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Jon Ronson on Public Shaming

Writer, journalist and filmmaker Jon Ronson talks public shaming at the premiere of his new film The Dog Thrower

Writer, journalist and filmmaker Jon Ronson talks public shaming at the premiere of his new film The Dog Thrower.

Who remembers David Icke? What do you remember him as? A footballer? A sports presenter on Grandstand? Or as the guy who claimed to be the Son of God on a Terry Wogan show in 1991? It was in 1990 that a psychic told Icke that he was a healer placed on earth by God –… and yes, it gets weirder… he went on to talk about his belief that the people who ruled the world were actually lizards. At the time he was accused of being anti-Semitic as people thought his reference to lizards was code for Jews. Needless to say, David Icke, once a respected sportsman and person in the public eye, became a figure of ridicule, and despite this has stood by his beliefs. Now Icke is known for his books on conspiracy theories…

Jon Ronson has been making documentaries ‘longer than Louis Theroux’, (who, don’t you know, claims Ronson to be one of his influences.) Back in 2000, Ronson made a documentary series called The Secret Rulers of the World, and David Icke featured in David Icke, The Lizards and The Jews. At A Night of Public Shaming with Jon Ronson, we were treated to some clips of the documentary, as Ronson explains that this idea of public shaming is something that was very much prevalent back then, and was a major theme in the documentary on Icke, but the process in which it happens has changed.

In this day and age things are altogether different. People can still be publicly shamed of course, but it can happen, oh so much quicker. And with less ammunition. All it could take is one comment, one tweet even. This is the subject of Ronson’s latest book, which he is currently writing and is due out later this year. In the book, he will be talking to people, celebrities, who have been publicly shamed. The idea of public shaming is also the subject of his new film, The Dog Thrower, the world premiere of which we were lucky enough to see on Saturday, presented by the London Comedy Film Festival at BAFTA.

The Dog Thrower is about a meek guy called Jonah (Tim Key) who, whilst walking his dog in the park spots Charismatic Man, (hilariously played by Matthew Perry of Friends fame), throwing his dog in the air and catching him. People are gathering around him, smiling and laughing admiringly. Jonah begins to do the same and receives the same public adoration. The two become local dog-throwing celebrities, until one day a journalist writes disparaging comments about them, claiming animal cruelty… The Dog Thrower demonstrates public shaming at its worse, where people can go from being loved and adored to being criticised and hated in the blink of an eye.

In a time when we spend so much of our lives online, it is easy for something like this to happen – whether it is a comment that comes out wrong or views that other people don’t agree with. And if you are a celebrity, or someone with a huge amount of followers, the consequences can be disastrous. But should we screen what we say? Should we care what people think? Then again, you can hide behind your online personality, where you don’t even need to use your real name, like on twitter. You can shape your views to pre-empt what the audience wants to hear. But is that honourable? Shouldn’t we be able to stand up and be proud of our own beliefs? Or should we worry that we might look stupid? Hopefully Jon Ronson’s book will help provide some of these answers. In the meantime, double-checking a tweet before you tweet might not go amiss.

A Night of Public Shaming was presented by LOCO, The London Comedy Film Festival at BAFTA. The Dog Thrower is a Runaway Fridge Television production for Sky Arts.

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