The following essay was originally published on AsatruBlog.com and is republished here with the permission of the original author. Originally Published on January 11, 2016 by Ale Glad.
A common trope in media today is the use of embarrassment of an individual as a reward for the audience in assisting with the completion of a goal. I find this to be an interesting use of Shame Culture principles. Let us first clarify that this is usually a form of entertainment and no one is harmed in any way, whether it is physically, financially, or even having their reputation damaged. Since there is no real risk beyond mild discomfort there is no real shame involved, just temporary embarrassment. It is entertainment after all and no one really wants to see the buffoon injured and the goal is usually a good one. Our own innate sense of fairness doesn’t want to see someone harmed when doing a good thing. When this sort of behavior finds its way into Heathen interactions, it takes on a whole new life. If someone says they will perform some demeaning or embarrassing task if a certain goal is met, you can bet your sweet granny’s favorite porcelain gravy boat that everyone who is there, and usually a fair load of those who hear about it, are going to do everything they can to help that person achieve their goal.
It is no secret that Heathens expect people who make promises to keep their word. If you say you’re going to do something, you’d best damn well do it. Keeping your word doesn’t have to rise to the level of an oath-bond. If a person can keep small promises then how can you expect them to keep large oaths? This same sense of obligation holds true to more light-hearted fare, like helping your buddy keep a promise to do something he doesn’t want to because he said something stupid. This has two different effects. There is the entertainment element but there is also the reinforcement of oath related behavior. It also helps reinforce the social standards of what normal behavior is and why certain actions cause embarrassment, humiliation, or far worse things.
The entertainment derived from the social inversion of shameful action as being temporarily acceptable also allows the community to engage in a release of tensions caused by restriction of behavior. It is a psychological relief valve. By bringing the restricted behavior into the communal setting and engaging in it in a controlled manner, a community is able to lessen its own restrictions and recommit itself to their proper behavioral norms and standards. We can see an example of this in the myth of the theft of Thor’s hammer. To recover the weapon, Heimdal, an otherwise “straight laced” deity and one that might be seen as being very “status quo,” suggests that Thor dress as Freya in a bridal gown. In Nordic society, a man dressed as a woman was simply unthinkable. The myth, however, is very funny because of this inversion of norms.
As Heathenry continues to develop, so too will our reliance on Shame Culture principles. This will establish new standards of behavior and new ideas of what acceptable behavior looks like. We will continue to practice small inversions of these norms and we will always be entertained by making our friends squirm. What we must be careful of is continuing the “Shock Jock” entertainment idea where we permit constant violations of our social norms for entertainment. We can do this by holding to the value we place on promises and oaths and working to ensure that a person who can’t keep his word is made into more than just a buffoon.