Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Life Tape

One of the things that struck me in my post yesterday about the pro-life movement is their strange recent obsession with duct tape. Back when I was a youngling, folks protesting abortion pretty much stuck to signs and slogans. In the last few years, though, there's a symbolic protest that seems to have completely permeated the pro-life community: The Life Tape. Protesters stand in front of courthouses or in big prayer meetings, with their mouths taped shut with red tape, the word "LIFE" written across the front in big bold capital letters.

As I wrote up yesterday's post, I found myself wondering about the genesis of this rather creepy and oddly fetishistic form of protest. A few googled keystrokes later, I found myself at the heart of this movement, the website of "bound4LIFE."

This...um...had nothing to do with dominatrixes. Really. Click on the link. See for yourself.

The idea behind the tape over the mouth thing is that the "pre-born" cannot speak for themselves, and as a way of articulating that inability to speak for and defend themselves, pro-lifers give up their ability to speak. They are also showing themselves in solidarity with the victims of what they view as a genocide.

While I can see where this idea came from, and see the conceptual foundation for it, it doesn't work for me on several levels.

First, it has the effect of dehumanizing the protesters. It seems like a mask of sorts, something that prevents you from seeing or fully knowing the person protesting. A significant proportion of the human face is obscured, and the essential humanity of the demonstrator is thus similarly obscured. If you're trying to make a basic point about humanity, removing a significant part of your own humanity just seems counterproductive.

Second, it's just too convoluted and "in-group" to effectively convey it's meaning. I had no idea exactly why folks did this until I bothered looking into it. You know it has something to do with being pro-life, but the precise meaning is not really that obvious. Even on the website, it's hard to figure out exact what the core meaning and purpose is. Sure, it's a striking image, and those who are demonstrating are aware of why they're doing what they're doing. But no-one outside of their community grasps it.

That, I suppose, leads up to the third and most challenging element of this movement. A significant subtext of removing your ability to speak is that it...well...seems to indicate an unwillingness to engage in conversation on the subject. What it says is: I cannot talk to you. I am not interested in talking to you. Read the word on the front, and then go away. If you're supposed to be speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, giving up your ability to speak seems, again, a bit counterproductive.

Of course, given the deeply polarizing rhetoric around abortion, maybe this isn't a bad thing.

In an unintentioned way, the bound4Life tape is symbolic of our collective failure to have meaningful and productive conversations on the issue of abortion. I do not say this as a particular indictment of the pro-life movement. Both camps have become gagged by their own ideology, unable to speak to one another, and unable to engage in the kind of respectful and relationship-driven conversation that is the only way out of this societal morass.