Missing the Point re: Chick-Fil-A-gate

“OK, good,” Chip said. “But the question is not whether we care about breast cancer, its what breast cancer has to do with selling office equipment… “So if Pizza Hut puts a little sign about testicular self-exams by the hot-pepper flakes, it can advertise itself as part of the glorious and courageous fight against cancer?… “Baudrillard might argue,”Chip said, “that the evil of a campaign… consists in the detachment of the signifier from the signified. That a woman weeping no longer just signifies sadness. It now also signifies: ‘Desire office equipment.’ It signifies: ‘Our bosses care about us deeply'”

- Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

I know, I know, Chick-Fil-A articles ad nauseam. But I think you’ll see that this isn’t really about Chick-Fil-A.

Prompted by the predictable but relatively harmless comment of a successful entrepreneur, we’ve allowed the common discourse over an important issue to be governed by the signs and symbols of commodity and exchange – or in this case a chicken sandwich. We assume that by either condemning or condoning chicken sandwiches that we’ve said most of what needs to be said about our position on gay marriage. The result is that we never clearly articulate what it is we’re talking about, and are instead tangled up in symbols and images that allow us to eschew the real issue. The real issue is that a significant group of folks are claiming that they are victims of discrimination, that they have civil rights that are yet to be realized. Whether you agree with this position or not, your decision to boycott a restaurant or stuff your face with their food not only fails to advance dialogue, but it basically avoids the real debate altogether. Its like texting a deeply personal message to a family member who is standing right in front of you –  even if you manage to get your point across, the means by which you’ve done so is inappropriate, clearly lacking in principle, not effective, and even dehumanizing. A total failure of communication.

Somehow, illiterate cows and are now symbols of homophobia. Yes, it is that ridiculous. And that’s the point. Baudrillard was right. Our lives as consumers are increasingly artificial and governed by signs, images,  and inadequate symbols. Welcome to the “hyperreal.”

The primary reason we participate in this means of pseudo “communication” is that we spend a ton of money on a ton of stuff, having given ourselves over to the “voting with our dollars” mentality. Thus we have an urge to invest our money, i.e. ourselves, into those companies with the hippest agenda. Perhaps Bill Gates and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, among others, really do have a principled interest in supporting gay-marriage, but we all know that such a position is also in their best financial interest. What a wonderful convenience that their evolution of views on marriage have been in lock step with the culture’s mainstream. But where were all the “courageous” humanitarian business owners fifteen years ago, when two-thirds of the country opposed gay marriage? Crickets…

Sure, there are circumstances in which your dollar may need to spent or clinched, based on principle. But as long as we believe that we can dust off our hands and pat ourselves on the back after such a decision, we’re still suckers. For starters, you’re probably spending money every single day that supports something you don’t like (do you really think your gasoline is totally agenda free?). So be it. We’re all in this together. But as long as we allow the comments of a bigwig, the symbols of their establishment, or indeed the symbol of our currency to govern the exchange of words, ideas, and principles, we have missed the boat entirely.

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  1. #1 by Bob on August 12, 2012 - 1:17 pm

    I am not sure that Dan Cathy meant to be manipulative with his comments about being pro marriage, at least I hope not. If I remember correctly he only affirmed what he believed, he did not rail against homosexuality. He did not in my mind warrant being called of homo-phobe or gay basher. I thought it interesting that when he affirmed his stance on marriage, he (and by extension Chic-Fil-A) were labeled as “gay haters”. It’s like saying “I believe in Jesus Christ” and being called Anti Semitic.

    I know people who made an effort to eat at Chic-Fil-A on 8/1 and waited 3 hours to be served. I asked one of them why he took his family to do that (and he has 2 kids under the age of 2, so this was no easy feat). He said he wanted his family to know that Chic-Fil-A stood up for what the Bible says and he supports that. I submit that the reason people went out of their way to support Chic-Fil-A on 8/1 was that they wanted to have some kind of unified protesting voice against what they felt was an unfair and unwarrated attack by the GLB community in a positive non-confrontational way.

    • #2 by borno on August 12, 2012 - 6:54 pm

      To clarify, I am not suggesting that Cathy was being manipulative or insincere. Much to the contrary, I find him quite sincere, especially since such a view is hardly in his financial interest. I agree, moreover, that his comments were hardly “hateful,” as so many have illogically assumed. My point is that, in most cases (not all!), one’s patronage or a lack thereof is not a particularly Christian way of “standing up” for something, especially when chick fil a has so little political clout. I would hope that my family knows I support what the Bible says about “x” without having to stand in line for 3 hours for a chicken sandwich.

      For the church, a “unified protesting voice” looks like self-sacrificial, humble, seemingly reckless acts of love and generosity on behalf of one’s neighbor, including LGBTQ neighbors. Does this necessarily mean agreeing with the political stance or agenda? Absolutely not. But do we honestly believe that standing in line for waffle fries (or not) is akin to taking up one’s cross? I simply believe the time, and indeed the money, could be better spent, not least for those who oppose gay marriage. Maybe raising money for HIV research? Perhaps speaking out against the bullying of kids who struggle with their sexuality?

      The reason our patronage at a fast food restaurant seems like an opportunity for a unified voice is because we’ve allowed politics, commerce, and economics to define our allegiances and even our identities. The Lordship of Christ liberates us from these principalities and powers and calls us to a higher standard, one which usually subverts all agendas, ideologies, and -isms of this present age. This struggle of our dual heaven/earth citizenship will of course become increasingly acute as we move into a divisive political season.

  2. #3 by Matthew England on August 13, 2012 - 9:57 pm

    I have absolutely no problem with Chic-Fil-A’s stance on gay marriage. I disagree with it, but I’m fine if that is their stance. They have that right. And if people don’t like it, they have the right not to eat there or support them. To me, that’s how it should be and that’s how people should react to it. But when people get so fired up that they feel like they have to “make a difference” or “make a statement”, that’s when I think we’ve really lost our minds. On the one side, you’ve got people flipping out about Chic-Fil-A’s stance: well isn’t that what we love about this country? That you can have an opinion about something and not be persecuted or slandered for it? On the other, you’ve got people that feel like they have to stand in line for 3 hours in a show of support for “such a fine Christian establishment.” Oh yeah, have you heard of how these Christians treat the animals that they eventually feed to you? It would probably make you cringe even to hear about it.

    So that’s just my long way of saying I agree with you. :)

    I reminds me when I was back in college. A girl started a sex column in the studen newspaper and every week in class everyone would be going nuts talking about the latest article and how scandalous and ridiculous it was. They’d say it should be banned and would write letters to the editor. What was funny is if anyone in class hadn’t read the article, someone would run out immediately to grab a paper and show it to them. Why on earth would any newspaper stop printing articles that drew interest from people?! No one ever considered that. I disagreed with her articles, so I didn’t read them. I didn’t need to get a soap box to profess my stance. And that’s what these anti-Chic-Fil-A yahoos fail to understand.

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