Sunday, March 6, 2011

They Doth Protest Too Much

"I don’t care if people hate my guts; I assume most of them do. The important question is: are they in a position to do anything about it?" - William S. Burroughs.

Back in the day, when yours truly was growing up, it was all the rage to protest and picket, carrying a sign with an oh-so-clever slogan on it and chanting goofy rhymey verses. And we felt like we were really "making a difference" with our self-indulgent antics. Fortunately, I wised up; most of my peers did not. Well, here's a hatpin for your soap sphere, my perpetually protesting pals: no one has ever changed anything by standing on a sidewalk holding a sign. I don't care what your cause is - even if it's a cause I completely agree with and fully support - don't ask me to join in your parade 'cause I won't dance.

(I'm not referring here to events like the Million Man March, where hardly anyone carried a sign and the theme was broad rather than honed on specific issues. The purpose of the Million Man March was not to yell or picket or address grievances or harass innocent bystanders, but simply to attend the gathering and let the power of their numbers speak for itself. Now that's classy, and that's cool.)

Most of the angry protest signs carried by well-meaning and painfully earnest activists should, by any measure of common sense, be an embarassment to whatever movement they represent. The Tea Party has been ridiculed to no end (and rightly so) for the sheer volume of misspellings, confused logic, intolerant comments, lame attempts at humor, and just plain unfactual claims made in their signage. But all these very same horror stories can also be found on the protest signs of the left. Misguided exuberance and beliefs without basis favor no single political persuasion.

But seriously, people: can't you at least get it through your heads that signs written in ball-point pen on cardboard with inch-high letters are utterly unreadable from a distance of more than five feet?

And for pete's sake, don't y'all know how to mentally plan out your lettering? You know, so that all your lines don't start out with huge letters and then end up scrunching up on the right-hand side when you realize too late that you're about to run out of space? This is a concept I understood in the third grade.

By mocking the effectiveness of public protest, it may sound like I'm advocating doing something drastic, violent and stupid in the name of "direct action". No. Far from it. To quote our man Burroughs again, "that would be a minor episode, which would run its course."

So what is the answer? Well, that's just it, there isn't one. There is no single true solution for becoming victor over any given adversary; it's something to be approached on a strictly case-by-case basis. But a good start is to understand that many, many people find the act of protesting to be obnoxious, tiresome, and played-out - therefore their minds will instantly shut down to whatever message you're spouting.

Consider this: if you hate a corporation so much that you'd stoop to yelling outside their business carrying a hateful sign like some sort of know-nothing angry villager in a Frankenstein movie, you might be better off channeling your energy
into something positive. Throw positivity at something you consider negative, and outdo them. Hate Starbucks? Fine, don't go there; they're so successful at what they do and make so much money I doubt they'd notice anyway. Go start your own coffee business and go into competition with them if you think you know more about running an ethical coffee company than they do. Otherwise, stick a sock in it. (Some of us are trying to enjoy our Venti Java Chip Frappucinos, dude, and you're being a real downer.)

And you can't walk past picketers without them trying to involve you in their own personal (yet very public) drama. I'm just trying to make it to back to the office from lunch and I don't need shrill-voiced women running up to me, thrusting leaflets in my face I didn't ask for and trying to engage me in conversation about whatever it is they're crusading against, rattling off factoids and statistics that mean nothing to me, trying to tell me what not to eat, what not to buy, where not to shop, what religion not to take part in. Can I quote Burroughs one more time? "Thanks for a nation of finks, where no one is allowed to mind his own business."

A Transylvania Gentleman has his own private methodology of making his will manifest in the material world, and let me tell you, friend, it doesn't involve making a spectacle of oneself on the street, it doesn't involve disrupting traffic to promote a negative and adversarial message, and it doesn't involve dealing from a position of weakness - and carrying a protest sign is just about as weak as it gets. If standing in front of a church or a store or a factory holding a piece of cardboard is the best you got, then you're defeated already, Jack, and you might as well go home. You aren't in a position to do anything about anything.

Fortunately, there really aren't many entities on this rock that I bitterly oppose. I take a rather buddhist mindset that everything that's supposed to happen sooner or later does.

Can't we all just get along?

- - JSH

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would totally protest if it meant I got to wear that pilgrim costume. Just sayin'!

But my favorite protest signs ever were at a complete non-protest. My pictures of them are here: