Co-opting a Movement and Free Speech at LMU

On Thursday, October 19, 2017, several Rhetorical Arts sections gathered for a conversation about freedom of expression and civic discourse called “Eloquentia (Im)Perfecta- Social Justice and Free Speech.” While much of the conversation centered around hate speech and the impact of social media, panelist Teah Goldberg presented several images on the LMU campus that caused controversy recently. One image (seen below) is familiar: that of the monarch butterfly for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Dreamers. However, this flyer has a different message: “Don’t abort my fellow humans.”

Pro-life flyer featuring immigrant butterfly imagery at October 19th Eloquentia Perfecta Event
Pro-life flyer featuring immigrant butterfly imagery at October 19th Eloquentia Perfecta Event

Free Speech and Imagery

This flyer appeared a few weeks ago during conversations about DACA and the protection of immigrant individuals and students. Both the message on this flyer and its timing brought it to the forefront of dialogue around free speech and universities. Students at the event have varying comments on the controversial flyer. Some focus on the success of the flyer from a marketing perspective. Others mention how damaging co-opting imagery can be to the original message. However, there is general agreement that folks can have an open dialogue around difficult issues. Perception is also essential to understanding why such imagery proves troubling. To some this flyer is problematic as it co-opts and plagiarises messages of support. Others may see this as a show of solidarity.

Co-opting Images and Calls

Considering no conversations occurred between the group who posted the original flyers, RESILIENCE and MEChA, and the pro-life group, Padre Pio Society, it is hard to see these images as a show of solidarity. When an image or phrase is co-opted by another group, the original intention can be lessened. Creators of the original image are then angry and disillusioned. This is not a new phenomenon. We live in a time of Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives/All Lives Matter messages. The original message “Black Lives Matter” asserts the need to change state-sanctioned violence and policing against African-American communities. Opponents of the movement use the phrase “All Lives Matter” to focus on humanness, instead of race. Furthermore, “Blue Lives Matter” is a secondary commentary focusing on the safety of police. With each instance, the original message of civil and human rights for African-Americans was altered until folks is no longer focused on the issues. Instead, conversations focus on the divisive nature of each phrase and who is responsible for those differences. This process, called recuperation, appropriates radical ideas and changes them to be more palatable to mass culture.  While some do not see respect for black lives as radical, the creation and dissemination of those alternative messages show that there are some who do not agree with this proclamation. Regardless of the image, co-opting diminishes the intent and impact of a message. It steers crucial conversations away from the core issues.

Resources @ William H. Hannon Library

For more information about recuperation and co-opting culture, check out these titles at William H. Hannon Library: