FOR SHAME by James B. Twitchell


The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture
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 ``I prefer polemic to precision,'' notes Twitchell (Adcult USA, 1996). This bigoted and shameless tirade proves him correct. Twitchell's title cuts two ways: ``for shame'' implies ``for the promotion of shaming,'' as well as his disapproval of the rise of ``shameless'' behavior since the 1960s, which he views as the crucial turning point in American attitudes toward shame. While he begins by cautioning that he is not a proponent of the life-ruining variety of shame, clearly he intends to cause just such shame, as his polemic quickly descends into uninformed sallies against everything he finds personally offensive. Unfortunately, his Christian chauvinism serves as the primary basis for his judgment, exiling him to a variety of untenable positions. For instance, Twitchell states that Roman Catholicism, with its strict codes governing sexuality, is ``one of the longest-lasting and most stabilizing religions.'' But in fact, with the exception of Islam, Christianity is the youngest of the major world religions--and if the Crusades or present-day Northern Ireland are any indication, the faith is not particularly stabilizing. To claim, as Twitchell does, that sexual codes ``separated Christianity from its earlier competitors'' is just plain wrong; equally strong codes can be found in Judaism. Beyond such matters of history and orthodoxy, the author often displays a failure to grasp simple cause and effect. He attacks the rise in illegitimate births, arguing that the Church's previous dogmas had protected against such lapses, yet he fails to address the Church's present stance against birth control. Ultimately, Twitchell betrays himself as the academy elitist that he is, aligning himself with Allan Bloom and Charles Murray. He even has the nerve to attack the tenure system in universities as one of the causes of shamelessness. Will he surrender his own tenure to prove his point? Shame on Twitchell for this diatribe disguised as cultural critique.

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15543-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997


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