The snarky commentary by Carol Roth had a bite:
Actual assault: good
Mean words: bad
Millions of words have been murdered in the effort to explain why words are hateful, words hurt worse than any punch, any bullet. Words are violence. But who could have seen the alternative, that an actual physical assault isn’t violence?
After a series of incidents in which anti-fascist protesters have hurled milkshakes at right-leaning British political figures, from prominent Brexiter Nigel Farage to far-right U.K. Independence Party candidate for European Parliament Carl Benjamin to anti-Muslim activist Tommy Robinson, the ice cream drink has become a symbol of the resistance.
To throw one is nonviolent, but the results are humiliating; press charges against the thrower (which many have), and you look like a fragile and bratty fool. And in bad news for conservative politicians, milkshaking — as it’s known — has made it stateside. Two Saturdays ago, Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz was milkshaked in Florida, making it a global phenomenon.
There is a difference between arguing that throwing a milkshake on someone won’t cause physical harm or pain, which is often an element for a criminal assault. Essentially, it distinguishes petty touching, which would constitute a common law battery, from a statutory crime. People touch each other without consent all the time, without doing harm.
Throwing a milkshake at a right-wing politician has become a “symbol of the resistance,” which is a distinguishing feature. It seems unlikely that throwing a milkshake at, say, AOC or Michelle Obama would be taken with similar equanimity. Would the rationale be that “she doesn’t deserve it”? Other than the normative measure of only people you hate deserve to be “humiliated,” there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for why this “nonviolent” assault wouldn’t be available to both tribes if acceptable for one.
There is no question, however, that this is an assault. A physical assault. Cries to the contrary, no matter how passionately delivered, are wrong. But the use of food as a mechanism of protest not only has a long, rich history, but doesn’t do the sort of physical harm that the crime of assault is intended to address.
Let’s not lose perspective. Acts of political protest happen. Acts of political violence happen. There is some overlap between the two. But throwing a milkshake, while fundamentally inappropriate, uncivil, and possibly criminal (depending on the jurisdiction), isn’t the same thing as throwing a brick or shooting a rifle. Criminal law has degrees of offense ranging from simple assault to attempted murder and terrorism. The law has degrees of sanction ranging from strong words from a magistrate and a token fine all the way to life imprisonment or the death penalty in some places. “Milkshakes today. Bricks tomorrow. Petrol bombs next week,” as the soccer player Joey Barton put it on Twitter, takes all of this knowledge, experience, and jurisprudence—and shreds it.
Some have argued that the contents of a cup might not be mere ice cream and deliciousness, What if it’s acid? It’s a fair question as regards the willingness of the target of a milkshake to be afraid, or the bodyguards of a target to take serious action to protect their charge or capture their assailant. Throw something at a target and take your lumps for it. You earned them and deserve them, because nobody knows with certainty until after the fact whether it was chocolate or hydrochloric.
Its efficacy as a means of protest is similarly in question. So the target’s clothing is now covered in pistachio? Nobody wants their clothing soggy. Nobody wants to march down the street or stand before a crowd to speak with stuff dripping off them. But then, shake detritus isn’t exactly a strong argument against whatever it is the thrower hates about the person, but rather a childish act of anger. It could just as well be a badge of honor in the sense that it reflects that emptiness of opposition, left with no substantive argument and reduced to throwing milkshakes. If you’re not milkshaked, you don’t count?
While attempting to disavow responsibility for encouraging people to throw milkshakes as a symbol of the resistance, Jenny Zhang offers a review of foodstuffs for the job.
I’ve considered a list of historic protest foods and ranked them using the following criteria:
Convenience: How easy is it to acquire and carry this object without suspicion?
Cost: Will hurling this object be the real-life equivalent of the “money with wings” emoji?
Accuracy: How precise of a projectile does this object make, taking into consideration properties like drag, gravity, thrust, and lift?
Messiness: Does the object splatter, stain, or otherwise necessitate cleanup that’s a pain in the ass?
Smell: How much will the physical memory of the act linger in the nostrils, following the target the rest of the day like an unfriendly ghost?
Symbolic or historical resonance: Does the object represent something greater, or reference a long tradition of throwing said object?
Humiliation: While admittedly ambiguous, this last attribute can be summed up as: “You know it when you see it.”
If these criteria are valid, does Zhang suppose that they’re visible only to the woke? Does she desire to be the voice of milkshaking for the Proud Boys as well, because they too can read? Well, theoretically, anyway.
But the words of Carol Roth point out the flagrant hypocrisy of claiming every mean word is an assault, is the crime of harassment, while a physical assault is a “symbol of resistance.” That doesn’t mean milkshaking is undistinguishable from throwing a liquid that does serious or permanent physical harm.
Let’s not go turning milkshakes into boiling coffee, let alone Molotovs. Sometimes a milkshake is just a milkshake.
And let’s not go turning mean words into boiling coffee, let alone Molotovs, either. Remember that seeking to humiliate your enemies isn’t entirely different than your enemies trying to humiliate you, except words don’t require dry cleaning afterward.