August 1st, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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