by Latoya Peterson, originally published at Feministe
In the first 45 seconds of the trailer for Clueless, Cher Horowitz (played by Alicia Silverstone) gives one of the best rebuttals I have ever heard to opponents of providing asylum on our shores for oppressed people.
Yes, I’m serious.
Let’s reexamine the language (excerpted from Paul’s Ultimate Clueless Script):
SCENE IV – CLASSROOM DEBATE
Should all oppressed people be allowed refuge in America? Amber will take the con position. Cher will be pro. Cher, two minutes.
So, OK, like right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all “What about the strain on our resources?” But it’s like, when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday right? I said R.S.V.P. because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that like, did not R.S.V.P. so I was like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings, but by the end of the day it was like, the more the merrier! And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion, may I please remind you that it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty?
(Class breaks into applause)
This segment was designed for us to laugh at the ridiculousness of Cher’s logic and her mispronunciation of Haitians (Haiti-ins!). But there is some truth in what she says.
Haitians need to come to America = Amnesty.
But some people are all “What about the strain on our resources?” = Opposition Arguments
And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen = Survey the situation
Rearrange some things = Reprioritize and reexamine how we use resources and we admit new entrants
We could certainly party with the Haitians = Grant amnesty, fix our selective and fractured policy.
And this line is classic: may I please remind you that it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty?
It totally does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty. It actually says:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And yet, for the last few years, we’ve been having a debate around immigration which boils down to “everyone has to RSVP, we’ve got a velvet rope, and most of you aren’t invited to the party.” The tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Fuck ’em!
Where are all the other voices in this debate? We’re left out. So many conversations around public policy and theory are couched in a language that makes them inaccessible to the average person with a limited understanding of the issues. And if the language that we as progressives and feminists use is inaccessible to the average reader/listener/viewer, we lose out. This is the void that has been filled by regressive interest groups – they dominate the dialogue by using very simplistic messages to summarize their position. Messages like “they are evil” or “they hate our freedom.” These messages may not even be true – but they are easy to remember. And that’s the problem. A complex, nuanced message is harder to grasp than a simple catchy statement, and thus, less likely to stick.
So, in order to reach more people, progressives need to critically examine the messages we send, what we say, and how we present them.
To this end, we need to learn to harness the power of pop culture – taking a message, shortening it, adding some spin, and preparing it for mass consumption.
Back in May, the New York Times published an article describing the efforts of U.S. Campaign for Burma to sell their cause using celebrities like Ellen Page, Jennifer Aniston, and Will Ferrell. And yet, somehow, they are still having problems getting their message to catch on. Read the Post Harnessing the Power of Pop Culture