During the era of Grand Theft Auto IV, which takes place in a fictional representation of New York City, I moved to the real New York City. Fellow-blogger Jeff and I had fun driving through pixellated Times Square and lobbing grenades at innocent people. It was fascinating how much locations looked like the real-life counterparts I was seeing in person even when they weren’t labeled, like the Court Square Diner. I would order in from Court Square on weekend mornings, and had a good turkey club there with Jeff and our friend Shawn before exploring the fine wares at a nearby dildo purveyor. I never lobbed grenades at Court Square Diner, nor attacked it in the game either.
Today is the release date for Grand Theft Auto V, which takes place in Southern California, and I am a few months away from moving to Southern California. My life, it seems, follows the trajectory of Grand Theft Auto. The series, though, is marred by a controversial history: anti-video-game politicians have consistently used it as an example of poor-morals entertainment due to its violence, and one nugget that never fails to come up in alarmist detractors’ accusations of gross misogyny is the fact that prostitutes can be hired in-game, and also killed.
Today I have the dubious honor of defending that game element from misogynistic charges.
In his newly released book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson takes a few jabs at “pop psychology” writers like Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer, at times for over-simplifying complex issues and at times for craftily including a “self-help” element in all their books. Because Ronson is smart, funny, and often self-deprecating, I’ll assume it was with a knowing wink – and perhaps even deeper irony – that he titled his own book like a self-help pamphlet, but it isn’t just a joke. Much of the book does actually focus on questions of how to help: how to help people recover their lives, recover their reputations, recover their will to live, after tragedy strikes.
What kind of tragedy? Ronson, of “The Psychopath Test” and “The Men Who Stare At Goats” fame, tackles a relatively contemporary topic: What happens when people are torn apart on social media? He especially focuses on Twitter, whose denizens most act as a righteous brigade, setting forth to right what wrongs they perceive in mob form and leaving shattered lives in their wake: shattered lives they quickly forget.