As defined by mimetic theory, scandal gives offense and arouses indignation. Mimetic theory spells out its interactive core, involving a complex or structure of interpersonal relations that extends to all levels of social organization. From the Greek word meaning “stumbling block,” scandal names the offense that our conduct gives to others and that insidiously trips them up, as it models their hostile conduct towards us, whether it is by reproving or replicating, that is, unwittingly miming our own. Scandal names the other as fascinating obstacle.
This definition highlights the mirroring and multiplying effect of scandal as our offense and indignation is increased by the offenders’ defense of their actions followed by the enhancement of their defense to our growing horror and shock. This whiplashing of emotions provides a frisson that we simultaneously relish and despise. Since the shelf-life of high emotions is brief, the year end offers a great time to reflect on the scandals that gripped us and how to enter the next year with a new equanimity when scandal offers its enticements.
On the Raven website, the most scandalizing of scandals was Miley Cryus’ appearance on MTV’s Video Music Awards. Adam Ericksen wisely defused this scandal whose outrage was fueled by a young woman previously perceived as innocent being sex-ploited. In a 2010 interview of Cyrus in Harpers Bazaar, her statement, “People like controversy because that’s what sells” seems to suggest a certain marketing shrewdness that belies her youth. Take a moment to reflect, is your blood still boiling?
Edward Snowden’s scandalous revelation of NSA spying trailed Miley in popularity but seems to be a gift that never stops giving. Every week to ten days new information spills out that generates another flurry of frenzied patriotism or liberal paranoia. Suzanne Ross’ examination, Edward Snowden: Traitor or Whistle Blower?, revealed this as a litmus test of our moral values. Are you still outraged?
America’s scandal of gun violence wrought horror after horror throughout the year. Adam Ericksen’s thoughtful piece, Stand Your Ground and America’s Social Crisis, highlighted the inevitable escalation of violence and showed a way to escape. Still dead sure about who has the right to stand their ground?
Angelina Jolie and Kim Kardashian rounded out the top five scandals on our website for their unacceptable treatment of their own bodies. In Angelina’s Mastectomy Scandal, Suzanne Ross examined the ownership fans feel for their favorite stars and their outrage at any deviation in look or demeanor. A pregnant Kim Kardashian shocked tabloid readers with her weight gain. Adam Ericksen reviewed their outrage in OMG!!! Kim Kardashian Gains Weight During Pregnancy!!! as one expression of the continued objectification of women. Still itching to write an op ed for the Star Tabloid?
If you noticed how unimportant these scandals seem now, Adam Ericksen offers a list of five wise practices for avoiding the “stumbling block” of scandal. Wishing you a scandal-less 2014! ~ Maura
Adam’s Top Five Practices for Becoming Scandal-less in 2014
5. James Warren provides an excellent reflection of “scandal” in his book Compassion or Apocalypse? A Comprehensive Guide to the Thought of René Girard. Maura’s description of scandal was great, and is confirmed by James when he writes that “To be scandalized is…to be in a double-bind state: both attracted and repelled at the same time.” Of course, whenever I’m scandalized it’s easy to sense my repulsion as I gossip with my friends about how horrible the scandalizer is, but our repulsion is only half the story. The other half, the half that is difficult to admit, is what attracts me to the scandalizer. To become less scandalized, we might ask some honest questions about those we find scandalous: Do I desire her fame? Do I desire his riches? Do I desire her power? In what ways might they be a model of success?
4. It is easy to tell when other people cause scandals, but much more difficult to tell when we cause scandals. Becoming scandal-less is a life-long process and a significant part of that process is realizing the various ways in which we become a stumbling block for others. How do we put others in a mimetic double bind? In what ways do we want to be the model of success for others – in what ways do we want others to envy our success – and in what ways might we make sure that they are not a threat to our success?
3. Part of our addiction to scandals is that it provides us with a sense of “goodness.” We know that we are good because we can all agree that someone else is scandalous. This sense of goodness is false because it is based on being over and against someone else. The popular notion of scandal, of someone transgressing cultural morality, are addictive because we can all unite with a sense of goodness over and against someone else who we all agree is bad. Here again James Warren provides us with an important reflection on how Jesus responded to those that the religious elite labeled morally questionable, “…during his ministry Jesus encountered many ethically depraved people, and was not shocked by it; on the contrary, Jesus’ behavior was shocking to many others precisely because he was willing to associate with characters considered unscrupulous or depraved.” Sometimes people need a little shock. So when the next scandal comes, don’t play the false goodness game. Instead, be like Jesus and become schockingly un-shocked about it.
2. Whenever I feel scandalized by someone, it’s usually because they have something that I want. Bloggers, myself included, are notorious for this scandalous trap. We constantly compare our numbers with other bloggers. It’s the idolatry of success. We wonder, “How many visits is he getting?” “How many Facebook likes and Tweets did she get?” Resentment breeds in the blogosphere, but it also breeds in the workplace, in the neighborhood, and at home. Whenever I find myself scandalized by envy and resentment for someone’s success, I remind myself that God is for everyone, including this person. Being against this person is my problem, not God’s. Once I realize this, I can begin the process of accepting that God is for me and for this person at the same time. And then I can begin the process of being for this person, too.
1. Jesus said, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come.” Jesus prepared his disciples for the stumbling block of scandals. Scandals are human and so they are bound to come. We are bound to become scandalized by famous people, co-workers, friends, family, and neighbors. We are also bound to cause some scandals ourselves. Jesus prepared his disciples for the inevitability of scandals so they would become less scandalized by them. But Jesus did more than that. He connected the inevitability of scandals with a radical forgiveness when he told his disciples to forgive, “Not seven times…but seventy-seven times.” The best way to live scandal-less in 2014 is to live into the spirit of God’s radical forgiveness – to receive God’s forgiveness in our lives and offer that forgiveness to others.
Maura Junius is Marketing Director and occasional blogger at the Raven Foundation. Adam Ericksen also blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he and Maura use mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen and follow the Raven Foundation @ravenfoundation.