Did you know that lawyers participate in degradation ceremonies as a part of their occupation? Learn more about degradation ceremonies through several examples, including the perp walk.
What is a Degradation Ceremony?
Harry is a 30-year-old man who is facing criminal charges for attempting to rob a bank. Upon being caught in the act, Harry was immediately placed in jail until the date of his trial.
Harry was brought into the courtroom right before his trial wearing handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit. The judge read the charges against Harry and witnesses were called to testify. News reporters from various stations showed up at the trial and took notes. In the end, Harry was found guilty of all charges. The judge sentenced Harry to 25 years in prison. As Harry exits the courtroom and is escorted off to jail, news reporters and camera crews snap pictures and take videos of him. Within hours, Harry’s crime and sentence are covered in various newspapers, television shows, and news outlets.
What Harry has experienced is an example of a degradation ceremony.So what exactly is a degradation ceremony? A degradation ceremony is a formal or informal ritual that is used to eject an individual from a group and to rid that individual of his or her identity as a member of the group. Degradation ceremonies are one way in which a group can deal with people who have severely violated group norms or expectations, like when someone commits a felony by trying to rob a bank. Degradation ceremonies can also be used as a form of initiation into certain institutions such as prisons, mental institutions, and the military. By stripping people of their former identities, degradation ceremonies make it easier for people to accept external control. Lawyers and judges make occupations out of degradation ceremonies.
There are several criteria that must be met in order for a degradation ceremony to be successful.The perpetrator’s transgression has to be known to all members of the group. In Harry’s case, this was done by way of a public trial.
A person in a position of authority has to proclaim the perpetrator’s transgression to the group. This cannot be done by other group members. Harry’s transgressions were announced by a judge, who is considered a person of authority in the court of law.Group members think that the person of authority is acting out of concern for the entire group. If, for example, the group members thought that the judge was denouncing Harry because of a personal vendetta, the degradation ceremony would not be successful.
The perpetrator has to be criticized in public so that all group members can see. The purpose of this is to further humiliate the perpetrator and to reinforce the limits of behavior to group members. This also allows the group leaders to tell the members what sorts of behavior are and are not acceptable.
Harry’s trial was public, so anyone could have attended. Advances in technology have made it so that all group members didn’t have to be at the trial in order to see what happened. They could have read about it in a newspaper or magazine, watched it on television, read it on the Internet, or listened to a report about it on a radio.The perpetrator must be ejected from the group. If the perpetrator is allowed to remain in the group, it sends the message to other group members that breaking the rules is okay. By being sentenced to prison, Harry loses his identity as a free person and instead becomes a prisoner.
In this sense, Harry is ejected from the group, having lost the freedoms and status of a free person.
In the novel The Scarlet Letter, a young woman named Hester Prynne had an affair and became pregnant. As a result, she is found guilty of adultery and forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ (hence the title of the novel). She is also required to stand on a scaffold for hours as a means to expose her transgressions to the public and to humiliate her. Prynne and her daughter later move to the outskirts of town, having been shunned by the community.
Another example of a degradation ceremony is known as the ‘perp walk‘. This is when the members of the law enforcement (usually police) purposefully walk people who have been arrested and accused of a crime in front of reporters and other members of the media. The purpose of the perp walk is to make the person’s transgressions public and to further humiliate him or her.
A degradation ceremony refers to practices that serve the dual purpose of ejecting a person from a group and taking away his or her identity as a group member. In order for a degradation ceremony to be successful, the perpetrator’s offense has to be known to all group members, the transgression must be made public by the group’s authority figure, group members must think the authority figure is acting out of concern for the entire group, the perpetrator has to be criticized in public, and the perpetrator has to be kicked out of the group.
Examples of degradation ceremonies include courtroom trials and the perp walk.