To describe my interaction with the word “revolution” most plainly, I could describe it in no better way than to say it has been my frog. At first glance, I believed I was fairly familiar with this “frog.” It was something I encountered fairly often and felt like needed little explaining what it was. A frog is a frog. A revolution is a revolution. Dissecting what a revolution was and how it interacted with the human experience seemed like it would be simple enough and hardly anything exciting. Yet here this frog was, laying lifeless on the table in front of me to be picked apart and examined for the entirety of my academic year. We began with Martin Luther King Jr. and then spiraled into Copernicus, the Rwandan genocide, Holocaust literature, art and science, nuclear energy, and finally, Urlike Meinhof. Gradually, Merriam-Webster began to seem disillusioned, and my perspectives on this frog were completely radicalized.
By the end of Humanities, my definition of revolution has become similar to Lapham’s definition of news media during wartime: “meaningless magic word [transformed] into a profitable commodity, market[ed] both as deadly menace and lively fashion statement” (Lapham’s Quarterly 21). By this, I mean to say that I believe that the word revolution has come to identify itself with movements, such as the Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam War protests, that are “reformative, not revolutionary” (Lapham’s Quarterly 22). To this effect, “revolution” has become a tag that can gain recognition and notoriety for movements due to its familiarity to so many people, but it incorrectly judges movements that marked the beginning of change as complete revolutions of politics, culture, or morality. Unfortunately, many of the movements we call revolutionary have yet to be concluded, as the issues they addresses have still not been solved, but instead have faded into the background of people’s minds. I explain this idea further in my research essay, which examines how the mis-naming of the AIDS crisis and a protest artist as revolutionary pushes issues to the past and discourages ongoing activism.
Lapham, Lewis, et al. Lapham’s Quarterly: Revolutions. American Agora Foundation, 2014.