Friday, July 27, 2012

Chikin and Choices

When I wrote the post on branding and identity last week, I didn't expect the ultimate example to manifest itself in US culture days later.

Dan Cathy, owner of Chik-fil-a, made some comments about his support (and the financial support of his company's charitable foundation) for "the biblical definition of the family unit." A lot of this money goes to supporting strong nuclear families; some of it goes to prevent or defeat gay marriage initiatives around the country and a small amount of it goes to mis-information campaigns that attempt to make people scared of homosexuals.

Within hours the twitterverse was up in arms. I even saw the Chik-fil-a cows holding "God hates fags" signs instead of their typical slogan. On the other hand, there were lots of supporters reminding everyone that Chik-fil-a doesn't discriminate, but serves everyone - that Cathy was sharing personal views, not those of the company.

In either case, what we had, incredibly quickly, was people lining up behind a brand. Either you were a chik-fil-a hater, or a chik-fil-a lover. Your opinion on a fast-food chicken chain became determinant of your support or opposition to gay marriage.

If that's not out-of-whack identity, I don't know what is.

On the one hand, Chik-fil-a has always been an unabashedly conservative evangelical organization. They play Jesus music in the stores and close on Sundays. If anyone was surprised by this announcement, shame on them for being so utterly clueless to reality. There's also the little matter of connecting Dan Cathy's comments to Fred Phelps; there's a bit of a logical jump required.

On the other hand, well, why wouldn't people be upset that a company they love doesn't agree with them on a major cultural and political issue? After all, as Michael Jordan famously said while refusing to endorse a political candidate, "Republicans buy shoes, too." Apparently, Democrats buy chicken sandwiches - although very few. Latest projections show Chik-fil-a may lose about 2% of its business when all is said and done. (And we all know Americans are notoriously lazy - how many principled boycotters will cave when they're hungry and it's convenient?)

No one would be on Chik-fil-a's side if the comments were negative towards interracial marriage and positive towards the KKK. Whether you agree with the analogy or not, it's exactly the way a lot of people view the issue. You're surprised they're upset?

In the end, though, it's a chicken sandwich. It has nothing to do with Christian values or gay rights. We just live in a culture so obsessed by defining ourselves through what we consume that we're illogically and outrageously livid when one of "our" brands doesn't represent us the way we thought they did.

I wonder if this isn't part of the problem Christians face in theological and political discourse. If I define myself as a Christian (or an American - too often analogous in evangelical circles), but other people who claim the same brand disagree with me - then how to people know who I am? I don't want to be associated with those fundamentalists/heretics/communists/fascists over there. I must defeat them, convert them, or eliminate them and reclaim my brand!

Ed Helms was gobsmacked to discover that his favorite chicken joint didn't agree with his politics.

Only in America is this an existential crisis.

Mike Huckabee wants those who agree with Dan Cathy's political philosophy to eat at Chik-fil-a on August 1st. There's some implication that this action proves your loyalty to the conservative company line on gay marriage.

Guess what? It doesn't.

Eating at Chik-fil-a says nothing about you or your beliefs - not any more than shopping at the mall is an act of patriotism.

It means you like your chicken sandwich to come with a pickle.

If you want to make a statement about marriage: spend your life faithfully and selflessly devoted to one person.

1 comment:

KaylaKaze said...

No one (well, now one worth listening to) is up in arms about Cathy's opinion. What they're upset about is they financially support hate groups. They're free to have whatever opinions they want, even if they think the KKK is great and Hitler was misunderstood. When they start ACTING on those beliefs and giving money to actively hurt people is when it becomes an issue.