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The Mona Lisa Soup Saga: publicity, media strategy, ethics and respect

They broke the news cycle, but at what cost?

The internet seems to be divided over this week's Mona Lisa Soup Saga. Activists hurled soup at Da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting in Paris on Sunday, which adds to a growing list of ‘shock’ activism. Of course, these stunts are not new, but they seem to represent a debate that I thought would be interesting to explore.


Some people on the internet think that the activists have won - they broke the day's news cycle, got everyone's attention, and amplified their cause with a good old shocking publicity stunt. Others say the action of vandalising the Mona Lisa and the Louvre has completely deterred them from supporting the cause out of principle.


To me, this represents a fascinating conversation around publicity, media strategy, ethics and respect. 


The question I have been turning over in my mind is this: where do we draw the line between respect for people, places and things and amplifying the causes we are passionate about through the media?


At what point do we sacrifice the broader community's sense of comfort and safety to make our own voices heard when the topic is, ironically, related to the comfort and safety of others?


I personally argue that room should always be made for respectful strategy. When we get people on our side to advocate for our causes, whether it be in the media or out in the community, we win the long game. 


I appreciate the frustration that activists feel around hugely systemic social issues like these. I agree in principle that more needs to be done. But how did these activists think that the best course of action was to seek attention without doing anything meaningful? 


Imagine for example if those activists who threw soup on the Mona Lisa had taken a different road and worked in partnership with a highly influential museum of art to explore the concept of the value of art in juxtaposition of the value of food in today's society. How might that have looked instead? What kind of respectful conversations around social justice, classism and wealth disparity could we have had? What sort of influential people may have been able to amplify those conversations?


Instead, I have seen the same vision of vandalism on my social media feeds over and over again in another perpetuation of the negative news cycle. While these activists absolutely got the world's attention, at what cost? 


I saw an interesting post from one of my LinkedIn connections earlier this week, who reinforced the power of having people outside your organisation or cause to work with you to support your public awareness objectives. This indirect form of media strategy, and even engagement strategy, can provide such powerful validation, credibility and reach for your cause. I totally agree with this premise and take it one step further to suggest that an approach like this can only be built off mutual respect between the people driving change, and those who have the interest, motivation, and influence to help make change. 


To tie it all up, I think that while these activists may be feeling good about winning the short game of quick-burn publicity and nailing the day’s news cycle, they have lost the long one. 



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