Tactics That Tickle: Laughing All the Way to the Win

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Tactics That Tickle: Laughing All the Way to the Win

Thank you for joining the New Tactics online community for this dialogue on Tactics That Tickle: Laughing All the Way to the Win (hosted from March 24 to 30, 2010).  Yes, we are working to change serious problems, but that doesn’t mean this work should not use humor as a tool to accomplish our objective!  Humor is a powerful nonviolent tactic that has the ability to prevent and counter activist burnout, engage more supporters, and increase the chance of getting media attention.  It can give you an opportunity to put your opponent in a dilemma – no matter what he does, he has lost.  In this dialogue, practitioners shared advice and resources on using humor, and many examples to inspire you. 

Because, after all, isn't laughing the best way to show teeth that bite?” – Philippe Duhame

Our featured resource practitioners that led this dialogue include:

  • Srdja Popovic - a leader of the Otpor! movement in Serbia
  • Annie Sloman - Community Cultural Development and International Development Practioner based in Timor Leste & Indonesia
  • James Fehon - volunteer, activist and committee member with Amnesty Int'l in Australia
  • Marco Ceglie - messaging, viral strategy, meme activist and consultant with Billionaires for Wealthcare and Agit-Pop Communications
  • Bruce Hartford of the Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  • L.M. Bogad - Associate Professor, University of California at Davis and author, performer, and activist
  • Kathleen Cameroon of the Art Action Union in Australia
  • Oliver MacColl - GetUp! Manager Offline Campaigns, Australia
  • Juan Ravell and others of El Chigüire Bipolar, Venezuela

Summary

In this dialogue, participants discussed the non-violent tactic of implementing humor to successfully convey a group’s message. Humor can be used as a powerful tool to captivate a wide range of audiences, attract media attention, support, generate dialogue, as well as provoke thought.  Participants discussed the various methods which human rights and social justice advocates have used and can put into practice.

The Power of Humor for Nonviolent Resistance

  • Why is humor such a powerful form of nonviolent resistance?

Humor has many functions for accomplishing the various goals and objectives held by groups and advocates.  Contrary to traditional methods, using humor to portray a message can create a platform of mutual understanding.  From this area of common ground, dialogue can be explored between the conflicting parties in a manner which they can examine themselves and understand the other.

The effect of the audacity of humor on the audience also has an immense effect.  By combining the elements of audacity with humor, feelings of rage and anger are decreased.  With the reduction of these, the chances of provoking thought and contemplation are increased.  

Humor is also memorable.  Surprising and innovating approaches to portraying important messages tend to stand out to the audience and have a longer lasting impact.  

The reaction generated by humor can help gain a greater amount of media attention.  This interest can then bring more awareness to the issue from a wider audience.

Humor can also be used as a fear breaker by lessening the tension surrounding the issue.  

  • How does the use of humor overcome fear and apathy?

Humor is often times faced with overcoming fear and a lack of interest. By utilizing humor, both of these issues can be overcome.  Humor can put people at ease by reducing the tension surrounding the issue and the idea of confrontation.  Often times, difficult topics are being discussed, humor can lessen the pain of discussing them and can create a sense of well-being.  By simply maintaining a positive attitude, you can dictate the responses from the various audiences you encounter.

In addition to helping overcome fear, humor can be used to motivate and engage those who lacked interest.  Humor is a tactic which entertains, surprises, and engages the otherwise uninterested audience into the issue.  By making activism fun, the apathetic can find motivation in a meaningful way.  

  • How does humor attract new supporters?

Often times, humor can introduce a heavy topic in a funny and catchy manner.  This approach can entice the otherwise apathetic audience to action by grabbing his attention.  Humor can break down barriers and stereotypes and creates an atmosphere which is available to more than one type of personality.  

  • How does humor attract media attention?

By portraying a message in an unusual or humorous way, the media will be drawn to cover the event and will bring awareness to the message.  In protests such as the “Billionaires for Bush,” or groups such as “The Raging Grannies,” and “Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army,” the audacity and humor of the acts attract media coverage and brings information to the masses. 

Audience, Targets, Vehicles, and Types of Humor

  • What are the types of audiences of humorous tactics?

When creating a humorous campaign, the audience which will be receiving your message is an important component to consider.  Audience members can range from those directly involved in the movement to observers. Not only is the audience limited to the targeted listeners and media consumers, but can reach as far as “hear abouts” who receive the message through word of mouth.  By using humor, you can appeal to a wider audience which will reach this vast array of listeners. Humor can also be used to attract potential allies who will further advance the campaign, and possibly attract an international audience.

  • What are appropriate targets?

In order to have an effective campaign, an appropriate audience must be targeted.  Although humor can appeal to a wide audience, you must take into consideration the diverse personalities, ethics, morals and cultural values. To adapt, the humor may need to be adjusted to the fit the different audience members.

Each campaign can range in variety concerning its target audience.  Some may choose to target the “villain” of the issue, whereas others may use humor to attract potential supporters. Others may choose to target businesses, institutions, and individuals in hopes of “opening their eyes” and gaining support.

  • What are effective vehicles (or modes) of humor (comics, video, websites, theatre, costumes, puppets, masks, symbols, etc)?

Finding an appropriate way to deliver your message through the wide array of options available to the public can be troubling.  Through recent technological advances in social media networks such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter, connecting with the masses can become easier.  With the popularity of social networking websites, conveying an issue and receiving support can occur quickly.  Participants in the discussion noted that although sites such as these can have certain advantages, it may lead to laziness or apathy.  Instead of empowering the website users, the may instead find satisfaction in simply clicking a few links.

Dialogue participants also noted the use of costumes and theatre to successfully convey a message to the public. This can be found in groups such as “The Raging Grannies” who use their seniority as a mode of humor in their campaigns.  Other groups such as the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army create an atmosphere of humor, and joy to act as a buffer between the police and protesters by interacting with them in playful ways. Cartoons can also be used as a form of theatre.

Symbols and songs are effective ways to get the message to “stick” to the audience.  By using a popular or well known song or symbol, the message is better received and understood by the targets audience. These are catchy ways of conveying a message which will be remembered.

Case Studies
Participants in the dialogue shared their experiences with using humor in their campaigns.  Many found that acts of audacity proved to be the most effective in gaining attention and support.  By breaking the typical social taboos and customs in a nonviolent manner, attention is brought to the issue by shocking the target audience.  These campaigns prove to be successful by raising awareness as well as gaining widespread media attention. It was noted however that it is important to realize when harm is and is not being done.  Although physical harm may not occur, material as well as other various forms of harm may occur.  These forms have the potential to essentially “ruin” the joke.  In addition to this, audacity in and of itself is not enough to create a humorous campaign.  Although it may be shocking, it may not necessarily be humorous to all audiences.

Other dialogue participants suggested the use of videos to bring humor in a visual manner to grab the target’s attention.  The Venezuelan group El Chigüire Bipolar used humor in a video which President Hugo Chávez threatens the “Twitter birdie.”  In response to this harmless humor, thousands of people created “remixes” the President’s response video, furthering the humorous campaign.  Videos can also display a visual message which can reach across to endear even those who disagree.  

Using songs and popular symbols is also a popular way to make a message stick to the target audience.  In many cases, lyrics and songs were transformed to fit the campaign.  Soon, audience members were singing the songs!  Using common symbols in a way to address issues can be an effective approach.  This was found in campaigns such as the one led by the Center for Constitutional Rights advocates.  Before Christmas, advocates delivered former President George W. Bush 37,000 copies of the U.S. Constitution via a sleigh while dressed up like Santa Clause.  Symbolic statements such as this, can deliver the appropriate humor to address a serious issue.

It is important to keep attitude and appearance in mind while carrying out a humorous campaign.  This in itself can create a buffer with the police or security, as well as space to welcome those who may not agree with your campaign.  

