Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wuthering Heights: Who Decides What is Moral?

This morning I was reading Joel Stein's column, "I'm Making the Case For Public Shaming-Unless You Publicly Shame Me For Doing So," in the August 24, 2015, edition of Time in which he points out how social media has become a platform for publicly shaming one particular individual for doing something that is socially unacceptable, specifically, the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion. Before social media, public shaming wasn't as rapid or as lethal. That dentist's life is ruined. He'd have to leave the planet or move to a third world country to escape his notoriety.

What does this have to do with Wuthering Heights? People were church goers until recently. I mean everyone who was decent went to church. Not going to church was probably the first offense to be publicly shamed over. Only lowlife scumbags chose not to regularly go to church. Therefore, the church had the power to set social behaviors and decide what was moral or not. But a church with a tiny congregation like the one in Wuthering Heights can't reprimand or insult its richest members whose offerings benefit and probably support the church. The richest members would be the Earnshaws and the Lintons. 

So, in Wuthering Heights, it's Ellen (Nelly) Dean who is the moral guardian of the story as she scolds Heathcliff and Catherine for their behavior and disapproves of Hindley's violent drunken rages. She has no patience for Joseph's long winded hypocrisy either, but he ignores her as well.

Of course, no one listens to her advice because she's the help and her employers aren't going to base their life decisions on something the maid is advising. Therefore, if you were the lord of a manor, you were above the law and free from adhering to what was considered morally socially acceptable behavior as long as your offenses were carried out on your own land.

So, rich men could get away with pretty much anything without being publicly shamed unless the offense was toward another rich man. Wealth can't keep anyone from being publicly shamed in modern times, no matter how popular or wealthy the offender is and the media tells society what should be shamed and what shouldn't. In the words of Ozzy Osbourne, "the media sells it and you live the role."

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