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A Swedish Boxer, Donald Trump And Our Culture Of Shame

Paolo Roberto was arrested as he walked out of a brothel
Paolo Roberto was arrested as he walked out of a brothel
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Long before his sex scandal took over the front pages, every Swede knew Paolo Roberto.

The son of an Italian father and Swedish mother, Roberto gained some notoriety in his teens as a street fighter, eventually earning a place on the police's national list of "10 most dangerous youths'. After turning things around following a lead role in a movie drama loosely based on his teens, Roberto would also earn a place in Swedish boxing history after two world championship title fights. He would ultimately become a national household name after retiring from the ring, thanks to a successful career as a cookbook author, TV personality, entrepreneur and occasional actor (he again played himself in the 2009 film adaption of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire).

And so everything turned again on May 15 when Stockholm police made the bust of the year. There he was, the 51-year-old former welterweight: caught on the bed— as the Swedish saying goes — as he walked out of the brothel with a four-man police squad waiting to take him away.

Would your God actually burn me?

For a Swedish-born spectator following from afar, there has been something disturbing about seeing a virtual mob at its most self-certain, vile and attuned. After all, there are so few things we seem able to agree on these days. But Sweden has remained united on the topic of Paolo: After spending 30 minutes with a prostitute, he was fired from the restaurant franchise he'd been running, he was bought out from his Italian food brand ($12), his ex-wife ditched him as partner in their entertainment studio, TV4 dropped him. Knock out.

This is all business of course: There's no marketing case for slapping a sex buyer's face on a can of tomato sauce. But as the denunciations continue to pour in on social media and in national newspaper columns, I can't help but ask myself a question far from the realm of business: Is there not a case for forgiveness?

The first time I made such a plea, the charge was simple (non-remunerative) fornication, with my own poor soul hanging in the balance. "Would your God actually burn me?" My deeply Christian high school classmate answered without a pause: "Absolut."

Roberto earned a place in Swedish boxing history after a youth as a street brawler— Photo: Paolo Roberto/Instagram

Burning eternally for such a brief event seemed to me somewhere just passed obscene. Yet in the years since much of our lives were moved online, it seems such unforgiving instincts have become our daily bread. I'll borrow from a friend of mine — once something of an internet troll but now a Facebook defector and licensed yogi — who referred to the hatred and contempt that permeates virtual debates as "online road rage," where we project the worst possible image onto any passing interlocutor, or transgressor.

If we continue to shame others, we strip them of the ability to take on guilt.

And so after Paolo went on air the day following the bust, describing his crime as the most ‘despicable thing you can do to another person," the tabloids diligently instructed to not accept his apologies and that he's not a victim. When he days later appeared on Instagram wearing training gear with the post's caption reading: "Time to pick up the pieces from a wrecked life," this ostensibly premature attempt at recovery courted so much opprobrium he soon deleted the post.

So what's at stake in this renaissance of punitive moralism? Last week I was talking about it by phone with my dad … who's also a Lutheran priest. I'd remembered his response 15 years ago to that high school classmate in southern Sweden, advising me not to waste my time arguing with fundamentalists who are, by definition, void of self-reflection. But about this new tendency for publicly shaming that's no longer reserved for religious fanatics or your scary math teacher, he said the harm runs even deeper: The broader problem is that if we continue to shame others, we strip them of the ability to take on guilt, which is the definition of goodness.

There is of course that spiritual element, but our shaming and canceling culture also has far-reaching social ramifications. Many of us believed that Donald Trump's run for the presidency would reach a definite end after the phrase "Grab her by the pussy" appeared in our news feeds. But this vulgar misogyny didn't put a dent in his popularity anymore than did his mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter. In a world where shame and shaming is infecting all of society, the ones who stand to benefit most are the shameless.

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Future

Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGO — TikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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