Oscar Wilde, A Venture In Public Shaming, And A Lesson In Transfiguration

Oscar Wilde, A Venture In Public Shaming, And A Lesson In Transfiguration

The publicly shamed are deprived of being viewed as human beings, but rather punching bags for holier-than-thou outsiders to feel virtuous about themselves.


"I learned many things in prison that were terrible to learn, but I learnt some good lessons that I needed."

Oscar Wilde wrote the above quote to his friend Carlos Blacker, who escaped England for France in 1890 after being falsely accused of being a card cheat. Wilde himself, the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, was accused and imprisoned for "acts of gross indecency," essentially for having homosexual relationships with multiple men.

Blacker and Wilde were two men who are described by Helen Andrews of First Things as "history's martyrs to shame," as both British men were publicly smeared and accused of crimes and had their reputations ruined, and were subsequently exiled from their homes. The charges against Oscar Wilde were true while the charges against Blacker were false, but it did not make any difference in the two men's experiences in public shaming and condemnation.

Fittingly, in a lesser known historical fact, in 1898, Wilde and Blacker provided critical information in exposing the French military officer who communicated French military secrets to the German embassy. The officer was named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, but, in a scandal fraught with antisemitism, was pinned on a young Jewish officer named Alfred Dreyfus. I cannot help but see that Wilde and Blacker may have empathized with Dreyfus as they themselves were once publicly condemned, shamed, and crucified men who went through hell and back.

"Of all history's martyrs to shame, the one whose example consoled me most was Oscar Wilde. He is remembered today as a gay rights pioneer, but, in the letters he wrote after his release from prison, he never rails against the injustice of the law that put him away," wrote Helen Andrews of First Things.

Andrews herself had been publicly shamed in her conservative circles: her ex-boyfriend, Todd Seavey, went into a 4-minute rant about her personal failings. "He accused me of opposing Obamacare on the grounds that it would diminish human suffering, which allegedly I preferred to increase...of being a sadistic and scheming heartbreaker in my personal life...he made an impassioned case that I was a sociopath."

Andrews would later find it difficult to be employed - anywhere. A simple Google search of her name would yield a video on C-SPAN of Todd's tirade against her that depicted her as a sociopath. The next couple years of her life would be nothing short of hell, and Todd, for his credit, didn't hold up much better during this time. He, too, had trouble getting a job and had many aspects of his life ruined. When Helen Andrews re-connected with Todd and asked him if he would do things any differently, he said he has become a big proponent of handling things internally and privately.

"In the future, if I get married, if my wife stabs me, you won't hear me shouting in public about it."

According to Andrews, in her essay about public shaming and "shame storms," no one cares about the truth, which was why the experiences of Oscar Wilde and Carlos Blacker were so similar. "There is no content to a shame storm. It is mindless by its very nature. It is indifferent to truth, even in cases where the truth could possibly be determined."

To be shamed, for both of them, felt like a tsunami hitting a home. In the words of Todd, "at a certain point you have to say, 'I'm just gonna stand here and hold this piece of plywood and see what's left standing when it's over.'"

The publicly shamed are deprived of being viewed as human beings, but rather punching bags for holier-than-thou outsiders to feel virtuous about themselves. The publicly shamed are fundamentally misunderstood, in situations where they are condemned so strongly that no one wants to listen or give them a chance. The publicly shamed have been given up on so many times and have so many knives in their backs that trust issues, betrayal, and devastation are no longer occasional events, but seemingly everyday occurrences.

Let it be known that almost everyone has, at some point, publicly shamed someone else. I certainly know that I have. It feels good. It gives you a dopamine rush. It divides your world into a black-and-white spectacle, where there is only, in the words of Katie Roiphe, the "flawless and the fallen, the morally correct and the damned." Who doesn't want to see themselves as one of the flawless and morally correct? Roiphe continues to say that "inherent in this performance of moral purity is the idea of judging other people before learning (or bothering to learn) all the facts." It feels great to live in the simple world of good and evil, rather than in the convoluted and complicated world where every single person is profoundly good, yet profoundly flawed.

Roiphe herself details how she felt in an instance where she herself engaged in publicly shaming, with a friend, a mutual acquaintance of theirs that had been accused of sexual assault: "the outrage grew and expanded and exhilarated us...I felt as though I were joining a club, felt a warming sense of social justice, felt that this was a weighty, important thing we were engaging in."

It should come as no surprise, then, that those who are publicly shamed the hardest are so devastated they often turn to suicide: OJ Simpson threatened to kill himself in a young Kim Kardashian's bedroom at the beginning of his infamous trial. Writer and professor Steven Galloway was put on round-the-clock suicide watch for two and a half years after being publicly accused of sexual assault and wrongfully suspended by his university. Producer Jill Messick, who was outed as a "Harvey Weinstein enabler", committed suicide shortly afterwards.

The gist of the article is not as simple as "public shaming ruins lives." Intense public shaming puts lives off course and changes them drastically, but many people have weathered these "shame storms" and come out of them intact, if not better and more compassionate people. These are the narratives we have often neglected and looked past, and ones I now seek to find.

Oscar Wilde, a fellow martyr to shame, found spiritualism and faith amidst his own public shaming. He himself stopped worrying whether the law that produced the charge against him was right or wrong, as that worrying did nothing for him.

"The truth that Wilde came to understand, which he shared with his fellow exile, was that they should accept their chastening in a spirit of gratitude. Nothing had been taken from them that would not be restored a hundredfold if they allowed their experience to do its redemptive work."

