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Game on, chickenboy

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

August 1st, 2012

 

Sarah Palin helps politicize eating at Chick-fil-a

Today is Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day and some half-million people have pledged to each fried chicken sandwiches out of appreciation for something or other. What that something or other consists of depends of how politically savvy the person interviewed happens to be. The less sophisticated are “standing up for what the Bible says”, though they are a bit at loss to know what it says as few have actually read the book. Those more sophisticated are “defending free speech” and “opposing the political correctness that is pervasive in our culture”. The strident few who genuinely think that they still have a chance of winning will talk about “defending the family and the biblical definition of marriage”.

Mike Huckabee, today’s sponsor, says

Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1.

You’ll notice that nowhere in his objection to “vicious hate speech and intolerant bigotry from the left” does he even mention exactly why Chick-fil-a is in the news. And no one, I repeat NO ONE, is “showing I’m opposed to those perverts” or even “fighting the homosexual agenda” (or, at least, not while the cameras are on).

And that is important – more important than today’s bump in sales for the chicken filleters. Today’s battle is over an issue that those who oppose us are afraid to articulate.

We’ve stayed out of the chicken wars. Mostly – for me, anyway – because it’s inconsequential and silly. What Dan Cathy said was offensive and his contributions to anti-gay groups long ago dissuaded me from eating at his fried chicken emporium. But they were not so far past the vale that most Americans would be shocked or horrified. He’s a “Standing up for Jesus and the Family” type of bigot, not a “God Hates Fags” type of bigot and most people don’t have a problem with personal belief, so long as they aren’t the Phelps’ brand.

And that’s one reason why social-position boycotts are largely ineffective.

While a hundred million Americans or so do not favor marriage equality, the National Organization for Marriage couldn’t get 50,000 people to pledge to stop drinking Starbucks Coffee. Because while they may not support equality, they don’t really care that you do. They aren’t going to stop lending their next door neighbor their lawnmower just because he has a “support Referendum 74″ sign on his lawn and they sure as hell aren’t going to give up frappe mochachinos. It’s just coffee, get over it.

So we have not joined any call to formally boycott Chick-fil-a.

Will I encourage you to make personal buying preferences? Absolutely. But I’m not signing on for some big media-driven, failure-destined, effort to convince the public that the organizations which Dan Cathy supports with the profits from his business are objectionable because they support the ex-gay ministry which is dangerous and ineffective and so, hey, wake up I’m still talking here.

And we aren’t alone. Other than a few well-intentioned souls on Facebook, no one else – GLAAD, HRC, prominent leaders – has been calling for a boycott. There have been efforts to educate, protesters, people debating on TV, but no boycott.

Until now.

Although none has been called, a “boycott” of sorts is under effect. And, oddly enough, it wasn’t supporters of marriage equality that have created this boycott.

Mike Huckabee has made a statement. He has caught the ear of the media. Today all the news outlets are reporting his Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day. It’s not some nameless protesters on some corner who turned the spotlight on Chick-fil-a’s anti-gay activism, it’s those who support it.

Eating at Chick-fil-a has now become politicized. It is a statement. And the statement is only vaguely about marriage. Eating at Chick-fil-a, especially today, says “I can’t come right out and say it, but I oppose homosexuality and the social inclusion of those who so engage”. It’s an unnamed, but well understood, declaration that you either support or oppose gay people being fully included members of society. At its core, the media stunt is all about being “pro-gay” or “anti-gay”.

And that is about the worst thing that could possibly happen for Chick-fil-a. The company has a new label: “the brand of choice for anti-gay people”.

Positions of opposition – and regardless of how it’s phrased, this is unquestionably a position of opposition – are hard to feel good about. One can “stand up for my side”, but a campaign of “I don’t like those people” leaves one feeling nasty and dirty and kind of like those people you saw when you were young and swore you’d never become. And that is exactly what Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have created.

For such a campaign to work, Chick-fil-a would have to draw enough new consistent customers to make up for lost customers. There would have to be a majority (or sizable minority) of Americans who define themselves in terms of opposition to gay people. Those who run to buy their paper bag full of self-righteous arrogance and contempt for others today would need to sustain this drive far beyond one day and become day after day, year after year, chicken eaters.

That isn’t going to happen; these aren’t new customers; its just a political statement. And it’s a statement that can draw half a million people for one day, but one that is out of tune with the 75% or so of Americans who supported dropping Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell and the two thirds who think civil unions would be okay. It doesn’t even sit well with many who couldn’t find a gay issue they support but, well, they just don’t like to think of themselves as anti-anybody.

As Chick-fil-a’s champions clearly fail to understand, the lost customers are not just gay people, not just equality supporters, but also those who don’t wish to make a statement at all. While half of the country doesn’t fully support equality, few want to wear the “anti-gay” label. Most would be happy eating their chicken and a pickle on a buttered bun without a thought as to how it impacts their neighbors, but now they can’t. Anti-gay activists aren’t letting them.

So they won’t.

McDonald's alternative: Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Chick-fil-a, from this day forward, has a subconscious association. It has a vague connection with politicians and television preachers and bigotry. And that vague subconscious association will cost them dearly. We need not boycott – and I very much hope that we do not. We don’t have to.

Mike Huckabee has shifted the game. There’s now a new definition of winning. We don’t have to illustrate a loss of business to show that some boycott is effective.

Rather, Huckabee has doubled-down and the risk is all his. If Chick-fil-a chugs on along, it says nothing about us; we didn’t boycott. If they lose business share, as I predict, it paints anti-gay activists as being cause for failure.

And that’s a “boycott” I can support: one which I don’t have to articulate or even support. One in which my opponent does all the work and takes all the risk and one that costs me nothing.

I can’t know for certain that the ill will created today will have sufficient impact to show up as a serious loss in long-term business. It may be that most Chick-fil-a customers are already part of a demographic that is comfortable with the anti-gay label. It may also be that Huckabee’s stunt will make too little impact and fade too quickly. But I think I can say with confidence that it will be a long time before a sizable chunk of the American public will consider Chick-fil-a in their fast-food choices and their growth potential has been severely curtailed.

So give today your best shot, Huckabee. Game on, chickenboy.

Comments

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chiMaxx
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Can you trim or resize the Palin photo so it doesn’t push the entire body of your article down below the end of the right-hand column? I thought the site was seriously broken at first.

MattNYC
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Timothy,

I agree. I signed a petition to get NYU to stop leasing to a company that willfully violates NYU’s own discrimination policy–and what else do you call a company that will not sell you a franchise unless you are (the “right” kind of) Christian. I accidentally signed one calling on them to change their policy–unfortunately you can’t “un-sign” petitions on most sites.

Based on Cathy’s comments, I can’t wait to see them start to strip franchises from owners who get divorced or cheated on their spouses. I am sure it was always in their policy, but they probably were never faced with enforcing it now. It would be completely hypocritical for them to not do so–since “defending” marriage has been adopted as official company policy.

Essentially, Chick-Fil-A has become the Boy Scouts of restaurants. An entity whose “mission” has officially become its message of intolerance (as is their right) and not the serving of bad-for-your-health food. SCOTUS certified BSA as a (legal) discriminatory organization and that has been their burden ever since. The recent flare-up was good, because a lot of people probably forgot about BSA’s policies or never knew about it before they became parents of wanna-be scouts.

Likewise, those of us who are able to — and strive to — stay informed on these issues know about Chick-Fil-A and their ilk. It’s always good for the haters to occasionally remind the mainstream of their hatred.

james
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

I like Chick-fil-a’s food. I grew up in Atlanta, tried my first CFA sandwich as a teenager, and have continued to dine at CFA. So much a fan, I always know where the closest one is from where I live and how to get there. These days, that’s 90 miles south, so not very often a customer.

But, because of the very politicization Timothy has noted, which I doubt very much Mr. Cathy wanted and certainly did not imagine, I won’t eat there any more.

That is not an easy thing for me to do as I really do like their food. Please don’t lecture me about it — you probably eat something I don’t like.

By the way, the alternative sandwich suggested photographically in this post doesn’t even come close!

