– “Drill, Baby, Drill”
– “Eat the Rich”
– “Just do it”
– “Go Green”
– “Abortion on Demand”
– “Black Lives Matter”
– “Black is Beautiful”
– “Better Dead than Red”
– “Don’t Mess with Texas”
– “Make Love, Not War”
– “The Whole World is Watching”
– “One Man, One Vote”
– “War on Drugs”
– “No Taxation Without Representation”
– “The Buck Stops Here”
– “It’s the real thing”
– “The Globally, Act Locally”
And here are some alternate definitions, offered by Merriam Webster, that perhaps apply better to some of the slogans I just listed:
– “A word or phrase used to express a characteristic position or stand or a goal to be achieved.”
– “A brief attention-getting phrase used in advertising or promotion.”
For the purposes of U.S. intellectual history, I think the first of the those two definitions should grab your attention. As an aside, the Wikipedia entry on “Slogan” brings up interesting points for rumination.
In my memory and experience of S-USIH doings, it was LD Burnett—during last year’s S-USIH conference in Indianapolis—who most successfully invoked a slogan-like phrase during her presentation. In recounting the Stanford Debates (or Affair), she discussed relevant history behind the chant, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture has got to go!”* LD connected this chant to prior protests from the Civil Rights Movement, or perhaps the Labor Movement. Her goal was to get us to see the long history, and sensibility, invoked by the slogan. The students and protesters at Stanford had a clear position and goal to be achieved.
Prior to writing this post, I had mentally classified LD’s invocation as a chant. Perhaps she did too. Heretofore, slogans had been classified under my personal mental file of “business rhetoric,” beneath the “marketing/advertising” tab.
What got me rethinking my classification was the renewal of the phrase “abortion on demand” in relation to the latest Planned Parenthood “exposé” on the purported “selling” of fetal tissue (or baby body parts, if you prefer). It’s not a rhythmic chant, but just a slogan—albeit a powerful one that brings to mind consumerism, choice, and selfish desires. I started wondering about the wider staying power of that particular shorthand, as well as its origins and history.
That also starting me wondering about the line of demarcation between a slogan and an aphorism. Intellectual historians take (or have begun to take) aphorisms seriously, but not necessarily slogans or chants. The latter end up being noted in cultural histories. Aphorisms, however, seem to imply deeper, timeless truths and universals. Slogans are more time-and-place, or to use Stephen Colbert’s term, they possess “truthiness.” It seems clear to me that slogans serve as shorthand truths, or words to live by, for large parts of the population.
Have intellectual historians done a good enough job contextualizing and tracing them, exposing their sources, deeper goals, and uses (intended or otherwise)? Are slogans taken seriously in works that involve mass movements?
I think future intellectual historians will likely do a lot of work on slogans in the form of hashtags. #BlackLivesMatter has proven to be a powerful slogan over the past year (though created in 2012). And, I would argue, it has been a slogan that has done a lot of good.
What say you about the differences between slogans, chants, and aphorisms? What of their power? What of their use and abuse? How should we “think differently” about slogans in relation the history of thought? – TL
* Or was it “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go!” I recall the discrepancy, but don’t think I ever settled the exact phrasing for the section in my book on “The Stanford Debates” (pp. 196-201). In that I used William Bennett’s May 27, 1988 National Review piece titled “Why the West?” I should’ve known better than to take Bennett’s phrasing at face value!