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'Avatar' and Shuster's Shame Culture


Modern Liberal pundit David Shuster yesterday denounced critics of the movie Avatar as “shameless and crazy.”

The invocation of such hateful, pop-psychoanalyzing epithets is common practice in Shame Cultures (totalitarian ones), as a means of character assassination and destruction, rather than honest democratic engagement with ideological adversaries towards greater understanding.


Since, in this case, Mr. Shuster seems disinterested in objectively considering the valid cultural and political points made by the film’s critics, he resorts to the shameful rhetorical tactic described above in order to secure his own personal cultural worldview as being truer, or even saner than his fellow disagreeable Americans.

No surprise there.

However, this does give us an opportunity to briefly reexamine the phenomenon of the “shame” culture in which Mr. Shuster cares to reside.

What is a “shame” culture, and how does it differ from its parallel “guilt” culture?

Dr. Pat Santy provides an expert analysis:

In a typical shame culture, “The desire to preserve honor and avoid shame to the exclusion of all else is one of the primary foundations of the culture. This desire has the side-effect of giving the individual carte blanche to engage in wrong-doing as long as no-one knows about it, or knows he is involved.”

Mr. Shuster avoids internalized shame – the shame of being closed-minded to intellectual diversity – by transferring a wrong-doing of “shameless and crazy” accusations against his cultural/ideological nemeses. To maintain face, he disallows or ridicules any/all voices that might reasonably disagree, and blocks his conscience from both self-doubt and/or self-reflection.


The exercise then becomes no longer the virtuous seeking of truth (his job?), but rather the deceitful “winning” of an argument, if you can call it that – a selfish pyrrhic victory, at best.

What he should instead be doing is acting within the logical parameters of the American “guilt” culture, which “is typically and primarily concerned with truth, justice, and the preservation of individual rights.”

But, individual rights can, in the shame-ridden, be cavalierly discarded when dealing ‘Two Minutes Hate’ against predetermined “shameless and crazy” people (a.k.a., ‘Emmanuel Goldstein’).

Dr. Santy sums it up:

As long as an individual is capable of self-doubt and self-reflection about his behavior; he is able to remain open-minded and willing to search for a better understanding of himself and others.

Excessive or inappropriate shame is another thing altogether, communicating forcibly to the individual that he or she is worthless. Shame can be an exceedingly devastating and painful experience.

Guilt is an emotion that rises after a transgression of one’s own or cultural values. Guilt is about actions or behavior; while shame is about the self. There is an important psychological difference in saying to someone that their behavior is bad; as contrasted with saying that they are bad. The former leads to guilt; the latter to shame.

Eventually for the shame-avoidant person, reality itself must be distorted in order to further protect the self from poor self-esteem. Blaming other individuals or groups for one’s own behavior becomes second nature, and this transfer of blame to someone else is an indicator of internal shame.”

Mr. Shuster simply fails to address his critics’ valid points directly. He fails to tell us what his own definition of anti-Americanism is, if not American military men at the behest of an American company committing a 9-11 act of atrocity on innocents.

Shame on you, Mr. Shuster?

I hope he can do better.

(Full disclosure: I saw Avatar yesterday and call me “crazy” but I enjoyed most of it very much. Yet I must also honestly agree with the brevity of Dennis Miller’s artful description of it today as an “insipid, visionary film”).

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