kind) outfit and say “I refuse to let you out of the house looking like that”–but she’s hardly going to be the last one where being justifiably called to account skates the edge of the culture of shame.

How should we respond?

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We’re always shame free.


Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes sexy romantic suspense sure to drive you wild. Visit her website at and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via  @kierstenkrum.



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  • Post authorJennfer FranceJennifer

    Scary chit, innit?
    I always think about how a country like ours is losing it’s backbone because of PC – and social media certainly holds this fact to be true.
    I think people *want* to be offended and will *look* for ways to take offense.

    Reply to Jennfer FranceJennifer
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      I think people use the computer as a rage box and pour out their frustrations into it.

      Reply to Madeline Iva
      • Post authorJennfer France

        It’s easier to behave poorly, Madeline, when there isn’t a face with the name, there’s distance between the people, or a screen keeping them safe in their little box set high up on a pedestal 😉

        Reply to Jennfer France
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