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Heckle – Part 2

by on June 1, 2013

Heckling and other spontaneous vocalisations can act as a foil to the chanted ‘branded’ slogans and chants. By ‘branded’ I mean slogans and chants which, although full of vigour and meaning in the beginning, become expected and conservative. One modern and salient example is the ‘We are the 99%’ slogan which has been used by Occupy and associated movements. Although this slogan was full of meaning and radicalism when it was first used, it has now become an appropriate and easy-to-use shorthand for the anti-capitalist movement and the media coverage associated with it. This means that both unthinking protestors and lazy journalists can pull out this phrase and use it without having to explain further; there is something expected with this slogan which now makes it conversely conservative rather than radical.

An example of expected heckling, and unexpected reactions to it, was at the 2012 Manchester Gay Pride, when Christian Voice opponents of Gay Pride heckled marchers. The hecklers had placards and banners denouncing homosexuality with quotations from the Bible emblazoned across them, and the heckling mainly consisted of Biblical quotations both amplified and shouted/chanted. Many marchers in the parade ignored the protestors and the heckling by simply walking past or by blowing whistles loudly, but one group of marchers indicated their ideology by engaging with the protestors. The group was a collection of Gay Christians who had a banner, placards and t-shirts indicating that they were Gay and Christian. This group stopped directly in front of the Christian Voice protestors and, without speaking or engaging verbally with them, simply stood facing directly at them. This rebuttal of the Christian Voice heckling with a silent and stoical indication that people can be both Gay and Christian was extremely poignant and powerful.

The ideology of the Pride was firstly disrupted by the Christian Voice ideology but this heckled ideology was countered by a silent protest. This firstly indicates the importance of spontaneity in both heckling and protest, as the heckling, despite being from a pre-organised text, was spontaneously disrupting the Pride. The counter-protest was also spontaneous, it was unlikely that the Gay Christians had planned to engage with the Christian Voice protestors in the exact way that they did, which is partly why it was so powerful. This example also indicates the importance of disrupting expected forms and gestures by using a contrasting form. The ideology of the Pride was disrupted by the heckling; the noise and gestures of the heckling were partly drowned out by the noise and gestures of the Pride parade, which meant that it wasn’t necessarily successful in disrupting the parade fully. Rather than heckle and shout back at the Christian Voice protestors, and therefore continue the ever escalating cycle of fruitless noise, the Gay Christians silently challenged the hecklers. The contrast between noise and silence increased the power of the counter-protest.

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