Common Challenges and Risks
A common issue faced while creating a humorous campaign is using humor as a tool and trying to identify when you are stepping over the line.  It is important to keep the audience laughing with you during your campaign.  While running a campaign, one must be sure that they do not overstep the boundaries to the point that no one is laughing. Using humor can be tricky.  By staying in a “comfort zone,” not audacity or humor will arise, this compromises humor as a tool which can explore tricky areas and issues to be discussed. It is best to attempt to predict your audience’s reaction and incorporate it into your campaign in order to convey a successful humorous campaign.

Another issue to combat in using fear is not being taken seriously.  Humor comes with an element of fun and goofiness.  The important message should not be lost through the uncanny approach of conveying it. By combining humor with an element of seriousness, the message can be best understood by the target audiences.

Resources and Tools

[Image: This is an image from a cartoon made by Lukashenko.]

The power of humor for nonviolent resistance
  • Why is humor such a powerful form of nonviolent resistance?
  • How does the use of humor overcome fear and apathy?
  • How does humor attract new supporters?
  • How does humor attract media attention?
  • Can humor be used as a coping mechanism?
The use of humor in Nonviolent struggle

Otpor imageThe purpose of humor is threefold:

  1. It can be used for maintaining morale of your members and supporters,
  2. It is sucessfull fear-breaker (laughing organizacally helps to overcome the effects of fear, se CANVAS Core Curricullum, chapter on Fear), and
  3. It also helps in getting media attention and sympathies from wider audience (domestic and international).

How does humor attract media attention?

It is told that “One picture worths a thousand words”. Humorous actions like “dime for change”, Telescope for Falling President”, Cake for mr. Presidents Brthday (see OTPOR Campaigns, Meaning and Concepts) were widely covered by domestic and international media. Playing effective and funny “street theatre” type of action which guarantees the media representatives GOOD VISUAL COVERAGE will give you movement effective media impact even if activity is performed with limited human and material resources (OTPOR activities in 1998, 1999. And early 2000 were performed with only few dozens of people and around 100 usd cost each and have achieved tons of published photogrphies and multimedia overage in domestic and international press.

Humour as a unifying force

Thanks Srdja,

Humour can also allow for  an area of common ground to be explored or input for dialogue between conflicting parties. 

I remember a forestry demonstration where forestry activists and loggers where  in attendence and the situation was tense.  Some Forestry activists and one symathetic logger had developed a humorous play about the campaign. The play included people in animal suits, fat beaurocrats in suits (the old technique of a suit with a hula hoop in the middle) and people dressed up as loggers and it explored the issue from both sides.  The play was able through humour to show commonalities between the activists and loggers.  THis included them all feelng hard done by the  beaurcrats and the need to survive, for the loggers this being making a living for their family through forestry and the activists needing a connection to the forest. Through humour issues were able to be explored in an accessable non-confronting way, that would never have been able to discussed in a normal conversation.  Though it did not resolve the issues at hand, It provided an entry point for dialogue to occur and tensions to decrease, helping both sides to understand each other better.  Laughing together can become a point of commonality, a shared experience.

Poster

Would you find this funny if you saw it on a billboard on your high street or just pass it off as propaganda or fancy graffiti.

Maybe be you could even be offended by the humorous content it entails!! 

Provactive, disturbing and real

The poster is full of all kinds of images. It took me a while to put together the message, "The army needs women 4 sex".

It immediately made me think of the "comfort women" of the Japanese Royal Army during World War II. It was a forced recruitment of Japanese, Filipino, Korean and other nationalities of women to "service" the Japanese Army. But this was certainly not the first incident and the brothels in communities surrounding any military installation anywhere in the world is a testament to this on-going "recruitment". I found the vagueness of "The Army" quite powerful in this regard.

I recently read an on-article about The Militarization of Sex where the practice of Mutaa is being used to provide religiously sanctioned sex to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.

Effectiveness of anonymity

girl with a guerilla customThank you for posting this image, Andrew, it's definitely intriguing!

I tried to follow the web address at the bottom of the poster, but it appears it is not active. The image, along with the text, is very powerful-- and perhaps more so because we don't know who created the image and what their intent was. It forces us to create a dialogue (if not with others, at least within ourselves) about what the image means to us. The air of mystery that the image creates automatically forces us to evaluate and question the subject that is mentioned (in this case, women, the military, and sex). I think this is an incredibly effective tactic.

I have seen this elsewhere in the work of the organization Guerrilla Girls. They are an organization made up of anonymous women artists who appear in public only while wearing gorilla masks. They have produced posters, stickers, books, printed projects, and even (rare) public actions that expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film, and the culture at large. Here is an excerpt from their website explaining their use of anonymity: "We wear gorilla masks to focus on the issues rather than our personalities. Dubbing ourselves the conscience of culture, we declare ourselves feminist counterparts to the mostly male tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Batman, and the Lone Ranger." They have said that "ridicule and humiliation, backed up by irrefutable information, can disarm the powers that be, put them on the spot, and force them to examine themselves." They have created some absolutely brilliant, hilarious work, all anonymously. The identities of those in the organization is not known (they refer to themselves by the names of dead women artists), and it is a good example of how anonymity, along with biting humor, has been used as a non-violent tactic.

I would like to know what you all think of using anonymous humor as a means to draw more attention to your work. For those of you that have used this technique, did you notice a difference is community response?

re: Effectiveness of anonymity

I think that anonymous humor can be effective because it creates an uncertainty that demands viewers interact and engage with the material at hand. I think satire like "Billionaires For Bush" serves the same purpose, as many spectators spent long minutes trying to figure out if we were for or against him.  (Some union volunteers even threatened us with physical harm until they were filled in on the rouse.)  Even cops have become confused, such as when they initially thought we showed up to SUPPORT Karl Rove against an angry protesters in 2004: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM-0NIGbiBQ

Though we weren't anonymous per say, it was the uncertainty of our true identity (and motives) that created the space in which we were able to make our strongest point as well as connection with a wider audience.

Theatre Masks and Anonymity

Agreed.  Masks in performance can be literal works of art that cover your face and express something about your character, or you can be wearing a more metaphorical mask by just staying in character as an absurd or ironic figure.  Either way they create a semi-anonymous figure.  However, of course, if using a literal mask, there's the problem that there may be an anti-mask law in your city or country...  One example is in NYC, where Reclaim the Street members joined with UNITE-HERE union members and the Community Labor Alliance to create some May Day street theatre in NYC on May 1st, 2001. 

We created MAY DAY WRESTLING MADNESS.  It was great fun and we performed it in Union Square and on the street outside sweatshops that were paying immigrant workers below the minimum wage, and outside the IMF building.  The wrestlers were Superbarrio, the Hero of the Neighborhood, versus villains such as La Migra, Nikeman, and ruthless credit-card-wielding shoppers. 

Unfortunately one of our best villains, El Diablo Del Dinero, the Money Devil, was arrested for wearing a mask.  The Mask Law in NYC goes back to 1845, when it was passed to help crush a peasant rebellion in upstate New York when landless peasants put on masks and prevented rent collection and the auction of their destitute friends' belongings. 

Doesn't have much to do with festive street theatre does it?  But nevertheless used as an excuse.  I have an article about this, I'll try to post it in the resources part of the dialogue.

just adding...

that I wrote a comment below that also incorporates this topic... if ya want to see it :-)

B4B and Karl Rove

The Fake RoveThank you for sharing your experience, Marco!

Your post, along with the video, raises some interesting points. There was a definite sense of confusion-- from police, other protestors, and even Karl Rove himself! I was astonished to see Rove hugging B4B protestors and taking pictures with them because he thought they had come out to support him. As a result, he ended up looking like a complete fool, grinning next to protesters that were holding signs that said "Blood for Oil" and "Leave No Billionaire Behind!" The confusion B4B caused even allowed them to protest closer to where Rove would be arriving, albeit temporarily.

This tactic used by Billionaires for Bush is a wonderful demonstration of how humorous displays can confuse the police and target such that your point is made even clearer! Humor helped them appeal to a wider audience, kept the police in (relatively) good spirits, and best of all, made the target look like a complete idiot. I'd say that's a job well done!

re: B4B and Karl Rove

Ali, 

I see that our rouse is still working! That wasn't the real Karl Rove but an impersonated (Tim Torn, Rip Torn's brother) we tapped to arrive just ahead of Dr. Evil himself.  Only a small handful of people on hand knew of the plan, so all the emotions and anger from the protesters was very real and raw.  This helped create and establish a scene with real tension and conflict, which soon turned to surreal when "Rove" turned to our band of merry Billionaires and stepping in for the embrace. 

Our rouse was effective because it played upon and reversed everyone's assumed expectations of the event.  The police were also confused when we arrived with signs reading "Rove is Innocent!" and were ordered to keep us separated from the protestors across the street.  Even Rove's true supporters, who were waiting in line for the event, were perplexed, as our Billionaires were protected by police right next to them, on the same side of the street.  We didn't help matters when we started chanting "Write big checks! Write big checks!" at them.

 

Efficacy through Well Thought out Surreal Performance

I remember this one, it was brilliant and I would add garnered large media coverage, especially a very helpful article in the New York Times.  I think it was the several-stages of outrageousness that garnered the good coverage...a) B4B shows up and the police (and pro-Bush people) at first think they are REAL billionaires who love Bush... b) that gets cleared up, and B4B is forced to join the "anti" crowd, but then "Karl Rove" himself shows up and endorses them!   Minds blown!  Laughter ensues...

Effectiveness of anonymity

1. From my artistic & professional standpoint anonymous humour doesn't exist, it being simply a commercial way of gaining more attention to the subject - or self, irrespective if the self is anonymous or not...It doesn't matter either way............... .

2. Humour can be found in anything that we encounter - even death, and the humour we encounter in ourselves is only a physical response to something we are unsure about and becomes a release response or self gratification...

3. Anonymity is ambiguous which makes its effectiveness a less responsive and poor productive outlet.........

Analysis:- Effectiveness of anonymity is only counter-productive when a controlled situational plan; or eventual conclusion is pre-rehearsed, this enabling any error or conflict to be justified.

Art work: Andrew Nawroski...

 

Humour turns the world upside down

Hi,

I very much agree with Srdja that humour has the potential he desribes.

But I suggest to add another dimension to it, which is that because humour works in a different mode from our normal serious/rational way of interacting with others, humour also turn the work upside down and bring new elements into the relationship between oppressors and activists. To me this is linked to humours ability to reduce fear as Srdja also mention. I think it works this way:

Turning oppression upside down uses mocking and ridicule to escalate the conflict when the nonviolent movement takes the initiative and becomes confrontational. Simultaneously two other things can happen: When the oppression is hold up to ridicule, and people laugh at their oppressor, it potentially reduces their fear of the consequences of the escalated conflict. Strategic and creative use of mocking and ridicule also makes it difficult for the oppressive forces to respond in an adequate way that they can easily justify.

Gene Sharp’s notion of “political jiu-jitsu” is a well established way of describing how nonviolence makes it hard to justify a violent response, but I think that when the nonviolent resisters use humour, they can take the dynamic one step further. Not only is it hard for the oppressor to justify a violent response, he/she is stuck with an unsolvable dilemma that the resisters can actively and deliberately create. Almost no matter how he/she chooses to react, everything he/she does can be further used against him or her when the resisters continue involving him in their game. The result is that he looks even more ridiculous.

What is so special about humour is that it is connected to a perception of innocence, and contrasts so sharply with the serious issue of oppression. Almost all kinds of humour build on duality, incongruity and ambivalence. There HAS to be some kind of contrast in order for us to perceive something as funny. The the outside position of the “clown” can be used to expose what is considered the serious “inside”. The contrast is especially useful in humour used against oppression, because oppression is something very serious. Oppression should be fought, it should not be laughed at, and it is by definition not funny! I think, that just the idea and attempt of using humour in such a situation changes what is going on, no matter if the humour succeeds in making people laugh or not. The reformulation in a humorous mode shows in itself that something has changed, and creates the expectation of further changes.

Audacity, Humor, and Nonviolent Resistance

According to Gandhi: "The role of a civil protester is to provoke a response, and to keep protesting until there is a response." Obviously, 100,000 people marching to the sea to make salt is going to provoke a response, so too will a million nonviolent protesters occupying the public square. But what if you don't have a million, or a hundred-thousand, or even one thousand? Some power-elites are sophisticated enough to ignore small protests. When actions produce no response they appear futile (though, in fact, they may not be). Protesters feel impotent and become discouraged. It becomes harder to build a movement that can affect social change.

When protesters are ignored, they may react with rage. That might be an effective tactic in a family or social situation where expressed anger commands attention and disrupts a valued harmony. But against entrenched power defending its privileged interests, shouting fury is simply a louder form of futility. It may feel good for a moment, and it may energize that fraction of the population who are thrilled by acting out anger in public. But power-elites are impervious to militant slogans, and if rage erupts into violence, the police are ready, willing, able, and eager to quickly suppress it long before it poses any inconvenince to distant rulers safe and secure in their bastions of wealth and privilege.

Instead of using rage and violence to provoke a response from adversaries who ignore small rallies, pickets, and protests, creative nonviolent resistors use audacity to generate a, "They did what!?" response. In this context, "audacity" means breaking the paradigm of business-as-usual social behavior. Audacity is doing the unexpected. Audacity is violating cultural taboos in ways calculated to provoke a reaction without alienating potential supporters.

By combining audacity with humor, the chances of provoking only reflexive anger and outrage are reduced, and the chances of provoking thought are increased. Burning a flag or desecrating a beloved symbol with exrement may be audacious, but there is no humor involved and the response will be anger and opposition not thought or sympathy. Finding some audacious, but humorous, way to use that flag or symbol to provoke laughter or surprise is far more effective.

I've been a political activist for many decades and I've been on marches and picket lines uncounted, almost all of which have blurred and disappeared into the musty attic of what's left of my memory. But I still recall in detail those actions where we creatively combined humor and audacity. And what's true of my feeble memory is true for history as well. To this day, most every child and adult in America can tell you the basic story of the Boston Tea Party — an audacious nonviolent protest back in 1773. Yet the same grade-school teacher and textbook that taught us the Tea Party also taught us the Battle of Saratoga — a crucial (but conventional) military turning point in the American Revolutionary War against the British — yet once the classroom test was over, no one but history buffs and professors recall Saratoga at all.

Response to BRUCE re: Audacity and Humour and NONVIOLENCE

"Instead of using rage and violence to provoke a response from adversaries who ignore small rallies, pickets, and protests, creative nonviolent resistors use audacity to generate a, "They did what!?" response. In this context, "audacity" means breaking the paradigm of business-as-usual social behavior. Audacity is doing the unexpected. Audacity is violating cultural taboos in ways calculated to provoke a reaction without alienating potential supporters.

By combining audacity with humor, the chances of provoking only reflexive anger and outrage are reduced, and the chances of provoking thought are increased. Burning a flag or desecrating a beloved symbol with exrement may be audacious, but there is no humor involved and the response will be anger and opposition not thought or sympathy. Finding some audacious, but humorous, way to use that flag or symbol to provoke laughter or surprise is far more effective."

Totally agree with this... activists need to maintain a higher moral ground ALWAYS and when angry activists get abusive and violent it defeats the purpose of the action for they become no better - for we seek not to discriminate, but it is easy to fall in to hating the haters... but all that does is place you into a pile of poo!

Shock Versus Surprise in Creative Actions

Absolutley, Bruce.  I think it's useful to differentiate between SHOCK and SURPRISE in brainstorming creative actions.  I think shock is largely a dead end.  In our world now, for many reasons, nothing's shocking and attempts to shock can be ignored or earn a bored eye-roll. 

