Tetmeyer: The value of provocation

Columnist Grant Tetmeyer reflects on the power of provocation. 

Grant Tetmeyer

Have you ever wondered how a show like “South Park” can be on the air for 24 years? How can a show that has caused an uproar from just about every activist, political and racial group in the book be one of the most popular shows on television? How can Dave Chappelle, a controversial comedian who has come under fire in recent weeks, be so celebrated and successful as he is even though he has been saying this kind of stuff since the early 2000s? Why can Tucker Carlson, in all of his white-picketed fence wisdom, make wild claims and accusations that border on salacious and untrue and still be on the air to this day? It is a very simple, widely-known and often used form of expression that helped build the foundations of this country. The value of provocation.

People have been provoking other groups, governments, societies and norms since all of these were established. Americans dumped tea out to provoke the British; Andy Warhol provoked commercial consumer society and the art world; Snoop Dogg provoked the music and branding industries when he changed his name to Snoop Lion. Joe Rogan has provoked everything and everyone, and he is still one of the most famous comedians there is. Jake and Logan Paul have been provoking people since they were born. It’s a natural way of spurning progress, whether as a society or as an individual because in most cases, it leads to what is so important about provocation: dialogue. 

For all of you who don’t know, which is probably anyone reading this, I am a writer, actor, aspiring comedian and entertainer and photographer. I make my living off of provocation, through words and images that make you feel a certain way, that may or may not prompt you to think harder about what I am saying, and maybe even have some conversations yourself. And in most of the things above, there was a period of dialogue and discussion that happened after. Of course, the Revolutionary War was violent, but most other instances help to open a line of communication for an issue or issues that ordinary people are too afraid to talk about in the light without someone else prompting. This is the important wingman to provocation. Without words, we simply lean on the action, and it is much easier to tear down than to build and repair. We have all been too reliant on violence and disassociation for provocation to be the positive entity that it is. 

Now, I am not saying that I agree or approve of some of Dave Chappelle’s or Tucker Carlson’s or even your views. But what I respect and what I value is that it may introduce me to a new way of thinking. It may give me some insight into a community or a thought process I hadn’t even considered before. It may provoke me to respond and start a conversation about it, maybe something I would have never talked about otherwise.

Because we are no longer in a world of war, we are almost entirely past the point where war is the most viable solution to a national problem. Now is the time for discussion, to sit down and not immediately bash or cut someone off for sharing a different viewpoint. Even if it’s a crazy conspiracy because then you can be provoked to tell someone just how crazy that is, and the world is better for it. At least you talked it out.