I have a bone to pick with slogans. I can appreciate the quick-witted way of sending a message via slogans, but the risk of the right message getting lost in interpretation is too high, and personally, I find it’s not worth it. To name a few,
- I have a dream
- Make America great again
- Black lives matter
- All lives matter
- Defund the police
- Build back better (OK, what?)
- All men are created equal
- It’s the Economy, stupid
- Think different
- Because you’re worth it
- We’re all in the same boat
- We’re all in this together (Oh cut the crap already. We all know who has the bigger boat)
Apparently, I’m not the only one who think so. Recently, President Barack Obama advised everyone to stop using snappy slogans if they wanted their movement to be taken seriously because they’re ineffective. Of course, not all slogans are snappy, and there are a few that bring people together. However, what they all have in common is a lack of context, diluted meaning, and the risk of multiple interpretations. Over time, no one remembers exactly why a slogan was campaigned in the first place, further giving room for the narrative to shift while diluting the integrity of the purpose tied to it. Moreover, the one who coins the slogan is also equally important in interpreting its meaning.
I have a dream
In 1963, Martin Luther King had a dream and went to describe this dream during his famous speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. You can listen or read it here, unaltered, for the full context. The dream was extremely important and shifted the civil rights conversation to highlight the flagrant violations of human rights, inequalities, and inequities among men and women, particularly blacks/people of colour and whites. The slogan, I have a dream, went viral (as viral as slogans can go during that time) and is referenced to this day when discussing racial injustices and inequality. But here’s where it misses the mark: Martin Luther King’s dream evolved, and by 1967, King stresses the importance of unity among races to fight poverty, that they were all Americans and the problem lied within a broken and corrupt system, generational wealth distributed among the elites and their children while the rest of the country – the United States – starves. Unfortunately, he was assassinated. I would argue one of America’s worst losses. He died before his movement, “The War on Poverty,” came to full fruition, and we can argue that this gave the system an opportunity to perverse his dream to nothing but a slogan. It’s inspirational all the while baseless, watered-down, just enough to inspire – what? No one knows – but not too much so as not to expose the cracks in the judicial and government system.
For more on my thoughts on Martin Luther King’s true mission, please click here.
Black lives matter
OK, everyone, please. Black lives matter. Never mind the slogan for just a minute and ask yourself in the most simple terms, “Do black lives matter?” and your response will be, “Why yes, Karen, black lives do matter!” And if the next word out of your mouth is about to be a, “But…” AH, AH, AH, stop. Everyone knows… and like I said in a previous post, this ain’t about you. Don’t try putting on the shoe if the shoe don’t fit.
OK, now let’s get to my point before my friends from the right get all antsy. The slogan itself means well. Black lives do matter and there is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed. As representatives of the people, the government is there to serve them, not the other way around. This isn’t a one-man show; no one is targeting white individuals so much as they are targeting the system that was built disproportionately. However, the reaction to the misinterpreted slogan is the problem. The misinterpretation spread just as fast – if not quicker – than the message itself. There was enough vagueness to invite a different – more negative – narrative, that only black lives mattered or that black people didn’t care about other lives. In my mind, both those negative interpretations are preposterous and untrue. However, there are enough people inundated with fear (rational or not) that this needs to be addressed not only by the government who has failed all its people for centuries, but also needs to be addressed at a micro-level through compassion, empathy, and understanding. As I mentioned in my article, To control or to be controlled, that is the question, and as Yoda expressed, fear can be a very dangerous emotion which, if left uncontrolled, can lead to hysterical, irrational, and violent reactions.
This brings us to All lives matter. I’m just going to leave the link to my post, All lives matter… lol, because I’m not going to go through that explanation again. BUT, that does bring us to All men are created equal.
All men are created equal
Earlier I said that the person who says the slogan matters just as much as the slogan itself when interpreting its meaning. Why is that, though? Be honest with yourself for a moment and ask yourself, if President JFK had said, “Make America Great Again,” as opposed to President Donald Trump, would it have a more positive connotation? It absolutely would. Even if you’re a Trumpublican, you know in your heart of hearts that JFK would have said it better, wore it better, meant it better. It’s why he was assassinated… oops! I digress. 😉
When someone coins a slogan, especially a political slogan, it’s typically a small reflection of one’s character, one’s way of thinking, and one’s ideology. Many people argue that All lives matter is no different than Martin Luther King’s, “All men are created equal.” While the words produce a similar message, the interpretation and implication differ because of the way their messages were delivered. All lives matter is an angry reaction to Black lives matter, while All men are created equal was a proactive message to break down the walls of segregation. All lives matter is a gaslight meant to dismiss our black brothers and sisters’ need for help, while All men are created equal was an invitation for white men (and women) to join in on the March on Washington. In the end, they’re two seemingly similar slogans, but semantics encompasses more than just the meaning of words put together. Not to mention, All men are created equal implies we are created equal, but not that we are necessarily equal in the end.
Why slogans then?
I’m not suggesting that slogans aren’t useful. Considering the average human being has a ten-or-so-minutes attention span, it’s not practical to be explaining the context of one’s movement or cause over and over again. Slogans are a great marketing tool to captivate an audience so one can deliver the message in detail once the audience is “in.” However, it’s important to appreciate that there’s more than meets the eye when you read or share a slogan. Before you click on that “retweet” button, understand what is being said, who is saying it, and why, the last W being the key-question. With the ease of disinformation spreading through an evolved technology, we need to be more careful about what we say and how we say it. If we all took the time to contextualize the slogans we read and share, we’d be able to filter the bad from the good and deliver the right message.
I’d like to finish by sharing a quote from President Obama:
“If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan, like Defund the Police, but, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it.”President Barack Obama, Snapchat “Good Luck America.” Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55169107
I invite you to reflect on some of the slogans you’ve heard, and share your thoughts in the comment section below.