Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Oh the Irony

     After my last post there is one comment that I would  like to come back to. Goff had said in her blog (cited in previous post) that SlutWalk's tactic of participants walking around in their underwear lessens their message. That even while trying to make a political statement they instead simply reverted to the age old alternative and started taking off their clothing to get what they want, demanding to be called sluts. I would like to point out, this was the point.

   SlutWalk uses reversal and satire to deliver its message. These tactics are quite common among protests and marches. Ya! Basta for example is an organization that began in Europe, though other groups have cropped up in North America as well, that uses similar tactics. David Graeber, an anarchist of some renown, was once part of a faction of Ya! Basta in New York and give an account of their way of making a statement through satire and reversal in his ethnography Direct Action. In his book Graeber puts great emphasis on the use of force by the police officers and riot cops during protests. Ya! Basta's solution to this abuse was to don armor while looking as non threatening as possible. They do this by wearing protective padding made from rubber protective sheeting or rubber ducky flotation devices, helmets, and plastic shields along with gas masks and white chemical protective suits. As a result the person looks ridiculous and is relatively safe from whatever battering the police throw at them. This approach is a new way to resist authority: "the "white overalls" proposed an ethos of protection: as  long as you refuse to harm others, it is completely legitimate to take whatever measures necessary to avoid harm to yourself"(Graeber: 2009 (3)). To add to the aura of being purely defensive and non threatening, Ya! Basta uses "weapons" such as water pistols and balloons to attack police lines.

    Satire has long been used as a way to to call attention to what we as a society usually takes for granted and makes us think critically about it. A definition of  satire from Oxford Dictionaries is "the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues". Craig Stark, a former instructor at a university of Texas, used satire to teach media literacy to his students and described it as "a cognitive "bucket of water in the face" for students, helping to startle them into new awareness" (Stark 2003: 306). This new awareness can lead to critical analysis of what they see and hear (Stark: 306).

     So when groups such as Ya! Basta and SlutWalk use satire to introduce their message they are inviting their audience to stop and really think about the absurdity of what they are watching and realize the serious nature of what they are trying to say. Ya! Basta does this by looking as non threatening and unable to do harm as possible so when they seemingly inevitably get attacked by the police it looks even more brutal. Another example from Graeber is, during the protests against the negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas pact held in Quebec City in April, 2001 activists used a catapult to launch teddy bears at riot police, while the police used tear gas (157). SlutWalk participants marching in lingerie or other articles of clothing that personify and exaggerate 'sluttiness' and thus encourage observers to consider what a slut actually looks like.

Courtesy of Kerry Ann Dobson

     SlutWalk's embrace of the term slut is an example of another tactic, reversal. Instead of sticking with their initial outrage of the use of slut, they adopted the term and seek to make it mean something else, and not an excuse or justification for sexual assault.

References Cited:

Graeber, David.
     2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography. AK Press. Zine Library.

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