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Friday, Sep 29, 2023

Militant, Aggressive Tone Undermined Protest's Efficacy

Author: Vanessa Wong

Our campus vibrates with discussion about the protest lead by five females during "The Art of Kissing" performance, a Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) sponsored event held on Saturday evening in the McCullough Social Space. As a member of the audience, I was appalled by their actions, not because I challenge protest — I am in fact extremely relieved and excited that a group (albeit a small group) of Middlebury students finally expressed the courage and ambition necessary to lead such remonstration — but because I found their tactics ineffective and disruptive to a performance that didn't demand such a response, and ultimately offensive to performer Michael Christian [stage and pen name William Cane] and to the audience. So although I support protest on campus, I object to their methods.

The protesters said they were reacting to the racist, sexist and heterosexist material that they found on "The Art of Kissing" Web site ( that they suspected would permeate the performance. Cane's characterization of the "Asian Kiss" and "Eskimo Kiss" offended the protestors, seeing in them an imposition of racial stereotypes. Cane's reference to the erotic sensation he yielded from spanking his girlfriend during foreplay also perturbed them.

I consider these petty issues and believe the protesters, as a result of biased rage, extracted undue controversy from a diminutive, comedic performance. It's important to realize that comedy is offensive, otherwise, comedians would be limited to desiccated, mundane but politically correct humor. Cane played on race and gender stereotypes and made a spectacle out of sexuality, but he wasn't so bigoted to demand that level of rage. However, that I personally found the material in Cane's performance to be largely inane is irrelevant. Individuals and groups will undoubtedly be sensitive to dissimilar things and are entitled to voice that resentment regardless of the unavoidable occurrence of opposing views.

It was more the methods of protest that aggravated me: tossing condoms into the audience, speaking into a loudspeaker in the middle of the show and flaunting posters are surely ineffective and irresponsible means of protest. One of the goals of protest is to convey a clear message about one's position, yet a majority of the audience came out upset by the disruptions and moreover, confused by the protesters' disjointed efforts.

A poster held by protester Katie Simpson '02, for example, read, "Isn't oral sex just another form of kissing? Introducing the genital kiss!" My reaction, like that of many people around me, was of sheer perplexity and asking myself what exactly was her message: abstinence or oral indulgence?

Protest must first establish a sturdy goal, and then an appropriate means to achieve it. The goal, furthermore, must be justifiable and supported by facts. I found the protest on Saturday lacked that essential element: it conveyed no clear goal and was founded on suspicion, not knowledge. Despite this, the protestors belligerently paraded to McCullough to disrupt a performance whose offenses they could not yet even identify. Was their goal merely to disrupt then?

Their mental setting on "anti-Cane autopilot" encouraged them to act out before any misdemeanor even occurred. I think their goal, though clouded by incoherency, consequently appeared to be an attack on Cane rather than the discriminatory message he conveyed. It is unfair to harass the performer before he has even spoken; the goal becomes frail and unjustifiable. As a result of this directionless cause, their means of argument seemed so arbitrary to what became their verifiable goals after watching the show. The protestors projected a militant and aggressive air, which precluded successful transmission of ideas to the audience.

Ultimately, protest is beneficial to both the educational and social goals of students. Surely the intelligent students in this prestigious institution think about matters that don't relate to their evening reading assignments. It is crucial though, that they are better organized and more coherent than the one displayed last Saturday if any change will yield from such action. Otherwise, protests will be relegated to a definition as merely juvenile, inane reactions.