“View from Across the Pond” is a series of articles contributed by exchange students at UConn that shed light on the experience in Storrs.
Astute scholars of British innuendo will realize from the title I want to do more than discuss the dynamics of grassroots politics. I also want to discuss how using satire in popular culture can drive activism, but only so far.
Yes, I’m certain it is easier to laugh and be hopeful from a position of great privilege, and little responsibility, knowing I can return home at any time. Nonetheless, if Trump and Brexit have shown nothing else, it is that humor and optimism can flourish at times of great tumult.
This struck me a few weeks ago when I arrived for my first day working for a state politician. On arriving, I found a sticky note taped underneath my computer monitor reading “It’s scary how sometimes I spend less than an hour drafting a bill and it still passes.” At first, I was a little taken aback by the quote but soon I took pleasure in seeing it every day.
I would question anyone who has not felt that same pleasure in scrolling through Obama-Biden memes. For me, at least, because they represent an unmistakable optimism. There is something hopeful about knowing this emblematic partnership is soon to be replaced by something far less savory and still finding joy in that.
It must be made clear this sanguinity is not to be mistaken with any sense of apathy or naivety. Satire needs not distract from a pursuit of social justice, nor vice-versa. In fact, the two can work in harmony. Humor can promote self-care through laughter whilst firing you up with hard truths needed to inspire new activist efforts.
Nowhere have humor and activism been more evident than in the interplay between Millenials’ presence on two different platforms: online and in the streets. Popular culture has been present in Pussy Hats and Guy Fawkes’ masks and splashed over banners from D.C. to London. And protest culture is reflected back onto the trend-setters of popular culture who seek to promote resistance from the ‘Gram to the Grammy’s.
Nonetheless, I must caution myself in categorizing a whole generation of people under the banners of its most privileged members. Popular culture’s response and the millions who turned out for the Woman’s Marches were inspiring but insufficient. They represented mainstream protest, for the most part, not that of oppressed peoples. For every ten signs trumpeting women’s rights, there might have been one for Black Lives Matter or Muslim communities, and the people who carried those signs reflected that.
Furthermore, participating in a movement without fully understanding its purpose is not enough, and satire has its limits too. Supporting a campaign on social media and forging creative, humorous signs without sustaining and improving on those efforts is meaningless. Since the election, too often those who claim to stand in unity with oppressed people have failed to keep their promises and show up for the hard work of organizing or when these communities are in danger.
We should aspire to be the generation who represent “the people,” an empowered spectrum of enlightened individuals who come together to form a united front.
Yes, wear your pussy hats and spread your satire, but do not mistake armchair activism for anything more than it is. If you want to get things done, you need to show up.
Sam Jaffe is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.