Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dances with Xenophobes & Eating the Racist Banana: Laughter Trumps Hate in Civic Action on Viral Video

What do you do when you feel disrespected by the views of a protesting crowd making a spectacle of their intolerance? In the face of insults from southern California protestors demanding tougher illegal immigration enforcement, the guy in the first video discussed below decided to burst into a joyful dance and wave a Mexican flag to elicit enthusiastic responses from passersby. This video makes a great discussion piece about the power of joy and laughter to subvert angry media messages.

People in the U.S. exercise their rights to free speech and public assembly, which includes protests expressing intolerant, racist and xenophobic views. When we encounter such expressions that oppose the basic notions of tolerance and respect upon which we design education for participation in pluralistic democracy, what can we do? We can talk back, fighting fire with fire, showing the same passion and outrage in expressing our own beliefs. But is anger as good as laughter for combatting hate?

The video above had been uploaded by an angry protestor to make fun of the joyful dancer, but was picked up by news agencies and blogs that celebrated the dancer's action, making this a rich topic for exploring the potential for using humor to counter intolerant views in civic action and viral video--and it offers great connections for considering core media literacy concepts of author's purposes versus the different ways people may understand, and repurpose, messages. The notion of humor trumping hate in public performances caught on video reminded me of a favorite moment for comparison where, last year, angry soccer fans directed racist chants at Barcelona FC star Dani Alves, and then this happened:
As shown in this second video, when someone throws a banana at Alves while he prepared to take a corner kick, instead of responding with anger or leaving the field as other stars have done, Alves picked up the fruit, peeled it and ate it, then kicked the ball to resume play. Here, instead of a user-generated video involving everyday folks picked up by mass media, we see competing messages of hate and humor from sports fans and a celebrity athlete broadcast in mass media, then excerpted for viral sharing by bloggers and digital media users. Last spring when this happened, Alves posted the video on Instagram, and he and his teammates and celebrity friends began to circulate their own viral tweets and Instagram posts with pictures of themselves and their families eating bananas with the hashtag #weareallmokeys and #SayNoToRacism. What a way to take the sting out of that insult!

[More after the jump with suggestions for leading analytic discussion and follow up production activities for young adults in any learning setting interested in understanding how to construct effective counter-messages in digital media and how to engage in civic action...]

In any learning setting interested in understanding how to construct effective counter-messages in digital media and how to engage in civic action with young adults (the chants and language of protestors includes profanity that may be unsuitable for younger learners), I would recommend beginning discussion by asking learners to identify the messages of the crowd versus the humorous performer in each video.* It may take a few viewings of the first video for viewers to understand what is going on.** Then, ask how humor affects the overall message of the video, and the intended message of the crowd. Identify the techniques used by each to deliver their messages. Ask about how effective the humor might be compared to other possible responses from the apparent point of view of the dancer or the soccer star. Then, discuss why the videos went viral--why did so many people share them? How might this sharing affect opinions about the issues of illegal immigration, stereotypes, and racism? Does the humor going viral give the intolerant view more exposure, defeating the purpose of the humor to subvert the hateful messages? To investigate this last question more deeply, it may be helpful to explore discussion threads on blogs or news outlets where the videos had been posted for the first video, or to follow the twitter and Instagram threads around the banana eating video. It may also be useful to ask learners to research the specific issues and viewpoints at play in the videos (e.g., Who is Sheriff Joe? What kind of venue is LiveLeak? Why are Villareal fans chanting at Alves? What do bananas have to do with racism? etc.)

It would be ideal to follow this analytical discussion with a production activity, like having learners use the MediaBreaker remix tool to upload a video they disagree with, and insert their own humorous commentary to subvert the objectionable messages.

*You may have to explain, or ask students, about what the banana represents in relation to the racist chants--an insult comparing Alves to a monkey (associated with eating bananas), which is a common historical racist allusion where darker-skinned people were believed to be less evolved than lighter-skinned people.

**The first video features three minutes of a man dancing with a Mexican flag through a group of people protesting in southern California for tougher enforcement of illegal immigration. As they verbally abuse the man with profanity, and address him as "Pablo" telling him he has no right to be there, he joyfully bops through the crowd waving at cars and responding, "No, hablo ingles," to the incensed protestors yelling at him (and, also, "Sorry, excuse me, man," to one he bumps into). The video was apparently shot by one of the protestors, and uploaded to LiveLeak (the UK-based video sharing site that aims to mix reality footage, politics, and citizen journalism, which gained notoriety in 2007 for showing for showing the Saddam Hussein execution) with the title, "Illegal Mexican Alien makes a fool out of himself, waves Mexican flag at our Support Sheriff Joe protest."

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