Something that I have been struggling with over the course of this class is exploring the way people see each other and the experiences of others. So much of how I engage in activism is reading, writing, and sharing thoughts about how we can better interact with one another, how we can treat each other better and fight for one another. After finishing a project on how we often turn physical bodies, the physical experiences of people, into symbols and metaphors and how that can take much of the focus away from the actual person, I went into Media and Social Justice with this idea still fresh in my mind.
In the introduction to the book, I was met with an idea that I had left out of my project. In my first blog post in reaction to the reading, I wrote “In this first section of this book, however, I began to realize that sometimes concepts are necessary, that not all concepts are bad. It is concepts and the spread of them that actually awaken people to the cause.” I had completely ignored the fact that we do need concepts. Concepts are what we fight for, what we believe in. Activism itself is a concept and that is why I want to explore the way we see it, what our ideas are about it, for this third project.
In the ninth chapter of Media and Social Justice, I was introduced to a contrast I had never thought of before: activism and scholarship. In terms of feminism, Margaret Gallagher points out that the line between activism and scholarship is often very blurry. Gallagher writes, “While feminist scholars may be engaged in political activism, feminist activists may also do feminist research” (133). I think what sticks out to me so much about this fairly simple statement, is that we have a lot of stereotypes about what scholarship and activism should look like, stereotypes that make the pairing of the two seem contradictory or strange.
In my post on this chapter, I wrote, “we have this predetermined idea of activism that is the complete opposite of scholarship. Activism is raw, gritty, impolite. There are no rules to activism. Activism is fighting and shouting for your rights.” When we think of activism, we think mostly of protesting. We think of going out and actually being a part of a movement. In order to be good activists we have to act. On the other hand, scholarship and research come with many rules and restrictions. There is a formula you need to follow. You need to have credibility and there is an assumed intelligence about the writer. You are supposed to remain objective and you can’t even use contractions.
While these two concepts work well on their own, I think Gallagher does a great job of noting that this isn’t a binary. You don’t have to choose between being an activist or being a scholar. There is a blend of the two. Declaring that activism only comes with physical actions is quite classist and ableist. There are so many people and so many way that can lead to change just by writing. There is a faction of activists doing research and writing powerful pieces that speak to the hearts of every movement. I think this portion of the chapter challenges the way we view activism and what activism means, how we partake in it.
Gallagher challenges how we view activism as a whole. When I saw view, I mean the way we think about it, the notions that come to mind when we try define activism. However, Pepsi recently released an ad that sparks a debate about what we, as a society, think about activism or how the media thinks about activism and how that is portrayed.
In the advertisement, Kendall Jenner is in the middle of a photo shoot when she sees a group of protesters walking by. One of them gives her a nod and suddenly she has tossed her blonde wig at a black woman, wiping of her lipstick, and thrusting herself into the action. As the protest approaches police officers, Kendall hands a can of Pepsi to one of them and he smiles to a fellow officer, a smile that says, “well, she does have a point.”
As many online have pointed out, this ad severely trivializes activism. It makes protesting seem like a fun thing that you can just join and have a good time in. It makes protesting seem useless, as if it nothing you chant matters as long as you have a Pepsi. It also makes activism seem pretty white. Again we have this trope that a white woman is safe, she is nonthreatening, and she is here to save the world.
Much like in Media and Social Justice, we have a pairing. In this ad, we see activism and capitalism. One of the reasons this ad was so surprising to me, is that Pepsi is just trying to make money. Many activists fight against the capitalist system that runs the U.S. In fact, there was a hashtag, #resistcapitalism, that took Twitter by storm. Unlike the partnership of activism and scholarship, the mixing of activism and capitalism is insulting. This ad portrays the idea that Pepsi thinks using activism as a tool is going to bring them money, as if protesting is just another trend they can profit from. While this ad is offensive and “tone deaf” as I have seen many people describe it as, I think it opens up a good opportunity to think about how we see activism and how that is expressed through the media.
As I continue through this course, I am learning more and more to be aware of how we understand the world. I am learning that nothing in life is a binary. There are many, many shades of gray in this monochromatic world. While I do still believe that it is detrimental to ignore the physical bodies of oppressed people, I acknowledge now that we do have metaphorical meaning. Our lives have meanings, our concepts have meanings, and it is those meanings that can change the world.