I am whatever you say I am

SyriaPlenty has been said here about the excellence of ISIS’s communications strategy.

Relatively little, however, has been said about the other groups because, well, they’re just not that good.

On the other hand, if ISIS is a marketing fox, then its opponents are clearly a communications hedgehog, as shown by the photo above, which features opponents of ISIS dressed in the familiar orange boiler-suits, beheading ISIS members wearing the – equally familiar – black ensembles.

I wouldn’t be surprised if one day this had almost as much popular resonnance as, if not the Tiananmen tank man photo or the Vietnam napalm girl, then at least Ali Shallal Al-Qaisi (yep, he has a name).

Ali Shallal Al-QaisiIt’s a pretty basic trick: taking ISIS’s own imagery and using it against it – having the guys in the orange boiler suits (itself a reference to the orange uniforms of ‘non-compliant’ prisoners at Guantanamo Bay) behead the guys in black, rather than the other way round.

It’s a trick that’s been used to make points for years, but only really came into its own in the last couple of decades: responding to insults and abuse by not merely owning up to them, but taking a pride in it.

From ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it‘ to NWA to Wizardchan – more and more groups are not denying or combatting slurs, but are taking ownership of them. It’s certainly not a purely Western phenomenon. Just within Asia, China has its diaosi and short-ugly-poor – young men unashamed to have few prospects, Japan made otaku (geek) culture cool across the world, and even Gangnam Style pokes fun at those who try too hard.

Here, ISIS’s opponents have pulled off the same trick: taking the orange boiler suits as a banner for their cause, repurposing the symbol for their own ends.

It’s not even the first time the strategy has been used in an international political context lately. The members of Vladimir Putin’s entourage targeted by US and European sanctions didn’t try to argue their innocence, or prevaricate, or even feign compliance. Subjected to a finger-wagging for their macho irresponsibility in invading Ukraine, their reply was basically ‘Yeah, so what are you going to do about it?

In Dave Skylark’s immortal words: haters gonna hate, and ain’ters gonna ain’t.

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