Thursday, April 15, 2010

Political Activism with Kicks

Recently, as in sometime in the last 8 months, an onion ring appeared on Facebook.  This is no ordinary onion ring.  This onion ring is more popular than Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada.

The creators of Onion Ring, the fan-page, set out with a simple question:  Can an onion ring - an inanimate, deep-fried piece of onion, which necessarily lacks a brain, brain function, and any of the powers of self-direction and thinking that come along with brain function - get more supporters than Stephen Harper has on his official website?  The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes.

This is an interesting piece of political activism, and while it is indicative of some things, it's not exactly a dependable way to determine what Canadians think about their PM.  First of all, not only Canadians voted in preference of the onion ring - Americans living in Canada also voted, along with nationals of other countries who like to follow global political news.   Secondly, Facebook is the ultimate tool for viral news, since it operates by sending news of a person's activities to everyone on that person's list of friends, via their newsfeed.  Unlike voting for the actual PM, which requires a person to leave the computer, go to an official voting station, and physically tick a box with a pencil, which apparently many people in Canada can not be bothered to do, a person on Facebook could see the "Can this onion ring get more fans than Stephen Harper?" post in their newsfeed, snicker at the sentiment and the hilarity of an onion ring being more popular than the leader of a nation, click "Like this" link underneath the post, and get on with their social networking.  The sheer lack of effort required to vote for the onion ring officially is surely one of its advantages, and might signal something unfortunate about the effort that people are willing to put into getting informed about politics and exercising their rights to vote in elections.

On a related note to this last point, the onion ring is interesting in that it signifies Harper's lack of popular support by a certain group of people, but the fact that he is currently the PM, for the second time no less, makes one wonder where this group of people is when it comes time to actually go and vote.  Now since many are not Canadian, they are excused.  But for the rest of us, and I say 'us' because I am a fan of the onion ring and not Harper, we really need to figure out how to translate Facebook scorn into real political movement.  I hope that the people who can vote in Canadian elections and decided that they prefer an onion ring to Harper did actually vote last time, otherwise their 'liking' the onion ring becomes an expression of political disinterestedness of the most annoying kind.

The roots are there for an onion ring based political movement.  Enough people are dissatisfied with the current PM, and his party, and I think that identifying our numbers via a Facebook fan-page is a good way to gain the lay of the land.  Onion Ring isn't stopping at this fan-page either, but is sending its message through other media as well.  For example, the Nike shoe design contest.   Onion ring supporters can now go onto the Nike site to vote for the 'Stephen Harper Sucks' shoe.  It's in second place to win the contest, which means all of us onion ring supporters may soon be able to don an official uniform: onion ring shoes.  I hope that people choose to wear them as they walk or bike to the polling station to vote in the next federal election, and ensure that this dissatisfaction with the current PM and party isn't limited to online expression.

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