Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Abusing the same-sex marriage #brand

The role of rhetorical gimmickry in compelling change is pretty exaggerated in our political discourse, but the marketing campaign for same-sex marriage clearly did a pretty good job. Its advocates made a deliberate choice to frame the issue by putting love and freedom at stake, and that strategy clearly influences the way we talk about same-sex marriage today. So great job, everyone.

That said, a pretty obnoxious problem has emerged from this strategy: the rhetorical tic of referring to same-sex marriage and the stakes involved ("love", "freedom") interchangeably. A relatively mild offense:

This is mostly just terrible writing. The writer is pushing branding and indulging in saccharine, purple prose at the expense of minimal clarity. There are any number of cases where "love" is in some sense at stake; the phrasing forces the reader to consult an exceedingly narrow lexicon of 21st century progressive political marketing jargon just to guess which one is being referred to here. Readers not constantly immersed in this kind of language find it jarring at best and incomprehensible at worst. Even if you wholeheartedly agree that restrictions on same-sex marriage are ultimately restrictions on our fundamental human capacity for love, that doesn't mean that you actually use "love" as a rhetorical shorthand for all of that.

Again, this is a relatively mild offense, but the problem becomes pretty severe when multiple issues are competing for the same brand. Suppose the Court is hearing a case on, say, the rights of adoptive parents. Is not "love" at stake here, too? Or take the more egregious offender: "freedom". Only a few years ago, as same-sex marriages were declared unconstitutional in multiple states, the Supreme Court prepared to gut the Voting Rights Act. Left media's response: endless headlines declaring variations on "Freedom Is Winning." Really?

This isn't even a branding problem so much as a problem of myopia - of the Left forgetting that things like "love" and "freedom" are at stake in more than one issue.