In De Profundis , Oscar Wilde saw his sufferings as an occasion for self-realization, and caused him to look deeper in himself for the answers he looked for. Wilde realized that every part of his life in prison had to be transformed into "a spiritual experience," a form of transfiguring his own suffering into beauty. "For the secret to life is suffering. It is what is hidden behind everything," Wilde wrote in this work.

Essentially, that is what Jesus Christ does, isn't it? The Gospels are a story of Christ making himself into a work of art through the transfiguration of his life's sufferings in the ministry. Christianity was revolutionary in that it did not condemn sinners, especially ones who were publicly shamed. We are all sinners, but the sin itself is not what is holy, but the transfiguration of it is, according to Wilde. That transfiguration leads us to see the unworthiness of living on our own, and instead see the "sordid necessity of living for others." In light of his own suffering, Oscar Wilde started to empathize with others that also suffered, and look no further than his aid of Alfred Dreyfus as an example.

That public shaming can be used as fuel and fire for our own transfigurations to become more like Christ. In theological circles, this is called the sanctification. As he was dying, Oscar Wilde converted to Catholicism.

But I find the most redeeming part, if I were to one day be publicly shamed in a devastating manner, to be the ability to empathize with other people who have suffered the grueling reality of walking through life with a heavy scarlet letter on their chest. The company Jesus often kept included the dregs of society: tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. The publicly shamed, whether righteously or unjustly, fall into that category of modern-day society. But the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners were the ones that followed and found Christ because they were the ones that needed a savior the most.

Now, I am not advocating that every person publicly shamed and condemned become a born-again Christian like Oscar Wilde, but the point stands: you are not the same person. You cannot live the same life. That person and that life have been demolished by an excruciatingly painful experience, but that experience is the silver lining to be transfigured into something different, something greater. That transfigured identity is different for every person.

The root words of compassion are the Latin words for "with" and "suffering," so to have compassion for another person is "to suffer with" that person. What greater way to suffer with someone than to have gone through a similarly painful experience?

Popular Right Now

11 Things Psychology Majors Hear That Drive Them Crazy

No pun intended.

We've all been there. You're talking to a new acquaintance, or a friend of your parents, or whoever. And then, you get the dreaded question.

"So what are you studying in school?"

Cue the instant regret of picking Psychology as your major, solely for the fact that you are 99.9% likely to receive one of the slightly comical, slightly cliche, slightly annoying phrases listed below. Don't worry though, I've included some responses for you to use next time this comes up in conversation. Because it will.

Quick side note, these are all real-life remarks that I've gotten when I told people I was a psych major.

Here we go.

1. So are you, like, analyzing me right now?

Well, I wasn't. But yeah. Now I am.

2. Ugh so jealous! You picked the easy major.

"Lol" is all I have to say to this one. I'm gonna go write my 15-page paper on cognitive impairment. You have fun with your five college algebra problems, though!

3. So can you tell me what you think is wrong with me? *Shares entire life story*

Don't get me wrong; I love listening and helping people get through hard times. But we can save the story about how one time that one friend said that one slightly rude comment to you for later.

4. Well, s**t, I have to be careful what I say around you.

Relax, pal. I couldn't diagnose and/or institutionalize you even if I wanted to.

5. OMG! I have the perfect first client for you! *Proceeds to vent about ex-boyfriend or girlfriend*

Possible good response: simply nod your head the entire time, while actually secretly thinking about the Ben and Jerry's carton you're going to go home and demolish after this conversation ends.

6. So you must kind of be like, secretly insane or something to be into Psychology.

Option one: try and hide that you're offended. Option two: just go with it, throw a full-blown tantrum, and scare off this individual, thereby ending this painful conversation.

7. Oh. So you want to be a shrink?

First off, please. Stop. Calling. Therapists. Shrinks. Second, that's not a psych major's one and only job option.

8. You know you have to go to grad school if you ever want a job in Psychology.

Not completely true, for the record. But I am fully aware that I may have to spend up to seven more years of my life in school. Thanks for the friendly reminder.

9. So you... want to work with like... psychopaths?

Let's get serious and completely not-sarcastic for a second. First off, I take personal offense to this one. Having a mental illness does not classify you as a psycho, or not normal, or not deserving of being treated just like anyone else on the planet. Please stop using a handful of umbrella terms to label millions of wonderful individuals. It's not cool and not appreciated.

10. So can you, like, read my mind?

It actually might be fun to say yes to this one. Try it out and see what happens. Get back to me.

11. You must be a really emotional person to want to work in Psychology.

Psychology is more than about feeling happy, or sad, or angry. Psychology is about understanding the most complex thing to ever happen to us: our brain. How it works the way it does, why it works the way it does, and how we can better understand and communicate with this incredibly mysterious, incredibly vast organ in our tiny little skull. That's what psychology is.

So keep your head up, psychology majors, and don't let anyone discourage you about choosing, what is in my opinion, the coolest career field out there. The world needs more people like us.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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Short Stories On Odyssey: Roses

What's worth more than red roses?


Five years old and a bouquet of roses rested in her hands. The audience-- clapped away her performance, giving her a standing ovation. She's smiling then because everything made sense, her happiness as bright as the roses she held in her hands.

Fifteen now, and a pile of papers rested on her desk. The teachers all smiled when she walked down the aisle and gave them her presentation. She was content then but oh so stressed, but her parents happy she had an A as a grade, not red on her chest.

Eighteen now and a trail of tears followed her to the door. Partying, and doing some wild things, she just didn't know who she was. She's crying now, doesn't know anymore, slamming her fists into walls, pricking her fingers on roses' thorns.

Twenty-one and a bundle of bills were grasped in her hands. All the men-- clapped and roared as she sold her soul, to the pole, for a dance. She's frowning now because everything went wrong, but she has to stay strong, for rich green money, is worth more than red roses.

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