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The Psychology Behind Public Shaming Of Drunk Racegoers

And the culture of outrage.

03/11/2016 4:04 PM AEDT | Updated 04/11/2016 12:08 PM AEDT
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Why has casting sweeping moral judgments on drunk strangers become a national sport?

Every November, Melbourne Cup comes around and the race stops the nation for a few moments. And then the off-field entertainment lingers a little longer.

Loads of drunken racegoers are captured and plastered all over social media channels, prompting news articles and -- in 2016's case -- making international headlines.

Maybe you go along with it and have a quiet giggle.

Maybe you cast your eye over a drunken woman, hair all dishevelled, shoes in hands and you think, 'well, that's a little classless'.

Maybe she's captured mid-fall. Her skirt's now flipped over her head, and you can't help yourself so you type some awful, nasty comment dubbing her self-respect tattered, or you just get straight to the point and call her a slapper.

So why has casting sweeping moral judgements on drunk strangers become a national sport?

"What we're doing is trying to deny the naughtiness in ourselves," Psychologist Meredith Fuller told The Huffington Post Australia. "It's got to go somewhere, so we push it out to blaming and being disgusted."

There's more to it than that, but The psychological term for this is projection -- where people project their own insecurities, fears, resentments or concerns onto the one thing or person triggering those feelings.

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Melbourne Cup racegoers in 2006. Yes, it's been happening for a decade and people are still outraged.

Drunk women in particular face harsher abuse and outrage than men, and Fuller said that this is because the Australian larrikin has historically always been a man.

"We're moving into much more of an equal society and we have to take the full gamut and that means some women are absolutely exercising their own internal larrikin," Fuller told HuffPost Australia.

"We're actually busting down some of those really trite stereotypes.

"We're in a transition and some people just aren't too sure about what to do with it."

This was less of an issue when the comments were snide remarks to a friend, not public posts which collectively grew into public shaming. Nowadays, the phenomenon has an impact lasting much longer than spring racing carnival.

Why People Publicly Shame Others

The most obvious reason people shame others online is because it's, quite simply, online. There is no real connection or experience with the person being shamed on the other end so "we can't look them in the eye to see the real damage and feel the pain they feel".

Those visual cues which prompt empathy and act like filters suddenly don't exist when posting an online comment, so people don't reflect on the impact their behaviour might have on the person they're shaming, Fuller said.

The speed with which a comment can be posted, and the transient nature in which people work now also contributes to the problem.

"We don't even think of proper arguments anymore. We just use a shortcut way of saying something in a few words, so we don't have time to process it and let our feelings centre absorb it," Fuller said.

It's a place to hide, but it's not a place of intelligence. It's not a place of self-reflection and it's not a place to help you grow as a person and contribute to our society.Meredith Fuller

"Consequently, you don't reflect on it and think, 'how does my heart feel about saying this to this person in front of me right now. Is that really what I want to say to them?'"

Diffusion of responsibility also comes into play. People don't feel as responsible for the impact of the comments that they make when a large proportion of the public is already shaming that person.

"It's a place to hide, but it's not a place of intelligence. It's not a place of self-reflection and it's not a place to help you grow as a person and contribute to our society," Fuller said.

Even if the comment is quick and soon long gone from the poster's conscience, the underlying reason they commented remains.

What it all comes back to is why the person chose to engage in the shaming. If they didn't care, they wouldn't take the time to comment.

"There's something that's been triggered, otherwise they would just turn it off and they wouldn't bother," Fuller said.

"What's triggered can be a force for good because it can actually trigger you to look at yourself.

"It's a call to arms for us. I think anything that gets a reaction in us is worth having a think about, because there's so much we can learn about ourselves. The best thing that you can do is be aware."

Public Shaming Of Women

The type of public shaming women receive differs to men, and it goes beyond stereotypical Australian larrikinism. Studies have shown more women report violent online abuse or harassment.

But online abuse towards women also extends to their appearances over the context of their argument, with both women and men hauling critical comments.

Female reporters and TV hosts are so often subject to criticisms about their haircuts, or the clothes they're wearing because people "focus on the periphery", according to Fuller.

"Historically, males were in the position of power and control, and one of the ways of suppressing and repressing and maintaining that power and control is to make sure that women are not regarded as equal," Fuller said.

"One of the main ways they try to manage that is by reducing women to a visual concept. It's funny because it's not just men that do it, it's many women too."

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The public shaming differs for men and women, from the amount of abuse to the type of abuse.

Sometimes what can be triggered for some women, said Fuller, is a reminder of their fears and desires.

"Rather than see these women as someone who could inspire them, and learn from them, what they do is they say 'that will never be me', therefore I will be really angry, therefore I will seek to destroy the thing that I will never be."

And this all comes back to the drunk woman with her skirt flipped over her head. You may not want to be her, but if you're criticising her, or the woman on the television, there may be a small element of their character that you envy. Whether it's their ability to let go, or their intellect.

"It's this bizarre thing where they're kind of envious that someone could just not care, and secretly wish that maybe they could go and have a good time and not care about the consequences," Fuller said.

"But they can't, so the next best thing is to go and project all of this stuff onto other people when really what they're saying is, 'how come I can't do that?'"

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