When Provocation Is Tasteful - Where I Want to Be in Media

By Jaylin Paschal

This weekend, in the two-day process of moving from Washington D.C. back to Ohio for the summer, I was assigned an edit test by one of my favorite publications as the next step in securing an internship position. While packing my life up, I was forced to think about the questions of the test; mentally preparing myself to fill it out and send it in.

It really challenged me, calling into question who I am as I writer and who want to be. Whether I was smart enough, creative enough or even cool enough to really pursue a meaningful future in media. I don't want to be just another writer adding to the noise; I want to say something, corny as that sounds.

About the magazine and my relationship to it, I wrote "As a magazine, it reframed my thoughts on censorship and conservatism, as it was never vulgar or obscene but also never shy.  I grew into the woman I am today through those stories, spreads and features; provocative, but tasteful. That, to me, is what *this magazine is all about. It’s about a refined edginess that’s never cliche or gimmicky. It’s sophisticated without taking itself too seriously."

My earliest memory with the word "provocative" is, and for some reason this is slightly embarrassing, hearing it in "Niggas in Paris" by Hov and Kanye.

No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative—it gets the people going.
— Niggas in Paris

I started thinking of that line, which was a sample from a video clip of Blades of Glory, after nearly every artistic encounter. I was thirteen years old, linking the line to abstract art, big news headlines and other rap lyrics. Now, with a broader worldview and a more thorough understanding of provocation, that line means something different to me as a writer. I don't take "no one knows what it means" literally anymore, but rather understand it as "no one knows what it means for the future; to the culture; to me as an individual."

To "provoke" is to stimulate or give rise to a reaction or emotion (typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone. "Provocative" generally has a negative connotation, which worries my family when they see it as a character trait I invite and take pride in. And understandably so. Provocation implies inappropriateness and antagonization. To provoke through interpretation ("no one knows what it means"), though, is something more; something that requires tact; that requires taste. The taste required to curate abstraction, or write headlines, or pen a verse. The taste required to "say something."

"Provocative, but tasteful" is a phrase I've been using to describe myself and my preferred form of media for about a year now. I think it's a phrase which encapsulates where I see myself in the media world. Provoking thought, action, emotion, etc. without ever compromising my better judgement or my integrity--my taste. Provoke, provoke, provoke, then edit. That's how I've developed my writing style.

But to finally pinpoint the root of this approach during this edit test was an awakening moment for me. I finally understood why I identified so closely with platforms I was taught were "edgy." Not because they were breaking journalistic rules or taking big risks in coverage; but because they were doing this tastefully. And it's taste that separated these platforms from the National Enquirers and TMZ's of the media world--the noisy platforms--who also regularly break rules and cross boundaries. And I hope it's what separates my voice from the chatter.

Jaylin PaschalComment