When it comes to complex social justice issues, it can be difficult to make people care enough. Sometimes, data points and bar charts fall short of encapsulating the significance of a problem – particularly when those problems require uncomfortable revelations if they’re ever to be addressed. Sometimes, singular narratives aren’t even enough to break through the cultural defenses we’ve put up as a society. Sometimes, it takes the power of creative performance to cut through the conditioning that’s preventing us from honestly engaging on an important subject.
That’s what this is. The video below is a POI peformance from Western Kentucky University alum Sarah Brazier. For those unfamiliar with the world of competitive collegiate speech and debate (aka forensics), POI, or programmed oral interpretation, is one of the many events available. To compete, students will collect materials from a wide variety of media on a specific subject. This might include plays, short stories, novels, poetry, movies, commercials, news articles, YouTube videos… use your imagination here. The goal is to to craft a performance that will explore an idea or illustrate an argument. The student will splice the material together into a ten minute program that is performed with the use of a small black book at tournaments across the country. They are judged on their program composition, creative presentation, and technical performance during competitions throughout the year, ultimately duking it out for national titles each Spring.
While trophies are nice, I’ve never met a POI competitor who valued the accolades over their argument. For many, the forum became a means of raising awareness and advancing crucial social discourse. Such was the case for Ms. Brazier during the 2012-2013 season. In the wake of the Aurora shooting, she and her coaches began researching and designing a program that would examine the connection between white male privilege and mass violence. (Too) soon after that, the Sandy Hook shooting gave the program’s message even greater relevance.
Today? Well, I’d say it’s time to turn up the volume. Sarah’s performance hits you directly in the gut. Part of that stems from the fact that she is a magnificently talented performer. But part of it comes from the fact that she paints, in vivid detail, a picture we have been so reluctant to see: one where the ideals we glorify for straight white men contribute to a culture that tolerates and advances toxic ideologies – a culture that leaves us vulnerable to senseless tragedy again and again and again.
Sharing a video of her performance on Facebook this afternoon, Ms. Brazier stated:
When Ganer Newman came to me back in the fall of 2012 after James Holmes walked into a movie theater and killed 12 people, I knew this topic was important… but I didn’t realize how important. Then, in December 2012 Adam Lanza shot 20 school children, six teachers, and his own mother. My POI became so much more than a speech round. Now, after the atrocity Elliot Rodgers committed, I think it’s incredibly important we talk about the intersection between white male privilege and mass violence. Read one article about Elliot Rodgers, and you cannot deny that there is more at play here than mental illness. Our society is sick. There is something inherently wrong with us, when, as the Onion satirically reflects in its latest headline, there is “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Atrocities like these need to be prevented. Ganer recorded this performance in the spring of 2013. Please watch, please listen, and please talk about this. This must be talked about, and not just in the speech community. #AdvocacyMatters
She more than has a point here, folks. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped the chorus of people unwilling to critically examine the cultural crisis in front of us from dismissing the conversation. Because I am completely uninterested in a world where that conversation doesn’t get its due, here’s what I’m asking you to do:
- Watch the video below. The performance style might be unfamiliar to you at first, but keep watching, and keep an open mind (& heart). You’ll get used to the stylistics quickly and be glad you watched the whole thing when it’s done. Here’s hoping that a different presentation of these ideas galvanizes more of those who know and wakes up more of those who don’t.
- Share share share. You can help engage a wider group in the conversation. You don’t want to field the prickly questions that come with the share? That’s ok – send them here.
- Start reflecting. Start asking questions. Start talking. The only way we start addressing this problem is if we’re willing to come to the table and do something about it. So much of the requisite changes have to take place on a personal level, which makes these personal interactions key.
You ready? Grab some tissues.
- Elliot Rodger’s fatal menace: How toxic male entitlement devalues women’s and men’s lives
- Elliot Rodger’s California shooting spree: further proof that misogyny kills
- The Power of #YesAllWomen
- Elliot Rodger and Poisonous Ideals of Masculinity
- destroy traditional masculinity