Ask Yourself Solemnly, “Must I Write?”


Walking through the Diag this week to the graphic display of anti-abortion propaganda, and even weeks to the blatant racist and homophobic preaching of a radical evangelist has certainly instigated dialogue amongst students. A particular conversation in my political science class made me think even further about whether added shock value to a social or political message is an effective strategy.

Some call the tactic cheap and easy. Captivate people’s attention and reel them in knowing you probably won’t convince them totally, but will at least inspire a few thoughts and questions—perhaps doubts of their own beliefs. After all, a student is much more likely to take a look at a 5 by 5 billboard comparing  ‘genocide’ to the abortion of fetuses (no matter how appalling the trivialization of that term is) then they are to a happy family portrait whose mother chose life. Obnoxious? Incredibly. Ingenious? Maybe.

Lady Gaga has been known to pull similar tactic as a performing artist and social activist. Appearing to an outfit of raw meet at the MTV Video Music Awards to communicate her position on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban—namely that “anyone that’s willing to take their life and die for their country is the same. You’re not gay and dead, straight and dead. You are dead”—certainly raised a stir, as did her appearance in an egg at the 2011 Grammy Awards with the intention of communicating that regardless of sexual orientation we are all the same because we were all “born that way.”

The tattoo on Lady Gaga’s left arm is a quote by German philosopher Rainer Mari Rilke, and reads:

 “Confess to yourself in the deepest hour of the night whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. Dig deep into your heart, where the answer spreads its roots in your being, and ask yourself solemnly, Must I write?”

 It really is quite remarkable how much we value the Freedom of Speech in the United States, and it’s clear from Lady Gaga to extremist protestors how well people put that right to practice. So the audience is American society and the purpose is social change, but perhaps the true question should not be what tactic is must effective, but rather what tactic enables an individual to communicate him or herself in a way they believe is most expressive of their values.





2 thoughts to “Ask Yourself Solemnly, “Must I Write?””

  1. I love that someone wrote a post about those protestors. As interesting as they were, the reactions of people were far more entertaining. I can’t count how many times I heard, “They shouldn’t be allowed to do that” over the two days they were set up in the diag. It got me thinking a lot about the issue of free speech and audience too. I thought Lady Gaga was a good person to compare to the display and the protestors. Sarah Silverman also comes to mind in a discussion about an issue like this.

    She says just…awful things for the sake of humor. But the fact that people laugh always kind of speaks more about them than her. I personally love her to death, but her shock value tactic has always kind of made me think about how effective it may actually be.

    …I have no idea why this comment was relevant.

  2. I really loved this post. You did a great job tying the display in the diag to pop culture which really put it into a new context for me. I would be interested see research on whether or not this type of shock tactic works in the long run. For example, are those who see the antiabortion propaganda in the diag really less likely to have abortions?
    And while I get that it is an individual’s right to express their opinion, is the display in the diag really constitutional? The supreme court ruled against a man who placed pornography in peoples mail boxes saying that it was obscene material and infringed upon other individuals rights to the pursuit of happiness ect. Does the material in the diag not infringe upon my rights to walk to class without being bombarded with disturbing images? I cannot avoid this area on my walk to class and therefore I am forced to look.
    I don’t think there is a right answer to this question. It is just something to think about.

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