Incongruity is often used as a tool in comedy to entertain the masses, specifically used in comedic satire. When a large, heavy-set man walks in a room and has a squeaky, high-pitched voice or when a Tyrannosaurus squeals like a fangirl at a teenage boyband concert, these are moments of incongruity. Incongruity means out of place — something that does not fit in its location or situation so When an audience expects one thing but gets something else, that is incongruent and often it is funny. But there are also situations when incongruity is not funny, like when a meaningful performative act is not done how it is expected to be done.
Working with the idea that a performative act as an expression that changes reality in some way, going beyond simply describing or referring to something else, I would like to take a look at a time that someone turned such an act on its head, when they intentionally used incongruity to accomplish something.
In August of 2016, Colin Kaepernick, a football player for the San Francisco 49ers, sat (and later kneeled) during the national anthem at preseason games in protest against increasing police violence against African Americans and inequality in the United States. It is custom, tradition, and considered respectful to stand during the National Anthem at all sporting events. It is supposed to be a statement of support for people who fight to protect the country and a symbolic commitment to standing behind the nation as a supportive citizen.
Kaepernick's action, what we could call an infelicitous performative act, was a purposeful resistance to the expected. Sitting or kneeling during the national anthem was an incongruent action he took to make a point, to cause discussion, and to cause change. Unfortunately, this action was highly controversial and received both with great approval and great disgust. At a time when the United States had become severely divided on many political and social issues, Kaepernick's protest caused people throughout the country to feel both offended and heard, angry and inspired, appalled and celebratory. "Taking a knee" became quickly associated with denying the United States flag and the people who fight in the military for conservatives that found these actions disrespectful.
Because the action of sitting or kneeling doesn't fit with what is expected and it changes the perception of an individual's allegiance to the country, it was and still is extremely controversial. It is significant because of what the performative act means and what it means to not engage in that action, or even–in this case–to adjust it. The misperformance of this ritual, especially in a difficult political and socio-economic time for the United States makes a bold statement. At such a volatile time between political parties in this country, this one infelicitous peroformative act is easily manipulated to mean something different than intended and has been taken out of context and past its original purpose opposition and the media.