Monday, July 30, 2012

Eat More Chikin (at Wendy's?)

By now, I'm sure that you're all aware of the latest election-year distraction from our nation's real problems, namely Chick-Fil-A—if not, there's a decent op-ed on the topic here. Personally, I think the whole controversy is a little silly, even if the underlying issue (gay marriage) may not be. The silliness, as I see it, is best summarized by this little gem, passed along to me by my man Grew.

Terrific. Sure, there are some pretty obvious bones to pick here—not all of the 12 OPEC nations execute homosexuals, and we get 50% of our imported oil from nations in the Western Hemisphere anyway (mostly Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela)—but the idea here is nonetheless important.

If we're going to start boycotting companies' products based on their human rights records, we should probably start with Apple... or Chevron... or Hershey's... or hell, just look at this list and be done with it, mkay? But we don't do that, because damn we love our iPhones and SUVs and we just can't bear to imagine our lives without them, consequences be damned. The cost of any of those boycotts would be way too high for us to handle, but a boycott of Chick-Fil-A? Hey, no problem. Commence patting selves on backs.

More and more frequently in the U.S., we're seeming to tend toward symbolic displays of our beliefs, without actually laying anything on the line. This "boycott" of Chick-Fil-A is a perfect example of the low-risk "show of support" that doesn't actually require anybody to sacrifice anything at all. Okay, so you're not going to eat at Chick-Fil-A anymore—from now on, you'll go down the street to Wendy's and order a spicy chicken filet (side note: highly recommended) instead. Some sacrifice.

I happen to be a strong supporter of gay rights, but I'm certainly no activist, and I refuse to pretend that I would magically become one simply by boycotting a second-tier fast food restaurant for a few months. Shunning Chick-Fil-A as a dining destination doesn't (or wouldn't) make me any more of a gay rights activist than putting a "these colors don't run" bumper sticker on my car would make me a decorated war hero.

Sadly, though, these hollow displays of support seem to have become the new American way, and this Chick-Fil-A issue has all the marks of being a classic election year distraction. Don't look at the real issues, America, like bankers flagrantly violating federal laws (who's Jamie Dimon?) or our nation's rapidly deteriorating financial position—just speak loudly, pound the table, and tell the world how passionate you are about the issues. He who shouts loudest, shouts best.

Quite frankly, America is rapidly becoming a nation of wimps and whiners, unable to back up our tough talk with anything resembling bold action. We like to make symbolic statements of our beliefs (we really do talk a great game), but when it comes right down to it the vast majority of us are unwilling to do much of anything to back up those beliefs, not even paying more in taxes or performing public service (like military service) of any kind. In fact, most of us can't even find our way to the ballot box on Election Day to perform our most basic democratic responsibility of voting.

Until that dynamic changes, I don't think any of us can expect meaningful change in this country, except as a campaign slogan. It's about time we all recognize that, and do something about it, before it's too late. See you at Wendy's.

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