Slogans as the Very Very Short Story: Dipika Mukherjee ruminates on writing lessons from the Women’s March, Chicago
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn." A familiar lesson in brevity; a gamut of emotions in a Six Word Story (although this quote is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, it was possibly written by someone who predates him). For those of us who write, or who teach writing -- or just read voraciously --we all know the power of the pithy phrase or that mot juste that takes our breath away like an unexpected punch to the gut.
The popularity of flash fiction -- twitterature, the Dribble, the Drabble, Micro Fiction, Six Word Story – is growing. Although this can be attributed to a felicity on tiny screens, the genre is old and features in many ancient cultures. SmokelongQuarterly informs us, “The term “smoke-long” comes from the Chinese, who noted that reading a piece of flash takes about the same length of time as smoking a cigarette.”
As anyone who has tried their hand at a Six Word Story knows, the shorter it is, the more challenging to write. What is implied is always more important than the written words. How perfect brevity must be, as one teeters between poetry and advertising copy, encircled by a thin line descending into the banal.
Slogans, when done right, are like fantastic Micro Stories. They rise above the terse to encompass the universal with wit and wisdom. The placards at the Women’s March in Chicago, with a crowd 250,000 people strong, exhibited sarcasm with the thoughtful in short succinct bites.
Here are some choice slogans from the venue, beginning with those telling a story of the Russian connection:
Besides a foreign hand in American affairs, the concerns articulated the threat to the democratic ideals of a diverse America:
Even Jesus made an appearance:
Sometimes, words are unnecessary:
By now, you are probably familiar with pictures from Women’s Marches around the world, with hard-hitting messages in a micro form. And there are other articles about the Chicago Women's March.
So why am I writing this article?
I am a writer who has been recording the decline in human rights in Malaysian democracy over the last three decades. As someone who writes political fiction (Ode to Broken Things) as well as Short Stories (Rules of Desire), it is interesting that some of the most persecuted thinkers within Malaysia today are not novelists or academics, but people who draw pictures with very few words. Cartoonists and artists like Zunar and Fahmi Reza are under the threat of imprisonment under sedition laws as the corruption in the current Malaysian government goes unchecked. There is no free press or a truly independent judiciary.
When an international flight disappears under this current Malaysian government's watch in 2014, it still remains a mystery almost three years later, with no one held accountable. People disappear, money disappears; it is democracy under duress, until only a few intrepid souls dare to make their voices heard.
I wish we could all live in a world where the Very Very Short Story functions as entertainment; the artistry of wordsmiths distilled into tiny morsels of pure delight. But I expect I'll see a lot more of this genre, on walls and placards, more than on small screens.
Chicago Women's March: Ravi Gopalan and Emily Clott.
Zunar & Fahmi Reza's pictures from their Facebook page.