Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Interesting Effects of Suey Park and PETA- The Benefits of Appearing Mad

Craziness works.

Her twitter feed. 36K in tweets with 21k in followers.
For those of you who are aware of US pop news, you may have heard about the twitter debacle with #CancelColbert and the twitter sensation Suey Park. Suey Park created a campaign to cancel "The Colbert Show" after a twitter account called "The Colbert Report" posted something she considered to be horribly offensive and racist. Her tweet has exploded, and now the entire internet seems to be aware of her and have come to the consensus that she is crazy.

And yet, I believe her presence is actually quite positive for supporting the cause of rights for people of color (or I guess Asian Americans, It's hard to pinpoint what she stands for).

I'm not here to debate whether she is right or not. I'm not even here to analyze her goals and intentions. Instead, i'm here to talk about the effect she has as a highly vocal and highly visible figure. One could actually consider her to be a lot like PETA.

As you'll soon see, both Suey Park and PETA have a sort of "martyr" effect for the causes they support. They take the negative rapport and stir up a great deal of attention for their cause. Since their causes tend to be something that people are either neutral about or agree with, it reaps all the benefits of the attention without also being tied to the negative press.

Let's talk a little about these two groups.

PETA and "All publicity is good publicity"

PETA (standing for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), for those who aren't aware, is an animal rights activist group. They are well known for their extremely controversial rallies and demonstrations. They are almost always found in the news and the public consciousness given how outlandish their actions and demands are. They are also known to be especially confrontational.

PETA is very single minded in the way
it tries to advertise its cause
PETA is known for using shocking imagery, such as violent and bloody images directed toward children. They often utilize images and methods that stir an emotional response rather than arguments.

When the Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani was diagnosed with prostate cancer, they ran an ad of him in a "got milk?" style advertisement, substituting the catch-phrase with "got prostate cancer?" in order to try and associate prostate cancer with milk.

They don't really pull their punches, and are very opportunistic. In the case of some fishermen being bitten by sharks, they ran an ad that said "payback is a bitch, go vegan" to the outrage of the victim's families.

Given all this, its hardly a surprise that PETA has a reputation for being crazy.

The wiki page has more.

As far as their cause goes. I believe that the idea of "animal rights" is generally not scoffed at, nor really solely associated with PETA. In fact, I would say that people consider PETA to be the "insane animal rights activists group", with the knowledge that there are several less crazy ones. The fact that their cause and PETA itself can be separated is quite important.

Suey Park's Craziness

Again, i'm not here to talk about Suey Park as a person. There have been an absurd number of articles judging her arguments and character already, such as this one. Instead i'll just mention some of the effects of her actions.

The 23 year-old has over 21,000 twitter followers with her "Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for the sensitivity for Orientals". So every one of her tweets has a large audience. When she posted the #cancelcolbert hashtag as a call to arms, the whole phenomena took off; it exploded partly because of her large following, partly because it was related to Colbert(who was well known) , and partly because it seemed like a CRAZY thing to say.

Extreme views draw attention. If this just said "Everyone can be racist", it wouldn't
draw nearly as much attention.
It's pretty important to acknowledge the craziness of what she said, as it really did lead to the post exploding. The internet is a large place with enormous amounts of information floating around. If your comments or opinions are normal or standard, they won't stand out. The opinions that everyone notices are the ones that are different, and often extreme. Suey Park's opinion was very extreme, and that's why it ended up becoming a phenomena.

Her subsequent comments and rather stormy appearance on a Huffington Post interview has caused the internet to go into a frenzy. The consensus of many bloggers and commenters on Reddit is that she is crazy.

You'd think this would set back the cause she fights for. On the contrary, it brings attention to the cause, and attention that is often neutral. Being "against racism" is something people in the US are all supportive of, and since Suey Park doesn't solely embody that cause, it will gain a lot of neutral or good attention. I find it doubtful that anyone will say "I'm for the mistreatment of people of color because I hate Suey Park".

What are the Effects?

The fact of the matter is that PETA and Suey Park bring a lot of attention to their causes. They are both similar in that they have gained attention by utilizing confrontational and "crazy" means. However, the attention is positive for the causes they stand behind since the causes tend to be things that people are either neutral or supportive of.

It looks a little like this:

  1. Act Crazy
  2. Craziness gets attention
  3. Attention goes to speaker
  4. Attention drips down into cause (to a lesser degree)
  5. Negative association with speaker develops
  6. No negative association with cause because cause is non-controversial
  • Negative association with speaker
  • Lots of attention for Speaker
  • Lots of attention for Cause
Cause gains from Crazy speaker


But there are very specific requirements that must be in place before this can work

  1. It works because Suey Park and PETA are not only only proponents of their cause, they just tend to be the most famous and the most visible due to their outlandish actions and words. So they can be called the crazy ones out of a group.
  2. It works because their causes are not especially controversial. People are not especially against "animal rights" nor really against "anti-racism". There's not really a debate happening about whether or not racism is good, its accepted that it is a negative thing at this point.
Essentially, people are not saying "I will now support Racism because I think Suey Park is crazy". They are more likely to say something along the lines of "I think Suey Park is crazy, and I feel sorry for the people who are actually trying to fight racism because she makes them look bad".

It works because the attention the crazy person gets will bleed onto their cause, while the notoriety will really only affect the speaker. Remember that those two requirements must be in play though, being crazy for attention isn't always a good thing- bad reputations can easily destroy businesses and careers.

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