NRA’s Public Relations Misstep

All social movements have a radical fringe. There is always a group of people who feel so passionately about a cause that they will go to what most individuals consider the extremes to make a point.

 Here are just a few examples:

  • Abortion: Army of God
  • Animal Rights: Animal Liberation Movement
  • Civil Rights: Black Panthers
  • Conservatism: John Birch Society
  • Environment: Earth Liberation Front
  • Anti-Immigration Movement: The Minutemen

These radical groups have something in common. Their more moderate allies universally distanced themselves from the fiery rhetoric and over-the-top tactics. Until this week, I would have said that this is a truism of social movements. Moderate groups always distinguish themselves from the radical groups pushing for change under a shared banner.

 The National Rifle Association, however, is rewriting what we know about the relationship between moderate and radical groups by first criticizing radicals and, then, retracting its criticism.

Over the weekend, the members of the group Open Carry Texas made a statement about gun rights by taking their assault-style rifles into stores and restaurants. While the NRA did not criticize the group by name, it labeled the demonstrations as extreme, “weird,” and “downright scary.”  In a statement, the NRA noted:

Recently, demonstrators have been showing up in various public places, including coffee shops and fast food restaurants, openly toting a variety of tactical long guns. Unlicensed open carry of handguns is legal in about half the U.S. states, and it is relatively common and uncontroversial in some places.

Yet while unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms.

Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.

The statement also noted:  

Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That’s not the Texas way. And that’s certainly not the NRA way.

By Tuesday, the NRA had retracted its statement, describing it as a mistake.

While this public apology may have appease NRA’s radical allies in the short term, it will likely cause the organization public relations problems in the future. Savvy radical groups will interpret NRA’s retraction as support for in-your-face gun ownership and likely up the ante by engaging in more public demonstrations. Worse for the NRA, in order to attract widespread attention again, radical groups will use more extreme tactics. What will the NRA do then?  

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Collective Action in Fiction: Dive Into Dsytopian World of Wool

Trying to get back into blogging mode. I have been busy finishing up my new book, “Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America.” It will be out in December with Cambridge University Press. 

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Laying it on Thicke


Last Week an Auckland University student group’s video “Defined Lines,” a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” went viral. The video, which was created by Adelaide Dunn, Olivia Lubbock and Zoe Ellwood for a revue show, was briefly removed from youtube for indecency. While youtube corrected its error fairly quickly, its action made the video an instant, international success.

If, like me, you largely live under a rock when it comes to music, Thicke’s song was this summer’s anthem despite the fact that the “blurred line” involves sexual consent. The lyrics charmingly refer to women as animals who require domestication and “want it.” The video, which consists of women either parading around topless (in the unrated version), grinding on everything from a singer to a bike, and making suggestive faces, reinforces the idea that women really do want sex, regardless of what they say.

The “Defined Lines” parody directly challenges Thicke’s message. So what do we learn from this?

  1. Rape culture is deeply entwined in American popular culture. What made the parody “offensive” were its references to “emasculation” and “castration.” If you read comments across the blogosphere, much of the criticism revolves these terms and how men’s bodies are used. If you still are not convinced that there is such a thing as rape culture or that we are profoundly uncomfortable when confronted by it, check out this parody of “Blurred Lines.” Rather than challenge the message of Thicke’s song directly, they reverse the roles and make fun of men who are considered socially unattractive. You know that an idea is entrenched in a society when challenging it creates a thunderstorm of criticism.
  2. No really, rape culture is deeply entwined in American popular culture. Thicke’s music is made for a mass public. He is in the for-profit, music business. The “Defined Lines” parody was made for a law revue show – which is a very small audience. Yet, look at the conversation their video started. Thicke’s song lyrics, on the other hand, are so commonplace in American pop music that they received little discussion.


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Fixing the Price of Protest — New Math?

A quick follow up on my post yesterday (Putting a Price on Protest: ).

During the course of an interview, I discussed the framing of the “cost of protest” with a reporter. The reporter told me that the the Governor’s Office has been highlighting the costs associated with the Dream Defender sit-in for two weeks. The reporter also indicated that the figure of $100,000+ masked the fact that most of the FDLE overtime costs were not associated with the protests at the capital building – only around $33,000 are due to the additional units. 

Regardless of one’s opinion on the protest, this is an important reminder that numbers rarely are what they seem. 

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Putting A Price Tag on Protest: What this Means for the Dream Defenders

On my way the office this morning, the local NPR station ( reported that the Dream Defender had cost the state of Florida $103,000 in extra law enforcement. According to the report (which is not yet posted on the site), these costs are primarily a result of Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Officials working overtime. The story made two points very clear. First, the FDLE had only about  $130,000 dollars in overtime last year. Second, that this current total was “worrisome” since the fiscal year has just begun. The story, in short, put a price on protest.

It was a smart move on the part of the state. The Governor doesn’t want to deal with the Dream Defenders, but he needs to tread lightly since he is an unpopular politician seeking reelection. Circulating the cost of allowing citizens to protest (particularly young liberals) may reignite state Tea Partiers to dust of their signs and come stage a protest of their own. The Dream Defenders, themselves, may have helped light the fuse for a showdown with Tea Partiers. According to the report, the Dream Defenders said that they “were not concerned with the cost [associated with their protest] because that would put a dollar amount on a human life.” While I agree with the sentiment, this particular response may not work in their favor. It is very likely that some Floridians will consider the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death as now a distinct issue from the current protests and its cost to the taxpayers. If this is the case, the Dream Defenders may find themselves on the defensive and discussing issues unrelated to their cause.

UPDATE: Similar stories were repeated on local news. On CBS, the anchor asked “How much are the protestors costing you?”

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Deana Rohlinger Discusses Brazil and Asia Protests on BizAsiaAmerica

My TV new debut.

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The Continued Absurdity (Obscenity?) of American Advertisements

American clothing advertisements are absurd. The driving logic of American marketing seem to be: 1) Use sex to sell everything – and I mean everything.


2) Hypersexualilze women in ads. To see just how stark gender differences are in this regard, check out Business Insiders side by side ads for unisex clothing ( To highlight the absurdity of women’s poses, BI has a man duplicate an advertisement by American Apparel.



Amusing? Perhaps. A call to action? Definitely. Corporations do respond to public pressure, especially if their brand is at risk. Disney backed off its Merida makeover in the wake of public protest. Perhaps if there was more push back against how women’s bodies were used in ads, things would begin to change – and not just in advertising. Image

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