Was ‘Stalin-gate’ Really That Offensive?
Jonathan Easton questions the outrage over ‘Stalin-gate’, and considers the true motives behind criticising actions taken by Kent Union.
Some people don’t like Kent Union, I get it. Some people want to change how Kent Union does stuff. That too I understand. It’s an admirable aim to want to change an institution you think is broken. Discussion and debate is a fundamental part of the democratic process which makes up a student union. Why am I talking about this?
You thought you were reading an article about Kent Union’s preposterous ‘Stalin-gate’, didn’t you? Well, I thought so too, but you see, the people kicking up a fuss about this image of Stalin being used in promotional materials aren’t really complaining about Stalin: they’re using the image of Stalin as an excuse to complain for political gain. That in itself is entirely more offensive than a satirical image of one of the most terrible figures in history.
I won’t go into too much of the nitty-gritty details of Stalin’s rule, but this is an individual who is responsible for the deaths of no fewer than 15 million people. On top of that, millions more were affected by the regime. People feared for their lives on a daily basis as they fought through gruelling work conditions, famine and some of the worst living standards the industrial world has ever seen.
The defaced picture used by Kent Union to advertise a talk on political cartoons was an attempt at mocking the image of Stalin, and that’s what it achieves. It is referencing similar images of Tony Blair and other political figures. The worst thing that Kent Union can be accused of is a level of naivety in having this image printed next to a promotion for Union elections, but there is no malice intended, unlike the intentions of the ‘outraged’.
The leaflet concerned was quickly picked up by news outlets such as the Huffington Post and Kent Online. Some comments from Twitter are cited in these articles, one of which read, “Are you seriously using a mass murdering Communist Dictator to advertise a ‘takeover’ and democratic elections? SERIOUSLY?” But those voices are massively outweighed by the majority of commenters who believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the image. One commenter states, “There is a massive amount of tongue in cheek humor here which can easily be twisted to a more sinister meaning by those who wish to see it.” Another refutes the article by arguing, “Are you seriously using a mass murdering British prime minister to illustrate a story about a handful of humourless Young Conservatives with too much time on their hands? SERIOUSLY?” The general consensus from these comments is that if you want to be offended by this poster you really have to try hard.
It’s good to debate these issues, and that, I believe, was the Union’s intention. Whether they intended for this kind of reaction is, well, debateable. The image has nothing to do with the elections, and the fact that people are jumping aboard this misjudgement is testament to the sensationalised world of social media that we live in.