We may feel like we know the people who appear on our screens, whether it's on the television or social media. Journalism, and what we expect from it, has changed seismically in the past 20 years or so, and continues to change. What happens to those who don't change as fast as the media, and those who end up the subjects of public shaming campaigns? These books deal with the value of family and self-examination as possible salves to media overexposure.
It's hard to feel sorry for Ted Grayson: he's a successful, white, cis-gendered television anchor of a certain age. However, he's already having a less-than-stellar day when he says something inexcusable and it ends up on FaceBook. This is just the start of John Kenney's Talk to Me, in which Ted is protested, insulted, and humiliated in pretty much every way possible in this age of instant outrage. It's up to Ted's daughter and soon-to-be-ex-wife to decide what mercy they can spare for a man who has wronged them, as well. Bittersweet yet hopeful, and also often quite funny, this is a reflection on the changing media landscape, social mores, and what we owe each other in a family.
Robert MacNeil was a famous news anchor, and one of his novels, Breaking News, deals with the cheapening of journalism, which has only gotten worse since he wrote it. Grant Munro, another respected anchor of a news program, makes a few impolitic comments about the trivializing of news, and fights for his job against ratings-obsessed suits. Throw in a vacuous celebrity interviewer from a rival network (Barbara Walters, anyone?) and an equally vacuous journalist from Time, and the stage is set for satire. There's both sleaze and highbrow discussions of where journalism is heading, great for any news junkie.
Christian author ReShonda Tate Billingsley writes of the importance of family and community in I Know I've Been Changed. Raedella Rollins fled her poor childhood in small-town Arkansas for a job in television news, and never looked nor went back. Now an anchor in Houston with a dreamy fiance, her life implodes with the arrival of her unusual family and the desertion of her so-called friends. Rae heads back to her hometown, which is not as sleepy as she recalls. The popular Billingsley turns out another heartwarming tale with a message.
Hello, Sunshine is Laura Dave's novel about a manufactured cooking personality who has to start over. Sunshine Mackenzie gets hacked on her 35th birthday and her marriage, YouTube channel, and Food Network contract all go down the drain. Undaunted, Sunshine takes up residence on her sister's couch and gets a low-level kitchen job for a local chef in an attempt to rebuild her life. This book isn't as much about external plot as it is about Sunshine's insights gained by adversity. Those who like spunky heroines who discover themselves will be in for a treat.
Jon Ronson takes a look at humiliation as social control in So You've Been Publicly Shamed. In this nonfiction book that the characters in the above novels would do well to read, Ronson visits S&M clubs, looks at the history of state-sponsored public punishment, and interviews plagiarists, tweeters, and politicians among others who have been castigated by social media, all to understand the new cultural norms of justified shaming. Fascinating reading about the dangerous consequences of fake and anonymous claims of moral superiority.
Have other books you like on shamed media personalities? Tell us in the comments.