Timothy Kincaid
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

ChiMaxx,

I’ve resized. It looked fine on my browser so can you please check and let me know if the change solved the problem?

jpeckjr
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

You know, I’m really waiting for the first Chick-Fil-A franchisee to make a public statement in favor of marriage equality and announce he/she is hosting a “gay day” at his store just to see what the company might do. It would need to be in a state that includes sexual orientation in a statewide non-discrimination law. The company can oppose gay marriage without being sued, but in a state with a nondiscrimination law, they can’t really say “we don’t serve gay customers” without risking a lawsuit. And they have not said it is a national policy to not serve gay customers.

jpeckjr
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, I wasn’t having the format problem before you re-sized. Now I am. Maybe you should cut the Palin picture entirely — more nauseating than a bad chicken sandwich anyway.

Although I know it’s pertinent to your commentary.

tristram
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

@jpeckjr –

from LGBTQNation via JMG –

http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2012/08/chick-fil-a-franchise-to-co-sponsor-new-hampshire-lgbt-pride-event/

ps TK – your fix fixed my browser problem

Priya Lynn
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Chicken is one of my favourites, but pickle on chicken? Ewwww!

TampaZeke
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

It also gives me great satisfaction to know that each and every day after this CFA Appreciation Day more and more people who participated will regret it as their child/friend/co-worker/neighbor comes out and changes their perspective. TOMORROW there will be people regret their participation and the next day more, and the next day more. A few years from now people will be ashamed to say they participated. Even more will DENY they participated. On the other side, few people if any who now support gay people and our families will become fans of CFA and Cathy’s anti-gay positions.

We WIN!

occono
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

jpeckjr: http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2012/08/nh-chick-fil-to-sponsor-gay-pride.html

Jim Burroway
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Hopefully I’ve fixed the formatting problems. Let me know if it still behaves badly. And if you can, it would help to know what browser your using and your monitor’s resolution, if you know it.

Andrew
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

I try not to patronize stores that I know have a history of directly channeling funds to anti-gay causes — I won’t fly Allegiant when possible, for example, because the CEO expended huge dollars into the Prop 8 fight.

Years ago, Wendy’s CEO (now dead) was likewise quite intolerant and outspoken. Then again, Wendy’s food makes me queasy, so that wasn’t hard.

Target in 2008, however, that was rough. So, I just bought… less.

Point of fact: regularly eating fried chicken isn’t good for you. Good news – all those people “doubling down” for fried chicken aren’t going to be bothering us as long — they’re going to be too busy looking for their cholesterol medication.

I’m not indulging in a “eat KFC” day, because I don’t need that in my body (although tasty). And not eating at CFA doesn’t hurt because there isn’t one near me, and I wouldn’t eat it anyway

At the same time, however, the store is not the man, and I have to defend free speech, even when it’s hateful. He has the right to say what he wants. And I have the right to react to it. Go ahead and put up your store. But be prepared for folks to avoid it because they don’t want to be seen there, or have their brand associated with yours. Social disapproval is so much more powerful – and in keeping with freedom – than trying to ban something through government fiat.

Mark F.
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

“Chicken is one of my favourites, but pickle on chicken? Ewwww!”

Au contraire, dill pickles go well with chicken (and a lot of other things).

jpeckjr
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Thanks for the links to the NH CFA franchisee story — he’s signed on as a sponsor of the local Pride event. Will be interested to see how corporate responds. I am a little troubled by how many people commenting on JMG said they would not support the local franchisee.

I’m nowhere near NH, but I hope this man does not lose his business because the LGBT folks won’t go there because of the national position and the religious folks won’t go there because of his local position.

Ezam
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

I’m hoping that after all this Chick-Fil-A has a change of heart, repudiates the anti-gay groups and initiatives it’s been supporting, and becomes our ally. I would love to see the faces of all the bigots who contributed to CFA when it apologizes to LGBTs and donates millions to pro-gay and pro-equality organizations.

Michael C
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

First of all, thank you BTB for not going crazy on the Chick-fil-A frenzy.

I think the ball was definitely dropped on this whole CFA affair. I’ve seen so many headlines about Chick-fil-A over the past week but I guarantee 90% of the people boy/buycotting have no idea who Exodus or the FRC even are. Fast food isn’t the problem. Funding discrimination is bad, but not as bad as discriminating itself.

How is it possible that we’ve made so much noise about chicken and Exodus and the FRC come away unscathed?

Charles
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

My understanding is that Chick-fil-A does not discriminate in employment of gays or lesbians. Does it discriminate in the ownership of franchises? What are the actual facts? I understand that the company owner doesn’t believe in gay marriage and gives money himself to anti-gay marriage causes. Heck, I know of some rather liberal pro-gay people who don’t believe in gay marriage.

Charles
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

In my personal opinion the mayors of Boston and and Chicago went way over the top in saying that Chick-fil-A franchises are not welcome in their cities.

mudduck
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Yesm Chick-fil-A’s outlets are all franchise operations, but not conventional ones. The company builds the store and rents it, and the franchise, to a local operator. The local operator invests less than most franchisees and gets less return — but enough to make a good living, especially in relation to their investment. Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, profits handsomely.

occono
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Charles, he funds more then anti-gay marriage causes. Like the FRC, which lobbied Congress not to oppose the Ugandan gay death penalty law for example.

mudduck
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

Chick-fil-A’s discrimination in employment starts at the beginning: according to a 2007 Forbes Magazine article, franchisees and employees are carefully vetted to be sure they’ll fit into the corporation’s Southern Baptist culture. It appears that some operators renting a franchise from the Cathys have followed the society in becoming more familiar with and accepting of gay citizens. We’ll see if the Cathys can evolve. (A Southern Baptist military chaplain recently had to switch sponsors for the sin of attending a same-sex civil union on a military base.)
http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2007/0723/080.html

Andrew
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

occono, I think Charles is drawing the distinction between the company and the man. politicians have no business interfering with first amendment rights. not that the CFA CEO Cathy shouldn’t be subject to social disapproval. but government censorship cuts many, many ways. you could have starbucks banned by antigay politicians for their gay friendliness, which we would rightly view as an outrage.

Thanks for the notices about the break with Cathy by the owner of some franchises — this is actually a good thing.

Screw the Cathy family. A big company with lots of money is hard to point in another direction.

A locally owned franchise is subject to the goodwill of local folks, however, and is therefore MUCH easier to pressure. The Cathy’s have hundreds of stores. The local franchisee probably has just one…

Make the changes on the ground and the rest will either follow or cease to matter.

Richard Rush
August 1st, 2012 | LINK

When I saw that photo of the Palins, I thought, Wow!, Timothy must be talking to the same anonymous sources as I am. Those sources are saying that America’s most beloved chicken chain has hired the Palins as their new spokes-couple in order to continue egging-on the gays to extend the ongoing Chick-fil-A flap. The company is worried that if the flap flops too soon, profits will suffer. The word is that the Palins will travel next week to an undisclosed Bible Belt location to launch the new Biblically correct advertising slogan:

“God created Chick-Fil-A, not Chick-Fell-a-tio.”

Neon Genesis
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

What’s been annoying me are my Facebook fundie friends posting cutesy memes and photoshopped pictures of pro-Chickfila Mcdonald’s signs all over their Facebook practically every day. I didn’t spam my Facebook with Oreo memes. Why can’t they move on to something else already? I’m tired of hearing about Chickfila and it depresses me to visit my Facebook account now.

Jim Burroway
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

[This comment is fraudulent and has been removed. It was not written by Jim Burroway]

DN
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

Regarding the part where you wrote, ” He’s a “Standing up for Jesus and the Family” type of bigot, not a “God Hates Fags” type of bigot.”

I’ve long argued that whether they realize it or not, a lot of mainstream Christians are glad the WBC is out there. Westboro allows the more gentle Christians to say “hey I’m opposed to gay people, but I’m not *that* kind of person.”

Which I just don’t buy. When it comes to gay rights, whether or not a Christian is protesting funerals isn’t important – it’s their opinions that are important.

And besides, isn’t it always conservatives who are bemoaning the fact that moderate Muslims aren’t calling out the crazy Muslims? Why can’t they do some self-reflection and see how they’re not doing the exact same thing?

Jess
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

There is hacking goin gon here, someone has hacked at least the contributors accounts and a few others. This needs to be fixed!

