New York–born, Toronto-based writer Bovy debuts with an exploration of how the idea of “privilege” has morphed over the years and now “plays an enormous role in the online shaming culture.”
There was a time when the idea of privilege was more or less self-evident. Some people were privileged with money and status, while many more were not. Now that simple word has taken on a life of its own. There is white privilege and male privilege, and thus white male privilege. There are rankings based on skin color, wealth, ethnicity, sexual preference, and gender. These rankings are defined—and often enforced—as a function of the demographic segment the individual is assumed to be part of. The author discusses the ramifications of this evolution in minute detail, reviewing how “the privilege-awareness project” has spread through social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, and a variety of trendy blogs as well as the related worlds of journalism and literature. As Bovy notes, pride of place often goes to elements of academia, including exclusive, expensive early-education and college-prep schools and universities that cost upward of $65,000 per year. The author describes “fancy people contemplating their own fanciness” and points out that privilege, as she defines it, is “best understood not as a real trait, but as a construction.” However, Bovy’s arguments are not directed at the unprivileged or the underprivileged; she offers little to the overwhelming majority comprised of all races, ethnicities, and sexual preferences. Her scathing criticism, some of which stems from her writing on privilege for the Atlantic and the New Republic, is often on-point, but it is swamped by the detail in which she enfolds her arguments, which often get lost in the shuffle.
The book will have some appeal for certain sectors of the sociology community, but it is likely too narrowly focused to reach a wider audience.