However, with some humor and originality, it's not easy, but it's still possible to *surprise* in a good way.  Achieving tactical surprise through innovation can catch authorities off-guard, but just as importantly it can surprise passersby, the population, people who walk upon your playful radicality in public space (or on the TV screen).  You can "earn a moment" to make your political point if first you've surprised people with a funny and genuinely thoughtful action, good imagery, costumes, creative re-use of familiar symbols, etc.  You can open people up to new ideas or ways of looking at power relationships if you make them smile or laugh--there's an opening of the mind along with the opening of the face or the lungs (smile, laughter).

Agree With Lawrence

Yes, I quite agree. The difference between SHOCK and SURPRISE is crucial. You're absolutely right, shock for shock's sake is generally ineffective at best and counter-productive at worst. Surprise on the other hand (or what I refer to as "audacity"), if done correctly, generates thought, people seeing an issue from a new perspective, word-of-mouth, and possible media coverage.

Surprise in Creative Actions

I thought this was great aspect of tactical innovation to highlight:

L. M. Bogad wrote:

Achieving tactical surprise through innovation can catch authorities off-guard, but just as importantly it can surprise passersby, the population, people who walk upon your playful radicality in public space (or on the TV screen).  You can "earn a moment" to make your political point if first you've surprised people with a funny and genuinely thoughtful action, good imagery, costumes, creative re-use of familiar symbols, etc.  You can open people up to new ideas or ways of looking at power relationships if you make them smile or laugh--there's an opening of the mind along with the opening of the face or the lungs (smile, laughter).

KWWAU "ice cube" actionThis also takes flexibility and creativity to utilize moments, including environmental conditions. Here is a great example from the Korean Women Workers Associations United (KWWAU) tactical notebook on Engaging the Media: Building support for minimum wage reform. They conducted a number of "surprise" actions advocating for wage reform for contract workers. In the picture, KWWAU too advantage of unseasonably hot weather to place the wages received by this sub-contracted cleaning woman into a huge "ice cube" that in the heat was melting rapidly, just like her wages and buying power were being swept away with the rise of inflation. 

It was very effective for the passers-by to see and understand both the humor of seeing her try to hang on to her wages (and getting very wet) and the urgency with which reforms were needed to help her and the many other women facing this problem.

It provided a great "picture" for the media which carried it extensively.

Humor in this situation really did open people up to new ideas and ways of looking at the power relationship of the minimum wage system and the board that made decisions. In fact, this action, and another very popular action, "Lunch with Yong-Hee".

Lunch with Yong-Hee pictureKWWU calculated the costs of one meal, from Yong-Hee’s account book. She could afford a meal costing 944 KRW (0.92 USD). A meal sold at an inexpensive restaurant in South Korea costs about 3,500 – 4,000. The cheapest hamburger runs about 2,500KRW. A Big Mac costs 3,500. Yong-Hee’s average meal was less than 1/3 of a McDonald’s hamburger. With this background, they staged a funny performance in front of the Korean Assembly.

KWWU prepared Yong-Hee’s 944 KRW meal and shared it with the 60 participants at the performance. Participants included reporters from the media. They named this event “Lunch with Yong-Hee” and brought both humor and a big dose of reality to the situation.

Noodle Day

Hi Nancy and all,

this example reminds me of the action that took place last week in Australia in which student activists feasted on-masse on 'Two Minute noodles'  to highlight students living in poverty, lack of student support etc. http://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/blogs/top_stories/archive/2010/03/23/two...

 

Noodle Day and other such "feasts"

Anthony - thank you so much for sharing this great idea with us. Did the students reach their world record goal?

I also know about a woman here in Minnesota who started a "Rice Dinner Project" where once a month a person or family will eat ONLY rice and donate the money that would have been spent on the meal to an organization doing work to reduce hunger, locally and globally. It's a great way to raise awareness, build better understanding and commitment for the need for change. This "rice dinner" idea has taken root in many church congregations - but this kind of idea has also been used to help a wide variety of organizations.

Hating the haters

A wise man once told me that hate takes way too much energy, and usually just makes you feel tired and defeated. I canvassed for Amnesty International last summer, and my director was giving me some pointers. He told me that usually when you're canvassing for something, it's helpful to point out the antagonist of the situation. However, the antagonist in what Amnesty was doing at the time (Guantanamo Bay, Darfur, violence against women, and the death penalty) was the apathy of the public. So when people told me that they really didn't care, it was hard to hear, because canvassing etiquette requires you to be polite to everyone, so I couldn't say that they were the problem. At first I found myself hating them for being so uncaring. Later, I learned to pity them instead, and that was when I could laugh at the situation.

hating the haters

I find these two phrases unendingly useful in dark hours:

"no expectations no dissappointments"

"if you don't laugh you may as well cry"

The Power of Humour for Nonviolent Resistance - Initial ideas
  • Why is humor such a powerful form of nonviolent resistance?

Humour is a powerful communication device and can be used for great achievements.  However if can also be used to be very damaging.  When discussing non-violent resistance in contrast to humourous communications one must first assess the target audience you are looking to make intellectual breakthroughs with. Humour is subjective and subject to personality, nationality and personal ethics/morals.  Humour needs to be tailored to these audiences and specifically targeted and mutated to suit, otherwise strong devices of humour (such as satire and parody) may induce the opposite effect.A recent example of this is the Mahammed cartoon controversies where "freedom of speech" in one culture creates great offense in another.  No matter which argument you believe in, the idea of nonviolent resistance in this instance should be studied and analysed to discover whether actually invoking violent thinking in a particular community is an effective or worthwhile communication.For they say the pen is mightier than the sword, and no-one wants to restrict freedom of thought, however, as a society we need to confront this concept from the ethics that are considered peaceful.  After all, the opponents of human rights use the same tactics to spread their messages of segregation etc.

How does the use of humor overcome fear and apathy?

How does the use of humor overcome fear and apathy?

  • Making people laugh is a great way to put people at ease.  It assures the receiver of humour that they are cared for emotionally and that someone wishes for them to glipse happiness. 
  • Humour and laughter has been documented by numerous individuals as a powerful tool for healing and emotional stress relief.
  • When discussing fear and apathy though, I feel that the topics should be separated.  For the communication techniques required to tap the emotions of each state of being are vastly different I would imagine.
  • When dealing with fear humour should be used to ease the pain of difficult topics, create well-being and be presented in a re-assuring way perhaps. 
  • Apathy however is a different beast.  You may even need to target things several times to appeal to the apathetic person about a topic...  you may need to use other devices than humour and this also is a double edge sword.
  • For example, this is a link to an internet forum from last year.  In Australia a television program broadcast something that they thought was funny in an "Australian" way (whatever that means for I know it's different for everyone).  The skit was a parody of Michael Jackson and used the comedic device of "Black Face Theatre" ...  Although this is considered very wrong from a civil rights perspective and it brought out all sorts of negativity and hate - there was a lesser opportunity to bring forth education on some that had never thought that hard about it before and didn't understand the history of such a controversial theatrical device.
  • Hey Hey It's Racism - A forum in response to an Australian Television broadcast (Harry Connick Jnr was a judge on the talent program and put his ideas out there pretty strongly in dissappointment)
  • Art Action Union Article in Response
I've always found that when

I've always found that when I'm feeling low, it helps me to look at the situation in a humorous light. Media that satires a bad situation that one is in, can make one feel like they are not alone, and give them a new perspective.

How does humor attract new supporters?

How does humor attract new supporters?

