When You CAN’T Shake it Off

How does civil resistance operate in the Internet era? How do viral cell phone videos impact our experience of acts of violence from around the country?

On May 27, over 70 students and faculty gathered at the Block Museum for “When You CAN’T Shake It Off,” a dive into the role and use of social media in creating a national conversation about race, law and the limits of police power.

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Theatre Professor Harvey Young started the conversation with Block Cinema Guest Curator Will Schmenner. Young stressed that the night’s purpose was to imagine what life is like for other people.

“Video has the possibility of changing other people’s behavior,” he said.


The past year produced unprecedented viral videos. The murder of Eric Garner, white men toting assault rifles and a cop lip-synching to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” all went viral, and all brought audiences closer to realities of violence in America.

Young pointed out the difference between viewing alone and viewing in groups. We so commonly think of YouTube or Vimeo as individual viewing experiences, but a viewing community has formed with recent videos, he said. When we watch these moving images simultaneously with others, we come together around an issue.

Young and Schmenner soon opened the floor to students. One question rang out throughout the discussion: What do these viral videos mean for a movement?


While the civil rights movement’s leaders pre-selected Rosa Parks to tell a story of injustice, today’s videos appear organically. Young and students alike noted that this injustice is not new. It’s just now being captured and shared on social media.

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