Berkeley, CA – Miley Cyrus, Dennis Rodman, Anthony Weiner. These names have made headlines in recent weeks in connection with shameless, tasteless acts. But is it a coincidence?
Not according to the Berkeley Social Research Institute. In a study recently published in American Sociological Review, a team of researchers proclaims that levels of raw shame and undiluted humility in the Earth’s atmosphere are at a historic low.
“It’s a disturbing report, if not entirely unexpected,” said Carla Hesse, dean of social sciences at Berkeley’s College of Letters & Science. “The beginning of the end was back when Michael Jackson went from black to white and made his nose fall in on itself. It was then that we decided to keep a closer eye on atmospheric shame, and we discovered some amazing—and appalling—things.”
The study, which was conducted over the past five years, revealed that while levels of shame have been slowly slipping for the past five or six decades, they’ve taken a dramatic plunge since 2008. According to Hesse, there is a distinct correlation between low readings of shame and particularly egregious and guiltless acts by celebrities, politicians, and various other parties around the globe.
“Take a look at this reading, here,” Hesse declared, indicating a descending parabola on a large chart tacked to the wall of her office. “At the time, this was the lowest amount of shame we measured in 2009. It corresponds precisely with Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant during his DUI arrest in March. A few months later, we recorded an even lower reading. Later we discovered that it coincided with Kanye West leaping on stage and stealing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards. The pieces just fell into place.”
Though atmospheric shame levels rose and fell to extremes all throughout the first decade of the new millennium, Berkeley’s team reports that in recent years the humility readings have sunk to their lowest point yet. Current events, they assert, bear these findings out.
“We have two excellent examples—results, really—of the declining shame trend,” said Katherine Stewart, a graduate student specializing in the role of shame in society. “First and foremost would be Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign in New York City. That sleaze-bucket shouldn’t even be in politics after the first sexting scandal hit newsstands in 2011. We recorded a brief spike in humility and contriteness when Weiner resigned from Congress shortly thereafter, but then they plummeted again two years later when he reentered the political arena and the second sexting scandal broke.”
“I mean, seriously,” Stewart added. “Has that man no shame?”
Politics, states Hesse, are not the only indicator of “shame-drain.” Sports and international affairs are rife with evidence for the phenomenon.
“This year was a particularly bad one for shame,” she said. “First we have Miley Cyrus’s twerking fiasco and her tasteless ‘Wrecking Ball’ music video. More telling, though, is what Dennis Rodman’s been up to. To begin with, he’s a washed-up, alcoholic has-been who owes $800,000 in unpaid child support. Then he goes and makes friends with Kim Jong-un, the leader of a militant, monarchic dictatorship which has the most horrendous human rights record in the modern world.”
“Jesus H. Christ,” Hesse added. “How do these slimeballs look themselves in the mirror?”
“Dennis Rodman might be single-handedly responsible for the continuous low readings we’ve been getting,” Stewart surmised. “He drove the final nail into the coffin when he said that he ‘doesn’t give a shit’ about Kenneth Bae. Small wonder world humility levels are the lowest they’ve been in years.”
Stewart became interested in shame decay in 2008 when she was an undergraduate at Stanford. She elected to write her dissertation on the disturbing causes of the “humility cliff.”
“This is not a new phenomenon,” Stewart asserts. “The signs have been there from the beginning, even though the ramifications are only just starting to surface. If you examine the historical record closely, you begin to notice the red flags. There’s John Wilkes Booth, laying a swamp with a broken leg and scribbling in his journal that he did the right thing in assassinating Abraham Lincoln. No shame at all! Or there’s Charles Manson, going up for parole and insisting that he did nothing wrong in orchestrating the Tate murders. Not an ounce of shame there, either.”
Stewart claims that understanding the factors which contribute to the evaporation of atmospheric shame are the key to stopping, and perhaps reversing, the dismaying trend.
“More interesting than the correlation between the shame decline and the behavior of our civilization’s luminaries is the overarching cause behind it all,” Stewart stated. “In my thesis, I’ve narrowed it down to several factors: erosion of parental discipline, a culture that worships pedantic, egomaniacal celebrities, and a gradual subversion of societal mores.”
“Basically, it appears as though we’re all evolving into assholes,” Stewart concluded.
Unfortunately, Stewart claims, there is no easy solution to the problem
“Un-assholing society is not going to be easy,” Stewart avowed. “The problem is twofold. You’d basically have to get the human race to quit listening to celebrities and politicians and actually think for themselves, and that’s fucking impossible in this day and age. And then you’d need to hurl big nets over every famous person in the world and get them to stop being so outrageous, but with all the fame and money and cocaine that they’re exposed to daily, it’s just out of the question. And so the shame continues to trickle away, trickle away.”
So what might the long-term consequences be for the people of the world?
“Strap yourselves in,” Hesse advises. “Prepare for more Miley Cyrus music videos. Understand that Dennis Rodman is going to coach the 2014 North Korean Olympic basketball team. Realize that Anthony Weiner will enter a gubernatorial election somewhere down the line. And pray. Dear sweet God, pray for the shame.”