Is it any surprise I have trouble telling the difference between satire and true stories? Witness the latest from Rupert Murdoch’s trial for phone hacking in London:

Rupert Murdoch described on Thursday being “mobbed” and “harassed” by journalists and paparazzi, in an exchange rich with irony during his testimony at a judicial inquiry on press ethics prompted by criminal behaviour at one of his papers.

The 81-year-old media mogul was facing a second day of grilling at the Leveson Inquiry, which has heard dozens of witnesses give detailed accounts of being harassed by reporters from Murdoch’s own newspapers.

(Reuters, 26 Apr. 2012)

I’m sorry, but how is it possible this man feels no shame for such a statement? These are the questions that keep me awake at night.

Just recently I was utterly fooled by a satirical story about Ann Romney — a story for which I apologized so profusely that several wise commentators left notes telling me to let it go. “Women apologize too much,” Naomi wrote kindly but tersely. She continued: “Rather, women of conscience do that.” She’s right. But I wonder if the shame differential is not just a gender issue, but also a class matter. Why does my middle-class, female shame button get pushed at the slightest error, and Murdoch’s wealthy male shame button appears to be protected by impermeable glass and Secret Service-protected launch codes?

After all, let’s remember the (true) story about Ann Romney of last month, when she pronounced that she doesn’t “consider myself wealthy,” which prompted the ever-astute Jezebel to offer the headline, ZILLIONAIRE ANN ROMNEY DOESN’T CONSIDER HERSELF RICH. Now, Ann Romney can consider herself in whatever way she likes. But it seems to me that if someone who earns $21 million per year on investment income alone — and pays a minuscule $3 million in taxes (ca. 14%) on it — makes such statements out loud during an economic recession, she might feel shame. There is no sign of such.

Thus, I offer you my Social Science-y Insight Of The Month: the Shame Differential©! (Copyright pending.) Let me explain:

The Shame Differential is the sum total of two separate measures tallied by the Shame-O-Meter® and the Shame Ray®, observable on these two tables (and apologies/ compliments to Jessica Hagy’s blog This Is Indexed, from which I borrow her style of graphics):

You see? As this “scientific” graph shows us, the lower your income, the higher your capacity to experience shame. Since women own only 36% of the wealth in the U.S. (and the stats are significantly more dire for Latinas and African-American women), the Shame Burden falls disproportionately on women at the same time that it hits working- and middle-class men hard, too.

Yet to fully assess the Shame Differential©, this “scientific” finding by the Feminéma Institute for Advanced Study must be paired with the equally “scientific” Shame Ray® Index, which measures the eagerness of specific populations to dish out shame to others:

Now you may be infinitely more enlightened by my research, but perhaps you’re wondering: why does it seem that U.S. Republicans seem so eager to shame women, Blacks, Latinos, and/or the poor? Well, duh! The Shame Differential© explains all! Who do you think the GOP represents: the 99%? Ha ha! Moreover, if you’re a woman, a person of color, or not wealthy, you’ve doubtless become quite skilled in feeling ashamed of a whole lot in your lifetime.

One final note: because Feminéma’s Shame Differential© is not merely an index but a diagnosis of a cultural disease — and therefore a social problem to be corrected — I hereby rename it the Breivik Shame Differential© after the Norwegian responsible for last summer’s massacre of 77 left-wing fellow countrymen and women, 69 of whom were teenagers at a summer youth camp. Now, Breivik is not a member of the GOP, nor is he the consummate ideological media mogul asshole criminal that Murdoch allegedly is, but his utter incapacity to feel shame helps us further understand the sociopathic inclinations of the Shame Differential:

OSLO — The self-described anti-Islamic militant [Anders Behring Breivik] who has admitted killing 77 people in a bombing and shooting spree last July told bereaved families on Monday that he had also lost his family and friends as a result of the massacre.

…“When people say they have lost their most beloved, I also lost my entire family, I lost my friends,” he also said. “It was my choice. I sacrificed them, but I lost my entire family and friends on 22 July. I lost everything. So to a certain extent, I understand.”

(New York Times, 23 Apr. 2012)

So the next time you hear a story that appears so hypocritical as to rattle the teeth in your head, and/or the next time you hear a GOP presidential candidate say that the very poorest in the U.S. are cared for by social services, just remember the Breivik Shame Differential©.

You’re welcome.

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