  • What better way to introduce a heavy topic than with something catchy and fun... in advertising humour is used to great power to brainwash you into trying the "new product that you didn't know about until this funny commercial with catchy jinge and slogan"...
  • Not only that, you can have serious people involved that don't really have a sense of humour but will work for the seriousness of it ... but harder to engage the fun-loving who are in a constant pursuit of one momentary happiness after another.
  • Making activism fun is important to appeal to a broad range and especially the apathetic.  But also to keep them involved in a meaningful way.
  • To break down barriers of myth or stigma also, or simply to create an atmosphere that is accessible to more than one personality type.
Win the Battle of the Story vs the Story of the Battle

Today’s limited mainstream media space is dominated by massive multinational corporations, which seek not to increase public awareness but to pad their bottom line. In this role they find more value in framing events as conflict (heroes and villains) and action (violence, clashes with police, etc).  Context and content are easily lost in this framework, and the activists struggling to be heard are often painted with such broad brushstrokes that their message becomes their means.  In turn, viewers at home can be easily turned off when such violence and methods fall outside of their own values, personal narratives and experience.

Humor works within this paradigm.  Done well, the unique nature of a humorous campaign or event draws in reporters and their cameras while disseminating an argument quickly and in a way likely to spread virally via physical and cyber social networks.  This empowers humor to help win “the battle of the story” verses “the story of the battle”.

Humor also has the power to create, drive and reinforce an argument and narrative within the media and ultimately the public dialogue when the action itself frames the debate.  Our 2004 campaign “Billionaires For Bush” captured this well in that the title itself was a joke, a frame, and an argument: that G W Bush’s most powerful constituents were a few hundred billionaires who profited at the expense of everyone else.  Companion slogans such as “Because we’re all in this together, sort of” and “Corporations are People, Too” were sticky in a way that echoed our argument because while being funny, they also rang true. 

Foolery and the Battle of the Story: "The Clown Claimed..."

Absolutely, Marco, and I had a blast working with you on Billionaires for Bush and Billionaires for Wealthcare actions for these very reasons. 

I would add that sometimes it helps the Battle of the Story to deliberately interrupt the Story of the Battle.

When we get in senseless clashes with authorities/police with no conceptual strategy, the corporate media can pounce on and overplay, over and over again, the one window being broken.  While some say that window-breaking is great because it garners a lot of media coverage, I think the QUALITY, FOCUS and CONTENT of the media coverage matter at least as much as the quantity.

Image of a CIRCA camapignWith the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA: www.clownarmy.org), we deliberately created swarms of joyous and friendly buffoons, wise fools, etc, who interacted with the police in playful ways.  We provided a sort of clownish perimeter that at times has protected the rest of the march (they have to club clowns in order to reach everone else, and that just looks bad).  Also because we were unpredictable and the police were literally restricted to their marching orders, we could improvise around their actions to call mocking attention to the overpolicing of peaceful protest.  In many ways we defused the Story of the Battle so that the Battle of the Story could be waged, resulting in substantial quotes about African debt relief or climate chaos that would start with "The clown claimed..."

We'd create IRRESISTIBLE IMAGES (a clown kissing a riot shield) that even the Tory press would reprint because they were too compelling not to, even though those visual images undermined their depiction of the protesters as violent.  We were jamming what I call the HEGEMONOLGUE that demonizes social movements and presents the victory of corporate globalization or authoritarian domination as inevitable, natural, etc. 

So, anyway, my point is that by jamming up the battle of the story by making it ridiculous (the police surround the clowns.  the police search the clowns.  the police find bouncy balls and bubble blowers.  the press reports on these silly findings), we open up a little space for the BATTLE OF THE STORY to be waged.

I want to note respectfully that there have been those who resented the clowns because they wanted to get in scuffles with the police...and we were in the way...fair enough...but anyway this is why we did what we did, and I just wanted to throw it out there.

Two Examples of Positive Actions

Larry - I continue to be a big fan of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. (My favorite chant of all time is "Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Hee hee hee hee hee)

And yes, it is and was a great pleasure to work with you on Billionaires for Bush & Wealthcare. 

I joined B4B because I know all too well that, as you point out, the Quality, Focus and Content of media coverage matter at least as much as the quantity.  Whether I'm coordinating a large scale action such as our most recent "M9 Stop Big Insurance" action, or smaller, more targeted hits such as our guerrilla musical "Public Option Annie" my goal is to same: to create sympathetic characters that an audience who may or may not agree with the message will sympathize with and relate to. 

These two actions both targeted the same villain (AHIP: the lobby group for America's big health insurance companies) and shared a similar goal (health insurance reform) though go about it in drastically different ways.  The latter, which took place last October, was intended to rally support and momentum for the Public Option.  Though the effort ultimately failed in Congress, our action was credited with helping to breath new life and debate into the merits of the Public Option.  Our event remained in the news cycle for an entire week, culminating six days later when the Daily Show used it to swat down GOP talking points that the Democrats were handcuffed and beholden to their "left wing" base. 

B4B YouTube videoFor the March 9th event we took an entirely different tact.  This time we blended the traditional march with a call to action and we did so from a place of strength, confidence, and momentum.  Our goal here wasn't merely protest but empowerment and momentum.  We achieved this by empowering participants both on site and at home by deputizing them as part of a "citizen's posse".  This "posse" would rise up to hold big insurance executives and their lobbyists accountable for crimes against the American people.  We provided members of the march with "Wanted" posters and badges and even had them take an oath. The video was a central part of the effort led by the HCAN coalition to pressure members of congress and the White House that we were fired up and ready to take action in support of reform.  It also implied that doing nothing would lose the support of their most active supporters.

These events differ from other examples in this discussion in that they aren't inherently "funny" (well, Public Option Annie is pretty hilarious), but they remain relevant because they use positive energy and a positive message to engage and connect with a wider audience.  This is the key element of using humor (or positive energy) that proves so successful in engaging a wider audience and ultimately building greater support for a cause. 

These tactics also help win the Battle of the Story by creating dynamic narratives rooted in a positive values base that viewers are more likely to identify with; in the case of "Public Option Annie" it was that competition is good and all American, and in the case of "M9" it was painting AHIP as Goliath and reform as the smaller, though much more just and passionate David.

Clubbing clowns & raging grannies is bad!

Clubbing clowns definitely looks pretty bad - and clubbing grannies looks even worse!

Raging Grannies VideoThe Raging Grannies is one of my favorite activist groups using humor in their campaigns. They create events that are accessible and draws in new members with their singing and costumes.  This is what the Raging Grannies say about their Philosophy:

"Grannies are best equipped to make public, corrupt things that have been hidden (often for profit). Local toxic waste sites that no-one seems prepared to tackle, asbestos sites employing young people desperate for work, nuclear waste products being dumped outside an uninformed small town, laws that affect an entire community, passed quickly with no opportunity for study. The list goes on.

Grannies always check their facts before acting, discarding rumours, conspiracy theories and the agendas of others. They wait patiently till the whole picture is clear before hitting the street with their pointed, original and devastating songs, written by any old gran who feels inspired.

The delights of grannying include: dressing like innocent little old ladies so we can get close to our ‘target’, writing songs from old favourites that skewer modern wrongs, satirizing evil-doing in public and getting everyone singing about it, watching a wrong back down and turn tail and run, sharing a history with other women who know who they are and what they’re about. Grannying is the least understood yet most powerful weapon we have. Sometimes, looking back, we can see grannying was the only thing that could have met the need.

From the most ancient times, the strong, wise, older women were the ones who advised, mediated and fought for what was right. Belief in the Disir or Divine Grandmothers, the Mothers of Time, is ancient and runs through all societies. The Celts listened to their older spokeswomen since they believe that Kali-The-Crone had the power to create their mountain ranges. The Malay thought there were three grandmothers, the Kari-Under-The-Earth who would cause floods if not listened to respectfully. There were the Druids who believed that the souls of old wise women lived on in the trees that surrounded them. The Norse Nanna or Anna doubled as Earth Mother. And on this Turtle Island where we live (North America), the Iroquois teach that the Woman who fell down from the sky was the Mother of All. So their older women are the clan mothers who guide all decisions."

They have the luxury, I think, of being a de-centralized group since it doesn't seem like they need to worry about their members throwing rocks and using violence.  They have Raging Granny groups all over the US and Canada.  I think their success is in their ability to pull off what Marco mentions in his comment above:

Marco Ceglie wrote:

Whether I'm coordinating a large scale action such as our most recent "M9 Stop Big Insurance" action, or smaller, more targeted hits such as our guerrilla musical "Public Option Annie" my goal is to same: to create sympathetic characters that an audience who may or may not agree with the message will sympathize with and relate to

The Raging Grannies have created sympathetic characters that everyone can relate to - who hasn't had a lovely granny in their lives? 

The other part of this tactic is of course the 'PR for the Peace Movement' as one granny put it - their ability to make news and challenge their opposition (another dilemma demonstration).  In this video, one raging granny points out that the police are scared to do anything to the grannies that are demonstrating outside of a local theater.  The police know that these grannies get press, and they know how bad it would look if the police disrespected these sweet and innocent grannies! 

i just wanted to say...

this is awesome!!!

Thanks Kristin :-)

New movie about the Raging Grannies

Thanks Kristin for featuring the lovingly rambunctious Raging Grannies. I have some breaking news...

Documentary producer Magnus Isaacson, who documented two campaigns I was involved in (Operation SalAMI and the FTAA Quebec City Summit of 2001), has just premiered a new movie about the Raging Grannies. It is available in French and English. 

Raging granniesDecked out in gaudy shawls and outrageous hats brimming with a cacophony of colours, « Raging Grannies » defy the invisibility so often experienced by older women. They are a colourful presence at most demonstrations and grassroots meetings promoting peace, social justice and the environment. On the surface, they are amusing, even hilarious. But underneath that humorous veneer, they are deadly serious. The film does more than portray the movement and its members. It raises universal issues very seldom addressed by the current media, such as the role of senior citizens in our society. “With this documentary film, I wanted to accomplish myself what these exceptional women do so well: entertain while forcing us to reflection”, says the filmmaker.

(There's a clip here. Click past the error message and it'll start to play, in French.)

Our dialogue on the use of humour is so full of ideas, insights and inspiration. You know what would great -- ideas are easy, the work of committing them to reality is another story I know, but what the hell... -- if NewTactics put together a World Festival on the use of humour for human rights. There's nothing like this anywhere. If the Twin Cities don't do it, then Montréal should, perhaps tagging it on the Just For Laughs Festival...

Peace with laughter,

These movies are educational, entertaining, and inspiring

Thanks for sharing this, Philippe! I look forward to watching the Raging Grannies movie. 

yes men film cover...and speaking of movies about the strategic use of humor in nonviolent direct action, I just finished watching the first Yes Men movie last night.  My favorite part was when a Yes Man impersonated someone from the WTO and "at an accounting conference in Sydney, Australia, the WTO announced that in light of all its mistakes, it would shut itself down, refounding as an organization whose goals were not to help corporations, but rather to help the poor and the environment."

I really do see the power in this tactic - the audience members were later interviewed about how they felt about this announcement and they were all very happy and hopeful - as was I.  It's nice to be reminded about how the world could be (as has been stated so many times in this dialogue).

It's also helpful to have these videos on hand for future activists, like the Yes Men videos and the Raging Grannies videos.  These videos give you a glimpse into the power of these tactics and the creativity and passion of those carrying them out.  The videos are educational, entertaining (terribly funny), inspiring and empowering.  Keep 'em coming!

And on your other point, yes - a World Festival on the use of humour for human rights would be great - let's find and empower the right group to host such an event! This dialogue is just the beginning...

Briliant example

One of my favorite Granny actions--of many great ones--was their shutting down the military recruitment center in Times Square with the intention of "volunteering" to join the forces fighting in Iraq--the premise being, "we don't want anymore young people to die in this senseless war; take us instead!"  The recruitment center refused to let them in--so the Grannies lay down and blocked the door and they got arrested.  Of course this gives them the opportunity potentially to make their arguments in court...

I would draw a parallel to a group operating in a much more repressive context--the Madres del Plaza De Mayo of Argentina, who under the military junta there, which "dissapeared" at least 30,000 of their own people as "subversives"...the Madres, emphasizing in costume and rhetoric a "little old lady" or "concerned mother" appearance, kept up an anti-death squad protest in the central square of the capitol city for years on end.  The role they were playing, fitting into the reactionary gender politics of the regime, made it harder to repress them...

'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'

A classic example of this from Australia has now passed in activist folklore.

At a very large and confrontational (and successful) blockade of an arms exhibition in 1991, hundreds of people were sitting down blockading an entrance gate.  A line of public order police were standing in front and riot police were gearing up with shields and helmet behind the police line. Tension was building and we were getting fearful of a brutal charge at any moment. 

One small collective of activists during the protest had taken on to immitate and ridicule the police - copying their overalls and clowning and mimicing their formation moves with funny walks etc. It was funny in a clowning way (this was well before the clown army made their appearence) - undermining their authority and demeaner.  But the clinch came when one of these 'police' clowns, in a smiliar blue overall and cap - stood up at one end of the stern police line and in the tense silience starting singing "Always look on the bright side of life" from Monty Python's 'Life of Brian'  movie. It was totally spontaneous and a brilliant intervention.

We all joined in with the whistle chorus and you could see a line of smiles unintentionally break out along the line of police. The tension was broken and that simple act had changed the dynamic at that point. The sit-down blockade held all night and we had regained our power.

The incident has been highlighted in a book recently which was reviewed at http://www.peacenews.info/issues/2508/25082314.html 

 

Fantastic. I would add that

Fantastic.

I would add that clowns can also do inventively creatively assertive actions too--yes, they can be a buffer, can disarm the heavily-armed with ridiculousness...and they can even do "spikier" actions more effectively, if the conditions are right.  Example:  Clowns swarm into military recruiting station.  Clowns express great desire to join up.  Very exctied about flying around in great big planes (demonstrated with arms out wide, swooshing around the office, etc).  Clowns are ejected from office.  Clowns set up Clown Army recruiting station in front of office, with cardboard box and misspelled banner.  Clowns disrupt the mood of solemnity and machismo of recruting station with androgynous mass silliness.  Recruiting station shuts down for the day.

This worked both in Leeds, UK, and Oakland, CA.  I wonder if it is mass-reproducible?

"[Jokes] They are invariably

"[Jokes] They are invariably the true expression of the masses and the conscience of their leaders."- Chapter 4, Civilian Jihad

 

Audience, targets, vehicles and types of humor
  • What are the types of audiences of humorous tactics?
  • What are appropriate targets?
  • What are effective vehicles (or modes) of humor (comics, video, websites, theatre, costums, puppets, masks, symbols, etc)?
  • What are the types of humor (joke, satire, irony, ridicule, mockery, parody, ambiguity, etc)?
  • How does one choose the appropriate type of humor based on context, target, audience and vehicle?
Audience and Target Audiences for humor

What are the types of audiences of humorous tactics?

Humor affects all four existing types of wider audience (see CANVAS Core Curricullum [very large PDF], Chapter on targeted communication), it works with: 

Membership and supporters: Humor rises moral of your troops, breaks the fear, helps building group identity and gives your group/movement/brand the impression called “being “IN”  in common language. After humor was getting people together on streets for months during student protests in 1996-97 and was a Core Impression of initial OTPOR students movement formed in 1998, It has driven to us another big group of supporters – the highschool guys and girls. In 2000 Highschool branch of OTPOR counted more than 2500 kids around the country and major reason (according to the detailed research pollsetrs has perform among youngest OTPOR supporters in early 2000.) was that those young boys and girls have joined the resistance movement “Because it was it was “Funny and Thrilling”. Considering membership and supporters small scale, low risk dispersive humourous actions also affects creativity of grassroot branches and create the atmosphere of “positive competition”, so there was internal contest AMONG different local branches of OTPOR which one is going to organize “funniest and craziest” public action and gain more impact on local media.

  1. Wider audience (including your opponent supporters: Effective humorous action gain domestic media attention and rise sympathies of wider audiences. They also help getting the positive image of the movement. In the situation like Serbia (and many other cases, Zimbabwe, Iran etc) where your opponents propaganda is focused on portraying por-democratic movement as “violent” or even “terrorist” it breaks apart basis of your opponent communication by exposing your movement as cheerful, open, public and creative, which decreases the effect of those who try to portray it as violent, secretive and internationally driven.
  2. Potential allies: Humor attracts potential allies within political and social opposition in the society, it makes your group potential “gathering point” for representatives of potential allies, including civil society, political opposition and
  3. International audience: Effective humorous actions, specivically those with effective and creative visuals attract the attention of foreign media. In the same time they create the impression for international target audience reading/watching those media.  

What are appropriate targets?

Pillars of Support (from the CANVAS Core CurriculumTargets should be carefully selected, in order to “hit in the head”. If you look through OTPOR Retrospective, and OTPOR campaigns you can see powerful interaction between police (the key coercive “pillar of support of the regime” see chapters Pillars of Support and Power Graph in CANVAS Core Curricullum) and the movement. From the beginning there was a clear strategy and the police itself was NOT the main target. As OTPOR has known well that we need to affect police to shift sides,

Policemen were only a “actors” in this game. Real target of these activities were people around Milosevic, specifically his wife Mirjana Markovic. We have spoken to police many times before planned humorous actions (see OTPOR Campaigns for examples)  and understood that most of “common policeman” were not reluctant to our message, in contrast. Problem was that they were ordered to act, go into field and arrest OTPOR activists engaged in street theaters, and sometimes unintentionally caught in a trap of “dilemma action “ (please see detailed explanation in CANVAS Core Cuicullum and “Nonviolent struggle 50 crucial points” book). When they were ordered to arrest a big Petrol Barel with Milosevics picture on it, (see example called “Dime for Change” or arrest the empty boxes of our materials in front of the camera of course they have felt embaraced. By our constant message to police pillar of support was generally positive. We understood that these people would rather watch for law and order and chasing criminals that doing hide and seek with clever OTPOR students for the sake of establishment.

Spatialy after attempt of regime to proclaim OTPOR terrorist organization(april 2000.)  this communication and FRATERNIZATION with police increased as we understood that only way for OTPOR was if we persuade policemen that we are far from terrorists. (watch documentary movie “Bringing down the dictator” and you will see specific actions designed for that period) 

Otpor video on  brandingWhat are effective vehicles (or modes) of humor (comics, video, websites, theatre, costums, puppets, masks, symbols, etc) and How does one choose the appropriate type of humor based on context, target, audience and vehicle?

OTPOR was using many of those, carefully taking care of AUDIENCE we have wanted to affect, please see the video (to the right).

 

What are the types of humor (joke, satire, irony, ridicule, mockery, parody, ambiguity, etc)?

Movements and groups should use this options combined, and vary it relating to the feedback coming from the audience. Normally you call it “Provocatie vs “Straight to the head”, for example: Provocative; when OTPOR asks people with many of its messages "Serbia are you ready for...Future" or "do you have guts to resist" its considered provocative. When you take Milosevic picture in photo shop and change his hand in it the way he is showing the middle finger (rude gesture) and put the message "I'll take care of your future" its more straight in the head. (see OTPOR Campaigns, Meaning and Concept)

anthony...

for me... you know it's totally for my own vanities sake...

I need to appease MY soul DAMMIT... no illusions here :-)

Laughter is a Powerful Messenger

In the U.S., hyper-partisanship continues to drive a wedge between the political parties and its adherents.  Lost in the middle are the many tens of millions of people who identify with a mixed bag of values that on one hand may prize individual liberty but equally on the other favor strong government regulation to protect the environment and society’s most vulnerable.

Traditional forms of protest, while still vitally important for myriad of reasons I’ll not cover here, often alienates the very people activists are trying to reach.  This is especially true when activists remain rooted in tactics that may be seen as offensive (burning the flag, per say) or worn out (images of a march filled with protesters who seem more interested in reliving the bygone era of the 1960’s than fighting for any permanent or practical solution.)

People tune into the news to find out what’s happening, but they are also reading these articles as stories: who are the heroes, who are the villains, what’s at stake and how is the action unfolding?  As in any story, people will identify with characters and/or the underlying values driving the narrative.   Humorous and creative tactics, when used strategically as part of a larger whole, are very effective at reaching this wider audience because they operate outside of those traditional and expected forms of protest that viewers have grown used to seeing.

Stay Out of the Box: How Humor Circumvents Tall, Sturdy Ideological Walls

I’ve campaigned in every region of the United States and I’ve found that Americans are eager to find out “which side you’re on” so that they can fold you and your argument neatly into their predefined box of established paradigms, “write you off” and go on their merry way.   They are less interested in what you are trying to say as much as where you fit in their firm concepts of “Left” “Right” and “right” and “wrong”.  This is true whether in the thick of cosmopolitan New York City or some suburban side street on the outskirts of Phoenix. It also matters little if they agree with you and your argument or not.  Humor, satire and creative tactics are powerful messengers because they circumvent these tall ideological walls long enough to engage in a dialogue with your audience.  

Humor can help "come to people where they are"

Words can become weapons or targets, but in messaging and tactics I think it important to strike the balance between an action that is truly unique and unexpected while using language and frames that, to use to the old political cliché, "comes to people where they are" and not always where you wish them to be.  There is certainly a middle ground here, and of course in any messaging or awareness campaign I try to cast an aspiration direction for which I hope others will rally, relate to and follow, but in that effort I want to use language and methods that they identify with and value from within the paradigms of their own experience. 

I use humor and satire because to circumvent our natural, innate tendency to quickly identify "friend or foe".  The longer I can keep that mental argument going the longer I can engage my audience. 

To your larger point, yes, boxes can be dangerous but just the same many people find them liberating, in that, just like rules and boundaries, it allows the mind to establish a "fixed" set of values upon which one can more freely roam sans the anxiety that uncertainty often creates.  Marketeers certainly exploit this, as do politicians and their tacticians, but that doesn't make its pertinent reality less true or effective.  Whether I am working in retail politics or creating ads and videos meant for a viral audience, I always try to ground my message in the frames of my intended audience while, on a deeper level, root each within those progressive values.

 

The Onion Theory of Nonviolent Action

Too often, I think, activists judge the success or failure of an action entirely in terms of media coverage --- if there was no coverage, the action was a "failure," if there is little chance of coverage we shouldn't do it. But media is just one audience addressed by nonviolent direct-action, and often it is not even the most important audience. 

The goal of Nonviolent Resistance is to affect and change peoples' thinking. In a sense, the impact of direct action is like the layers of an onion, with each layer representing a different audience. When looked at this way, demonstrations address four distinctly different audience layers:

  1. Participants. The nonviolent resistors engaged in the protest.
  2. Targets & Observers. The individuals, businesses, institutions, and bystanders who personally encounter or observe the protest.
  3. Hear Abouts. Those who hear about the protest from someone else via word-of-mouth.
  4. Media Consumers. Those who learn of the protest through the media.

One of the things we know about direct-action is that intensity of effect and breadth of numbers are usually inverse to each other. A protest most intensely affects those who participate in it, secondarily those who directly encournter it, and thirdly those who hear about it by word-of-mouth. But compared to those who learn of it through the media, the number of participants, observers,  and hear-abouts is small. Conversely, the number of people who hear about a protest through the media is much larger than those who directly exprience it or hear about it from others, but the effect is limited, diluted, and distorted by the media.

People are far more influenced by what they hear from a friend about something by word-of-mouth than from any TV sound-bite or newspaper article. So an audacious or humorous action that gets people talking ("Did you hear what they did...") may be quite effective even if the media covers it not at all. Yes, media coverage will reach far MORE people than word-of-mouth, but if the word-of-mouth is positive and supportive it's effect is GREATER than a diluted and distorted third-hand or fouth-hand (actor-reporter-editor-consumer) media article. During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, for example, 80-90% of the protests were not covered by the media at all, no reporters, no TV, no nothing. But they were still hugely effective in changing the consciousness of their communities.

Which is why audacity and humor are so important. Audacity because that is what gets people talking and spreading the word from person to person, and humor because people love, and react positively, to humor. Particularly humor that is aimed at the high and the mighty.

 

 

Onion Theory - word of mouth and new social media question

I would be interested to hear if anyone has found the "audacious or humorous action that gets people talking ("Did you hear what they did...") aspect is changing rapidly with the expanding access people have to new social media. Are people passing on the "did you hear what they did" more effectively using facebook, twitter and putting up their own video footage of actions? Is this happening instead of relying on traditional media or in addition to trying to engage traditional media?

Any thoughts?

thanks Bruce

I've learned a lot from this passage :-)

Sojourner wrote:

Too often, I think, activists judge the success or failure of an action entirely in terms of media coverage --- if there was no coverage, the action was a "failure," if there is little chance of coverage we shouldn't do it. But media is just one audience addressed by nonviolent direct-action, and often it is not even the most important audience. 

The goal of Nonviolent Resistance is to affect and change peoples' thinking. In a sense, the impact of direct action is like the layers of an onion, with each layer representing a different audience. When looked at this way, demonstrations address four distinctly different audience layers:

  1. Participants. The nonviolent resistors engaged in the protest.
  2. Targets & Observers. The individuals, businesses, institutions, and bystanders who personally encounter or observe the protest.
  3. Hear Abouts. Those who hear about the protest from someone else via word-of-mouth.
  4. Media Consumers. Those who learn of the protest through the media.

One of the things we know about direct-action is that intensity of effect and breadth of numbers are usually inverse to each other. A protest most intensely affects those who participate in it, secondarily those who directly encournter it, and thirdly those who hear about it by word-of-mouth. But compared to those who learn of it through the media, the number of participants, observers,  and hear-abouts is small. Conversely, the number of people who hear about a protest through the media is much larger than those who directly exprience it or hear about it from others, but the effect is limited, diluted, and distorted by the media.

People are far more influenced by what they hear from a friend about something by word-of-mouth than from any TV sound-bite or newspaper article. So an audacious or humorous action that gets people talking ("Did you hear what they did...") may be quite effective even if the media covers it not at all. Yes, media coverage will reach far MORE people than word-of-mouth, but if the word-of-mouth is positive and supportive it's effect is GREATER than a diluted and distorted third-hand or fouth-hand (actor-reporter-editor-consumer) media article. During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, for example, 80-90% of the protests were not covered by the media at all, no reporters, no TV, no nothing. But they were still hugely effective in changing the consciousness of their communities.

Which is why audacity and humor are so important. Audacity because that is what gets people talking and spreading the word from person to person, and humor because people love, and react positively, to humor. Particularly humor that is aimed at the high and the mighty.

 

 

a minor response to the above

I had similar thinking when I wrote the following to a blog recently

"Media attention for the nonviolence actor therefore is always at least a secondary effect [if not tertiary]. Media is relevant however to the extent that it has the added advantage that it protects [nonviolent actions generally draw some level of repression – think twitter and Iran].

AND media can give extra people a space to encounter the nonviolent ACTION. [Which is always a good thing.] Some people will be part of the action [the actor, the objects and the direct witnesses], however some people will be secondary witnesses. These people are valuable but are not OUR sole or primary focus as has been frequently incorrectly presumed.

The assumptions about being focussed on the media outcomes [or "seeking media attention" as it is derogatorily put], I consider, is related to people’s own beliefs about how change occurs.

Many people who share this lens are influenced by the frameworks and techniquest of public relations theory." [not our preferred theory and with little in common with NVA]

Audience, targets, vehicles and types of humor
What are the types of audiences of humorous tactics?
  • humour can be pointed in most directions provided that one is careful not offend as best as possible otherwise a message is less effectively conveyed because there creates a division in the community and pits it against each other.  This of course is the aim and not always possible given that activism itself is a critical analysis of an issue that causes dishamony.  I think that there are shades of offense that are acceptible and quite mild but comedy can be harsh if used inappropriately and the emotional psyche of individuals should be considered when planning a comedy action.
  • an Example of this maybe a tshirt that is feminist in intent and implies that the wearer of the tshirt does not like being referred to as an objectified male amusement ... clothing is a very personal decision and many use costumery and characterisation of fashion to bring points... but when we are using fashion as a vehicle for change, it seems ok to wear something that may offend from afar...  using catchy slogans etc.  The tshirt may use language that some find offensive or imagery...  in the case of the feminist tshirt - the message could be very clear and amusing and downright blatent - and most would smile... but some wouldn't - does that immediately identify them with the opponents of the cause?  Or does that mean that they need to be reached in a different way?

My tits can't talk

Artist: wittyart
Coming from an advertising perspective - this shirt is pretty clever...  the positioning of the slogan, the simplicity of the meaning and the fact that most women have at one time or another experienced a male speaking to their chest...  it's a simple fact that is a personal battle for change - because no one can legislate this type of objectivity.
HOWEVER:
This is a target audience of people who only really are ok with using the coloquial language and people who wish to wear a tshirt with the word on it... it is personality specific and gender specific and culturally specific...
but anyone seeing someone with this shirt on in the western world will know exactly what this means.  whether the wearer is a feminist or not, they are making a statement about intellectual discrimination and female sexual objectivity.
If you follow the link to the artists' sales page, you might like to scroll down and read some of the responses to this shirt.
The next question is - how does this balance in a MULTI-NATIONAL, MULTI-CULTURAL GLOBAL WORLD - AND MARKET?
How far is too far?

Thank you Kathleen, you raised some very important questions! I think it is important to acknowledge that although someone may not react in a positive way to a tactic we deem humorous (either by lacking a positive or negative reaction, or by responding with disgust, anger, offense), it does not always mean that they are inherently opposed to our cause--  they may simply be opposed to the way we are going about expressing our viewpoints. A diversity of tactics is useful even when it comes to humor! For example, one may object to the language used in the shirt, possibly being offended by the use of a word traditionally used to objectify women. This person is not opposed to the cause itself (feminism), but merely the tactic used to voice the cause. But just because some may object to the way the message is being delivered does not mean that the particular tactic must be abandoned. Different people need to be reached in different ways, and I think that the tactic of humor is a very good way to do this! However, we need to be aware that not all who support a particular cause can be "recruited" in the same way, and this is where a diversity of tactics becomes crucial. It is also important that we not take humor to the point of offending, and as Kathleen said, creating deep divisions in a community that might otherwise unite behind a common cause. So, the question is, how far is too far? To what extent can we use humor to reach different individuals (with their varying ideologies) while being careful not to alienate entire groups?

ARTIST'S REPLY TO THIS DISCUSSION

Nicole Witty (wittyart) was the designer of the above tshirt (My Tits Can't Talk) ...

When i showed her that I had used her tshirt here as example this is what she wrote to me about this dialogue and how she sees humour in her work:

Wow… what an amazing discussion. Who would’ve thought me laughing while designing this “TABOO” T-shirt… would invoke such a huge range of issues, sociologically and politically… the issue of using humour to get a message across can be taken as a heavy or a light thing depending on the perspectives held by the audience. Culturally humourous to the Australian community… maybe even offensive as I’ve called mammary glands “TITS”... very interesting to look at the vast assumptions of the context in which something is created and how it can be led through numerous doors of ‘over-thinking’.
For me personally, I like tipping the scales of taboo subjects and facing them through humour as this has always been the way I have dealt with issues in my life, therefore this design does reflect my thoughts, opinions & personality. If it has inspired discussion, like all art eventually does, that is a good thing. Thankyou for including my design in your topic at News Tactics & sharing people’s thoughts about this… it was a very interesting read.

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