Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Robots and hip-hop artists of the world, unite!

Posted by metaphorical on 12 December 2007

I defy anyone to not read a story that begins,

“A University of Iowa professor dressed as a robot interrupted Bill Clinton at a campaign stop here late Monday, screaming for an apology before security escorted him from the building.”

(Thanks to KTK, in private correspondence, for the link.) Kembrew McLeod, a tenured professor in the U of I’s Communications Dept., wanted Clinton to apologize for a remark he made 15 years ago in the wake of the Rodney King trial. (Yes, that’s 15 years, which is 105 for dogs, and about 750 for current events.) As the Des Moines Register explains it,

Sister Souljah made statements to the Washington Post about the 1992 Los Angeles riots sparked when an all-white jury acquitted the white police officers who were captured on tape beating a black man, Rodney King.

Her statement focused on how society largely ignores black-on-black violence. It included the quote: “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”

That quote has largely been picked up on its own, without the larger context. Clinton, in June of 1992, gave a speech at the Rainbow Coalition, which compared Sister Souljah’s quote to David Duke, a former white supremist.

“If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech,” Bill Clinton said in 1992.

The Register helpfully links to a 45-second YouTube video. If you watch it, you’ll see that McLeod starts walking out almost before campus police ask him to. The “robot” costume, by the way, is pure hoke, and I mean that in a good way. Picture whatever sci-fi movie had the lowest production values you’ve ever seen and now scale it down to 1950s Saturday morning kids television.

This is nonviolent protest at its finest, a subject my friend Angus Johnston discussed a couple of weeks ago in a 40-minute interview on the webvideo show “Shoot The Messenger.” (It can also be found here.)

The show’s host, Lizz Winstead (a co-founder of The Daily Show and an early force in Air America), asked him about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University, the UCLA taser incident, and the history and general decline of protest in America.

I think Angus would greatly approve of McLeod’s protest. The interruption to Clinton’s speech was brief and entertaining. McLeod stood on a chair, shouted his question to Clinton, and threw some business cards containing a URL into the crowd. When asked who he was, he said “It’s all in there,” and threw more cards into the air. And you have to like his explanation for leaving so quickly. “This is Iowa so they were polite and I was polite. When they told me I had to leave, I did.”

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