Friday, 26 June 2015


There are people who have no shame at all

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176As a long-standing fan of the American writer Joe Queenan, I was looking forward hugely to his Brief History Of Shame in the Archive on 4 (Saturday, R4, 8pm). However, at the beginning he warned that it wasn’t likely to be as funny as his previous programmes on anger, irony and blame because he needed to be a bit more serious.

With the help of academics Edith Hall and Tim Stanley, Queenan established the difference between guilt, an internal feeling of responsibility, and shame, which is projected onto us by other people. Certain people, Queenan argues, have no shame. Bankers, for example.

As an example, he offered the chap who in October 2011 announced to BBC News that he had prayed for a recession because of the money-making potential. He clearly didn’t feel guilt either. Dodgy politicians feel shame, though, Queenan having far too much fun with recordings of the phrase ‘duck houses’ from the MP expenses scandal. Matthew Parris’s summary of the perfect political apology was superb. ‘Silence, unconditional apology, then silence. Don’t dig. Just shut up.’

Queenan in serious, angry mode had his moments. He identified that TV programmes like Benefits Street are ‘let’s laugh at the poor’. However, I thought the thrust of the programme became slightly confused. Queenan admitted to Kathy Lette that he thought shame was ‘basically useless’. However, he said later that much online communication was ‘anger and shame spread by anonymous little bullies unafraid of any retaliation’, and seemed to think something must be done. Well, what generally happens when such bullies are caught is that they’re named and shamed. Maybe not so useless after all?

Never mind. Even when misfiring, Queenan is great value. An eloquent, intelligent, humane yet savage critic.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

Forgot your password?
Click to read our digital edition

Boarders Dormitory Master-Mistress
We are looking to appoint a Dormitory Mistress/Master for 5 nights per week, weekday evenings and nights only, term time. (35 weeks). [...]


Housekeeper to Headmaster
We have an opportunity for an experienced live-out housekeeper. You will provide a cleaning and hospitality service for the Headmaster and his guests and help to ensure the household runs efficiently. [...]


Full Time Housekeeper, Nanny
We are looking for a full time, live-out housekeeper/nanny. We are a relaxed young couple living in a large country house, and will have one newborn baby. [...]


Experienced Carer, Companion, Housekeeper needed
Our elderly mother needs a live in carer/companion on a part time basis. Must be warm hearted, calm & compassionate, with a good sense of humour. [...]


Live-in Housekeeper
Our client is looking for a very capable, experienced individual to become the new housekeeper at their 6 bedroom, rural home. [...]




What the stars have in store for you this week.2017

Capricorn Aquarius Pisces Aries Taurus Gemini Cancer Leo Virgo Libra Scorpio Sagittarius

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter