March 21st, 2008

Agitprop as Performance?

John McWhorter, noted linguist and pundit, writes:
Well, in hearing Reverend Wright's agitprop as performance rather than hate speech, Barack Obama is black indeed — in a way other than the uninteresting one of melanin.
In other words, Jeremiah Wright's speechifying was not to be taken literally.  And, he believes, most of the attendees would have taken it metaphorically.  Because, being "black" in a cultural sense, they know it's meant as symbolic gesture.

That's his thesis, anyway.  I suppose there's something to it.  It put me in mind of a book, Did The Greeks Believe In Their Myths?  Did they only sort of believe?

On Easter Sunday, when the pews are packed in America's mainstream churches, how many of the worshipers are also true believers?

But, in a complex society, acceptable symbolic gestures from group A may be shocking violations of protocol for group B.  Which is kind of a challenge for politicians, who want to appeal to... as many voters as they can.

Carefully contrive
your words to never offend.

Beware the sad misstep that sends
your reputation on a long deep dive.