Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Don't Let That Red Equals Signs Become a Hollow Gesture

Hey, cool, you changed your Facebook photo to show your support for a cause. Now follow that shit up.

Back at my college paper, I had an editor who forbade the staff from using the phrase "raising awareness" because he felt that it didn't convey meaning. Instead of just writing down "raising awareness" when you're interviewing one advocacy group or another, he said, you should press further and ask for specific examples of how they were raising awareness -- holding public talks, screaming at people from street corners, writing pithy slogans before doing nude backflips through the campus's central plaza, etc. -- because these examples would make for a more interesting sentence. He was correct. As it stands, "raising awareness" is a mushy, beige, inert phrase that's only slightly more exciting than other not-so-active verbs such as "being," "existing," and "continuing to exist." Even worse, it could be used by people who want to sound as though they're doing more than they actually are: "Raising awareness" could be a placeholder until they figure out exactly what they're doing, and they might not ever get to deciding how they were raising awareness. They might just have posted one or twice on some lonely message board. They may have taped a single flyer to a single telephone pole. But if you asked them down the line, "Hey, what exactly did you spend your funding on?", they could say, "Oh, we were working on raising awareness," and they'd not technically be lying. This is why reporters have follow-up questions.

I feel similarly about social media-spanning campaigns like the one that is currently symbolizing the need for marriage equality with red-and-pink versions of the Human Rights Campaign equals signs. On one hand, it's great that you're willing to make proclaim to the literate world that you believe gay people deserve marriage rights. (Why red-and-pink, I wonder. Is it for love, in the Valentine's Day sense of it? Is it because the love of rare steaks is as wonderful and pure as marital love?) But I worry that the people making this gesture will walk away from their computers feeling, "Yay. Today I did something." Because they didn't, really. They didn't donate money to the Human Rights Campaign or their local gay and lesbian center or some shelter for young people who have hit a serious rough patch. Even a small donation to any of these groups would be more helpful, in the long run, than would swapping out your Facebook photo for a few days. Sure, you'd make your beliefs known. With most people I know, these beliefs would only be news to, say, an aunt from back home who uses Facebook occasionally and didn't know that you had opinions nowadays, but I suppose it's possible that a lot of your friends might be surprised, for all I know about you, stranger reading this post.

Don't have money? Cool. Go talk to someone you know who does not want gay people to get married. As logically and calmly as possible, explain why their dislike for gay people shouldn't trump this minority's ability to enjoy basic rights. You will probably be unsuccessful, as the people who usually oppose gay marriage don't like to admit that they're doing so because they just don't like gay people, but at least you'll feel like you laid out an argument of which you can be proud.

And oh yeah -- vote when you have the opportunity, because old people love voting as much as they dislike gay marriage, statistically speaking.

I hope I'm being clear. There's nothing wrong with this campaign, but I just feel like you shouldn't let your participation in it become a hollow gesture. Ignore the superficial satisfaction you may feel. Be the good reporter and follow that shit up. In the end, it will take more than a red equals sign to make your Evangelical cousin from Fresno make an about-face on this issue, and it seems unlikely that Antonin Scalia will log into his Facebook, see a sea of meaty reds and suddenly reconsider his stance on the matter at hand.

Once again: Follow that shit up.

EDIT: Previous post notwithstanding, I swear I won't make every post on this blog me telling you what not to do. I am not that cranky. Not yet.

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