Direct Action: direct words?

I hesitate to intervene in other people’s grief – particularly when that grief is being conducted in the (to me) nitpickingly infuriating way that US-based debates seem to do so well.

Still, i was piqued by a recent piece in the Transadvocate in which the f-word (“faggot”) was used as a means to underscore trans outrage at the way in which RuPaul, an individual who appears to be gay guy and in no way trans identified, was appropriating trans identity, with an interview in which he pretty much endorsed the t-word (“tranny”) to the entire world.

No. I’m not going to delve into the specifics of Rupaul (which have been covered ad nauseam in the follow-up debate) or the side-debate about some woman called Cathy Brennan.

My real interest is the question of whether one is ever justified in taking on the oppressor using the tactics of the oppressor. Or as one poster, Daniel Cates, summed it up succinctly: “returning an act of violence (and hate speech is an act of violence) with an act of violence is never the way to win. It lowers you and allows your oppressor to win”.

I’m interested because the use of the offending word, in this instance, strikes me as an example of “direct action”, which i did a lot of when young. Back in the days when peace and love were still aspired to – and there was a genuine belief that shocking the system could bring about reform.

Times have changed: the pie-ing of Rupert Murdoch, which i can imagine would have been roundly applauded by large swathes of the Liberal Party in the 70’s (Young and not-so-young) was condemned out-of-hand by one modern liberal as simple violence.

Its context and potential message was irrelevant to them: violence was violence. And they had a point.

Looking back, many direct action protests, from street theatre to chaining people to all manner of street furniture was self-indulgent and probably brought about little change.

Unless, the direct action either highlighted an issue that then brought puiblic opprobium down on the target of the action. Or was sufficiently powerful to make the cost of not taking notice greater than the cost of taking notice. That’s how strikes worked – and why the last big miners’ strike, eventually, didn’t…because government was prepared to incur the costs, however high, of the conflict, because they saw the longer-term financial benefits as that much greater.

Its also how boycotts work. And, in our publicity conscious age, how things like work. A good example was recent adverse publicity over Apple’s “gay cure” app: sure, Apple didn’t like that people were polanning to boycott their product if they didn’t stop it. But even worse, was the adverse publicity which could have led to a much wider negative impact on the company.

In other words, direct action, for me, has one of two points: either it must be powerful enough to exert real (economic) pressure: or it needs to be witty enough, daring enough, to lift an issue into the public arena and embarrass its target into response.

Calling Rupaul names? Hmmm. The target is not really Rupaul, but a gay (male) community in which his views appear to be broadly acceptable. I think, on the whole, an occasional dig is worthwhile. Not because it will change what Mr R thinks: but because it does exactly as it says on the tin – underline outrage.

And while it is obvious from some of the comments that gay guys hate it, maybe this will also encourage some to think about how hurtful speech can be – and how they would not allow others to speak on their behalf – so why should the trans community.

An occasional dig. As reminder. Any more than that and i think i would agree with Daniel Cates, that this is counter-productive.



1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Liz Church said,

    I wonder how Ru Paul would react if I were to black up and tell him to “get over” the N-word? Would this be roughly parallel and appropriate satire? Should I hide under a tectonic plate for a while until its safe to come out? šŸ™‚

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