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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

I’m in the midst of a delightful binge of Person of Interest, a CBS drama about some friendly spies who save good people by employing Homeland Security cyber surveillance. I just watched an episode about a cat burglar who steals works of significant cultural value – famous paintings, the Gutenberg Bible, etc. In the episode (“Provenance”), the spies go undercover at a museum gala to catch the thief.

Outside the museum, several protesters are seen picketing and waving signs decrying cultural appropriation. One character explains that some people believe cultural artifacts should be shared with the people of their home country, rather than saved in elite and often private circles. (I’ve written about this before, too.)

The protesters weren’t a major part of the episode, of course, but what has got me thinking is how they were depicted… kind of crazy. Protests don’t have the same kind of effect as they did in the ’60s. There are exceptions, but for the most part, in media, protesters are shown as angry, heavily opinionated crazies who only get in the way rather than making any kind of real impact for their causes. Or, if they are making headlines, it is usually more about creating press and shouting the loudest (Westboro).

I know there’s an element of expression, the burning desire for one’s voice to be heard and understood (and agreed with!), that these people do display. But in terms of change? I am not so convinced of its efficacy. I am still pretty wary of anything that could be shrugged off as “hippie stuff” because I am more concerned about converting enemies and changing paradigms in their own languages, cultures, and priorities. Repeating your own views doesn’t go very far in making changes in the minds of someone who doesn’t agree with you. I think the way will come, as it has in environmental cases, in rational explanations of the ways in which those changes can be less expensive, grow economies and job markets, improve life. Acting crazy… not so much.

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