Jon Stewart discussed the powerful optics of the Occupy Wall Street message, which he contrasted with the danger to the movement of a few rogue protesters like the guy who pooped on a police car.
Here is the video from The Daily Show:
After catching his viewers up on the growth of Occupy Wall Street since his last show, Jon Stewart said, “Of course, it hasn’t been all good news for the movement. For all their popularity, for all their participants, for all their thoughtful critiques of the power structure, there’s also this, a guy taking a s**t on a police car. You know what? Guy s***ing on police car, meet me on camera three. “
Stewart then disciplined the guy you would train a puppy who had an accident on the floor, then continued, “Cause here’s the problem unfortunately protests are often as much about optics as they are about substance, and you do not want this to be your Tiananmen Square. You have tapped into a real injustice that people feel about the global markets, bit nothing can derail your movement faster than someone who is unable to derail their movements.”
Stewart raised a great point about optics/public relations. Protests are often defined not by their message, but by the actions of a few people that cement a public perception about a movement. Occupy Wall Street has thus far done well with their PR. Their message is simple and inclusive, but all it takes is one person to undo all of the good messaging that a protest has accomplished. The image of the protester leaving his own personal protest on a police car hasn’t caught on.
The interesting thing about Occupy Wall Street is that in the month since the protests began there still hasn’t been a defining image. The Occupy movement has to be especially careful because there is an entire political party (the GOP) monitoring the protests to find the one image that they can use to negatively define the movement. The corporate mainstream media is also on the lookout for anything that they can use to define the protesters as lawless criminals, anarchists, and animals.
The right has tried to label Occupy Wall Street as dirty, Socialistic, and anti-Semitic, but so far nothing has stuck. Jon Stewart was correct. Occupy Wall Street has tapped into something emotional with the American people, and it would be a shame to see this protest thwarted by the one percent because of a few people who can’t control themselves and act like civilized human beings.
The success or failure of a protest movement is often determined by how the protest is explained and defined to the general public. So far Occupy Wall Street has done a great job of defining themselves, but it would only take reckless actions by a few people to turn the public against the movement. Occupy Wall Street must continue to define themselves and never let their critics define them.
It isn’t the goals or the message that will make or break Occupy Wall Street. The optics of this protest will either take it to historic highs, or cause it fall apart quickly. The message is good and the people are motivated.
The only thing that can stop Occupy Wall Street is a public relations disaster, real or otherwise.