Jay
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

I think you give too much credence to the fact that Huckabee “no one, I repeat NO ONE, is ‘showing I’m opposed to those perverts’ or even ‘fighting the homosexual agenda’ (or, at least, not while the cameras are on).”

And that is important – more important than today’s bump in sales for the chicken filleters. Today’s battle is over an issue that those who oppose us are afraid to articulate.”

A) That’s not entirely true. On facebook and youtube and other social media, there are lots of examples of gay bashing.

b) People who give interviews generally don’t want to paint themselves as too extreme. They have either been trained by media experts or have deliberately decided to give bigotry a pleasant face. That, by the way, is one reason you can’t trust polls. And, besides, in this case, which is fueled by right-wing Christians, there is a long tradition of hating the sin and loving the sinner, so that is what they want to project. All those grinning Southern Baptists deny that they hate homosexuals, just like their grandparents denied they were racists.

c) For a very long time, those opposed to same-sex marriage have been unable to articulate any real reason for their opposition to ssm. They can only talk about their defense of tradition and their religious beliefs. In other words, their opposition to ssm is deeply rooted in homophobia. That, however, does not deprive them of a right to vote.

d) As aloof as you want to be from this controversy, it is one that we need to pay very close attention to. All this chicken stuffing is a demonstration of hatred toward homosexuals. (As if these people ever really cared for free speech for anyone other than themselves.)

Matthew Berg
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

You left out the part where politicians made explicit threats to deny permits based solely on an exercise of free speech. Moreno, Emanuel and Menino escalated this, not Huckabee.

Neon Genesis
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

Whether it was legal or not for those mayors to deny Chickfila a license because of their gay marriage views, I think it was a bad move for them to make politically because now the Religious Right will be able to use this as proof that the gay agenda wants to eradicate Christianity and take away their religious freedom and whatever. On the other hand, I thought the Religious Rights were in love with that whole “states’ rights” argument? Isn’t that the justification they always use for their votes on gay marriage? So if individual states can vote on whether or not to ban gay marriage, why can’t individual states vote on whether or not to ban Chickfila?

Smith
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

I think this analysis is spot on. This reminds me of a phenomenon that occurred in the 1980s called Blue Jeans Day. If anyone remembers, a number of gay groups on college campuses in the 80s declared a certain day to be Blue Jeans Day, meaning that those who supported gay rights were to wear blue jeans. Of course, the majority of students wore blue jeans as a matter of course, so those students would now be “making a statement” by doing something that they did on a daily basis.

The stunt here was to imbue a political meaning into an ordinary daily act. Now, you were aware that if you wore the same blue jeans that you wore last week, you would be disclosing that you were soft on the gays, and might possibly be gay yourself. On the other hand, if you went out of your way to alter your attire on that day, that too would be a statement about gays. The point was to force people to think about the whole issue in the way that gay people are forced to think about disclosure and their identity every day.

It was an interesting phenomenon and people reacted to it differently. But it is fair to say that in general, it made blue jeans less universally loved and more associated with politics, tedium and contention. A net loss for blue jeans. And I think, thanks to Huckabee and Santorum and FRC and NOM who have created a chicken version of Blue Jeans Day, this affair will be a net loss for Chick Fil A.

chiMaxx
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

Sorry I didn’t get back right away. Yes, the resized picture works fine. I’m using Chrome Mac, and my browser window is 1282 pixels wide, which made the center column 540 pixels wide. The picture was wider than that. It’s a theme issue involving the column floats, and you should probably have some JS in place that will dynamically change the dimensions of photos that are wider than the center column.

After all that, I agree with Timothy on the content of this article and was paraphrasing him for most of the day. This one-day spike of supporters will not offset the number of people who over the long term don’t want to wear the brand of being customers of the anti-gay chicken place and will just consistently, quietly, without making a big deal say “Why don’t we go somewhere else?”

The aldermen and mayors who were going to block CFA from coming in were shameful, yes, but that won’t last as long in people’s minds.

Priya Lynn
August 2nd, 2012 | LINK

Smith said “But it is fair to say that in general, it made blue jeans less universally loved and more associated with politics, tedium and contention. A net loss for blue jeans.”.

I’d say it had no effect whatsoever on how people felt about blue jeans – I never heard anything about this.

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