FUNNY WOMEN #28: So You Have Second-Hand Embarrassment Syndrome


First, do not fret, this is a very common affliction, affecting millions of people worldwide. Second Hand Embarrassment Syndrome (SHES) is defined as feeling other people’s embarrassment as acutely as your own. This makes reality television, specifically talent competitions, extremely hard for you to watch. Whereas many take pleasure in witnessing people fail and then mocked on a national stage, this eats away a bit at your soul every time you expose yourself to the spectacle. It’s as though the judges’ derision is being aimed directly at you. Because of this, yes, you have avoided several instances of SHES by simply not watching. However, you have also missed out on many heart-warming moments throughout the years, from Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent to that time that fat person lost a lot of weight on The Biggest Loser.

You feel left out during water cooler chat and experience awkward moments when you try to join in on the conversation and miserably fail: “Yeah, now I can’t get that song Master of the House out of my head!” People look at each other and sip their coffee and walk away. You later realize that Susan Boyle sang I Dreamed A Dream. In addition to this gaff, you have exposed your far too extensive knowledge of Les Miserables to your friends and colleagues. You also realize that they weren’t talking about Susan Boyle in the first place. Because why would they? Susan Boyle’s moment happened a long time ago. Literally millions of more heart-warming moments by unlikely figures who have triumphed in the face of crowd and stony-faced judge adversity have happened between Susan Boyle and now. And you’re not aware of this because you cannot bring yourself to watch reality television because of your SHES.

The only reason that you sort of know about Boyle is because you could not escape the press about her, but not enough to get your goddamn facts right. You are ashamed and now suffer from First Hand Embarrassment Syndrome (FHES). This causes your palms to sweat and your face to turn red. Your boss walks by and chooses to shake your hand because that’s what bosses think that they should do. You shake his hand with your sweaty palm and apologize that your hand is wet. You didn’t sneeze or anything. In fact, you just washed your hands! That is why they are wet! They are almost too clean! You washed them for like fifteen minutes because that’s what Oprah tells you to do! Your boss extricates his hand, subtly wipes it on his pant leg and walks away with a sidelong glance and a nod. In desperation you yell, “Susan Boyle!” after him. He quicken his pace. Your FHES is quickly turning into panic.

Everyone knows you are a fraud. Everyone. You should probably quit before you are fired. You could go live in the wilderness, away from television, and talk about things like moose and wild salmon. To bears. You could talk about those things to the bears that you will live amongst. So that is what you do. You quit your job, move to British Columbia, and talk to bears. And then one day when you are conversing about moose with a bear whom you think you have befriended, they up and kill you. Because it’s a wild animal and do you really blame it. Now you are dead. Because of your SHES.

As you can see, the ripple affects of SHES can have devastating affects on your life, in that you can die. For just $1,000 a week, I, Sarah Walker, will sit with you through eight hours of reality television a day, with my fingers keeping your eyes open, my hands clamped like a vice around your head, forcing you to watch. After just three weeks, you will become sufficiently inured to any sort of embarrassment, or feeling. A blissful smile will grace your relaxed face and you will be free from worry. Or you could die by the hand of a bear. It’s your choice.


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Sarah Walker is a writer and comedian living in NYC. She enjoys cake and naps. More from this author →