Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 10.8
An Antidote for Shame
Shame. Humiliation. Embarrassment. The feeling of having done wrong. The loss of respect. Being dishonored. As Asians say it – losing face.
Shame is one of the deepest, most primal emotions I know, a subterranean fault line that wreaks havoc on all settled land. We can have shame about every jot and iota of our identities. Name any part of the body, and there is an associated shame. We can fear rejection of every bit of exposed personality, of every action. I write from the heart, and then sometimes fear what others think of me. Because there is a porous boundary between us humans, we fear it becoming an impenetrable wall. The Japanese, being particularly concerned with others opinions, have a ‘culturally bound syndrome’, taijin kyofusho, resulting in intense shame and a feeling of causing others distress and even dishonor by one’s being. Shame is intensified; this is shame at causing shame. If there is no journey without a wound, then shame must be ground zero of our woundedness. Our journey from shame is the most necessary, meaningful, and complicated. Destination – acceptance, love and even pride. Something San Francisco knows a little about.
I was deeply moved by two films that explored shame in subtle and powerful ways. Monday was shame day at CAAMFest, but I left the Kabuki and New People feeling empowered. We can make a difference. Film matters.
Albert Shin’s In Her Place tells the story of women bound together by a pregnancy. They are all nameless in the film, speaking to both universality, the unnameable secrets they carry, and the dehumanization of a mindset that seems not to value people for their inherent worth, but for what they “carry”. The wealthy Gangnam-ite is ashamed of her miscarriage, and seeks to adopt a rural, poor pregnant teen’s child. The teen’s mother is ashamed of her daughter’s condition, and all-too-eager to find a way out, and money to boot. I could feel the intensity of generations of silence and shadow around these characters. Shame is silencing. Shame is silence is death, in lockstep certainty.
Caryn Waechter and Marilyn Fu’s The Sisterhood of Night will be released in theaters on April 10th (at the Four Star in San Francisco, in New York and other cities). Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser and adapted for the screen by Fu, Sisterhood is a modern day riff on The Crucible involving the secrets, silences and shames of girls and women. The film paints a multifaceted view of teen life, with social media providing community yet also opening the door to cyber-bullying, lies and manipulation. It was interesting that the two youngest actors present for the screening on Monday were decidedly against social media. Evan Kuzma said Facebook and its ilk were “killing” teen life. Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman spoke about how social media distorts relationships. They could have been reading right from my book-in-progress! Waechter spoke for “balance”, allowing that social media did bring us stories we wouldn’t have otherwise heard, and was also key to her crowdfunding campaign. But in the end, her film spoke clearly to our basic human need for real world intimacy, presence and relatedness. A thousand likes does not one hug equal. Sisterhood will remind you of all the lonely places of your adolescence, the ways we abandon ourselves and each other with judgments and self-judgment. Humanity and hope triumph in the end; teen girls find their way to break the silence, and find life.
They find face.
See you at the movies!
Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a San Francisco psychiatrist and writer. He writes The Pacific Heart blog for Psychology Today. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and best of all, sign up for an occasional newsletter here, and find out about his upcoming book on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, and his e-book on Asian American Anger. More CAAMFest MOSF blog posts can be found here and here.