On Monday night, the 34th anniversary of the US Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, someone made a post in the christianity com featuring an uncut, graphic image of what was asserted to be a fetus that had been aborted at 5 months.
Here's the original post (warning: graphic image).
Thanks to a combination of the spiritual issues generally discussed there, and a conservative mod team that doesn't hesitate to delete posts with offensive images or text, I haven't seen an image like this posted in that com (cut or uncut) in the two years I've been reading.
However, this post, with this image, was made by the main moderator (tutal).
The comments that followed the posting immediately requested a cut. The com has a couple thousand readers, many of whom consider it a "safe" place to discuss matters of faith. A few people voiced support of the image, indicating that Christians need to be shaken up to take action against abortion. Several people began to criticize those calling for a cut.
The mod didn't reply to any comments for a few hours, and then responded by refusing to take it down.
Several themes of conversation can be extracted from the various discussion threads: the mod has established a double standard because he posted an offensive image in contravention of the com's userinfo; the mod should be reported to LJ abuse; the image is probably not even an aborted fetus in the first place; people have "hidden agendas" for wanting the image cut; people are selfish for not wanting to be shaken out of their comfortable little viewing preferences because this is a real problem that need to be addressed, etc. etc.
The fallout is ongoing, there and elsewhere. I got flack for following up the post with a work- and kid-safe warning. Someone ridiculed tutal for his insistence that the image shows an aborted fetus, in a flocked post in stupid_free, here. And the discussion threads are still being generated in the original post.
I was fairly vocal in a bunch of these discussions (of course), but it became clear that almost all of the comments in the christianity com failed to grasp the central nature of the controversy: it's simply one of context. It's simply that a graphic image was placed in a context that people don't expect graphic images to be placed.
This is the point of shock value; to provoke a reaction of disgust, shock, anger, fear, or similar emotion. The thinking is that such emotion leads to action. The action in this case was a call to arms against abortion.
This is a stupid tactic.
Well, maybe not stupid, but at the very least, it's counterproductive and tends to defeat the purpose of the tactic.
Here's the result of posting a repulsive image related to the issue you're addressing: it confuses the issue. You get people riled at your tactics, rather than the underlying issue, by drawing focus instantly to something related to the issue, not the issue itself.
This is like trying to alert someone that violence is a problem by walking up and hitting him in the face (and then having the audacity to act affronted when he protests).
Sometimes that's the intent ... but I don't think it was, in this case. tutal explains in an entry in his blog that "I honestly did think about using a cut. But just like words, this has a way of separating oneself from the issue at hand." In other words, it appears as if he believed that the inclusion of the picture, uncut, would be more effective in presenting the issue.
The results indicate otherwise: of the 250+ comments posted in response, less than 10 have actually addressed the issue of abortion. The owerwhelming majority address only the image. A few dozen readers have left the com.
A corollary of the confusing effect of shock tactics is that, even if the ploy is "successful" in getting your audience to make a decision to take action, the decisions are largely going to be kneejerk reactions based on a sudden emotion -- not calm, rational, well-considered decisions.
In advertising, this is perfect: billions of dollars are spent in an effort to get us to that one instant in which we swipe our card through the reader and make the purchase.
But that's something. Some tangible thing, something we can buy, to have. Or some intagible thing -- like insurance, or investments. We only have to make the decision once: spend the money or not? We can make these decisions impulsively.
But an abstract concept, an ideology, a creed, an agenda, a perspective? Something that requires considering and internalizing, followed thenceforth by a corresponding modification of our previous pathways of thought whenever the issue arises? We don't make decisions to accept paradigm shifts impulsively. I don't know if we can. Especially not ideas that are so controversial that its advocates believe it's necessary to deploy these tactics to persuade us.
My rant here isn't at anyone in particular, but at any individual or group who feels as if it's a good idea to resort to shock as a tactic when trying to sell an idea.
I love the fact that people get pumped up about something -- anything -- enough to want to share it with the rest of the world, and effect change for what they see as the greater good. The energy is dynamic, it's contagious and seductive. Sure, it can be annoying, but I'd rather people be shouting their ideas out than keeping them inside.
But I have little patience for energy invested in efforts that are ultimately self-destructive or counterproductive or ... stupid. Like this.