In Puritan times, citizens who trespassed against the law were subject, among other punishments, to humiliation at the pillory, something Nathaniel Hawthorne depicts memorably in The Scarlet Letter. The pillory was
so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be no outrage, methinks—against our common nature—whatever be the delinquencies of the individual—no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame.
The days of the pillory have long passed. But the humiliation of the public gaze—for social transgressions, if not criminal ones—lives on, thanks to Facebook and the internet.
Consider Exhibit A: the website People of Walmart.org, which posts surreptitiously taken photographs of shoppers who embody the worst stereotypes imaginable within this particular demographic (a demographic ...1