This is a part of a San Francisco Chronicle article about the rapper "Tupac Shakur"

As Shakur gained celebrity status, he became a lightning rod of insurrection in the name of social justice. Calling for a renewal of responsibility among black Americans, he sometimes succumbed to the uglier side of the "thug life" he saw as a declaration of empowerment.

Below are two definitions I found on thefreedictionary.com

"lightning rod" 2. One that attracts criticism, often in such a way that criticism is diverted from something else.

..also thesaurus of merrriam webster dictionary lists "scapegoat" as one of the synonyms for "lightning rod"

"insurrection" (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) the act or an instance of rebelling against a government in power or the civil authorities; insurgency

So with these two definitions in mind, I tried to make sense of this sentence. We could change the following sentence to "As Shakur gained celebrity status, he became a "scapegoat" of "rebellion against authority" in the name of social justice."

Does this sentence mean that some group of people (e.g part of American Society) was rebelling against authority in the name of social justice and Tupac became a scapegoat(meaning, criticism of authority for rebelling was directed at him)?

  • 2
    I don't think this sentence is very well written. I'm a native speaker, and I don't know what "a lightning rod for insurrection" is supposed to mean. A lightning rod draws lightning, but how did Tupac Shakur draw insurrection? I think the author is using the metaphor badly.
    – stangdon
    Jul 22, 2022 at 14:12
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    I think it's supposed to mean "He attracted a lot of criticism, due to his acts of rebellion in the name of social justice." Basically he acted like an insurgent, justified it by saying it was for 'social justice', and he attracted a lot of criticism for this kind of behaviour. I agree with @stangdon that this metaphor is not well used and is rather unclear in its meaning. Jul 22, 2022 at 14:36
  • @strangdon "lightning rod" is a synonym for "scapegoat" Jul 22, 2022 at 15:47
  • @StaticBounce "scapegoat of insurrection in the name of social justice" doesn't make much more sense. I also don't think "scapegoat" is a very good synonym for "lightning rod" anyway.
    – stangdon
    Jul 22, 2022 at 17:18
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    I don't think that "scapegoat" is a useful synonym in this context. A lightening rod can be something that diverts a dangerous fore, thus protecting a more fragile thing. Or it can be a prominent object that attracts a dangerous force. I suspect the author here was using both these senses, saying that threats of insurrection in the name of social justice were attracted by Tupac, who diverted them from the population at large. Jul 22, 2022 at 18:21

1 Answer 1


The lightning that a lightning rod draws is not always bad, despite the definition you found. In fact, among the implicit metaphors that colour common English usage is quite a strong idea that lightning = spark = momentum, energy, action, clarity, brightness. A "bolt of lightning" can be a moment of epiphany, for instance.

If he's said to have been a "lightning rod for insurrection", it most likely means he inspired insurrection. His life became the material on which insurrections were founded.

The specific type of insurrection: those carried out "in the name of social justice".

As others have pointed out, the style of this sentence is not great. The implication is that he inspired insurrections, but that's somewhat hyperbolic. Also, the image of insurrections being "drawn" to someone as to a lightning rod isn't a very functional metaphor. An insurrection is a state of affairs, an event, not a discrete thing as the expression seems to call for.

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