Hatin’ the gays and eatin’ fried food. That’s what passes for patriotism for way too many Americans.
I’ve spent countless hours trying to understand anti-gay folks. I read articles, op-eds, websites and books. Again and again, it boils down to simple prejudice. They made up their minds in advance and aren’t interested in hearing what anyone has to say if it contradicts what they already think. They rain their money on preachers who confirm their prejucide by saying things like “Gay people are sinners (unlike you).” For these folks, last week’s Chick-Fil-A day was a combination July 4th, New Year’s Eve and Sunday service all in one. Folks on the left are far less sanguine.
Michelangelo Signorile opined that the gay community mismanaged the entire contretemps from beginning to end:
Some are saying we lost the battle with Chick-fil-A, even calling it a dismal failure. I don’t believe any effort to point to homophobia is ever in vain, so I wouldn’t go that far. When you’re fighting bigotry, it’s always an uphill battle.
That said, there were problems with the strategy — or rather, lack of strategy — in taking on Chick-fil-A. We allowed the opponents of LGBT rights to use the media to recast the issue as one about the first amendment. I say we “allowed” the radical right to do this because it’s a no-brainer that it’s not about Chick-fil-A’s first amendment rights, as Gay Voices editor Noah Michelson explained.
And these people are hypocrites who cared nothing about the first amendment when they went on a religious crusade against Muslims, trying to stop construction of the Islamic center near ground zero back in 2010. Now, while they crusade against gays, with millions of dollars from Chick-fil-A’s profits going to groups that promote harmful pray-away-the-gay therapies, they’re crying about the first amendment? Please.
So yes, our enemies distorted our message and reframed the story. And we allowed them to do it.
By contrast, David Sirota argued:
There are so many reasons to both uncontrollably laugh at and be intensely disgusted by last week’s brouhaha over Chick-fil-A. With droves of American eaters rewarding the company with record sales for its CEO’s public rant against gay marriage, you can let out that same chuckle you release when you watch Coen Brothers characters — you guffaw at the paranoia, the sheer stupidity and the irrational animus of a bewildered herd. You can also feel that intestinal-tract pang of nausea you experience during food poisoning — the feeling that no matter what you look at to try to calm your gut, the image is going to make you simultaneously defecate and puke all over yourself.
This laugh/retch impulse has become an understandable reaction in an country obsessed with the Culture War. But, then, as much as the back-and-forth over Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s declaration seems like just a run-of-the-mill skirmish in that war, it’s not. It is a genuinely iconic grotesquerie, and not just because it involves a company that has faced repeated accusations of illegal discrimination. In five distinct ways, the episode sums up so much of what’s wrong with American society today.
Of Sirota’s five lessons, number four seems most relevant:
Total ignorance of the First Amendment and the concept of “free speech”
Both those railing on the fast food chain and those supporting Chick-Fil-A succinctly proved that many Americans either have absolutely no understanding of or no respect for the most basic tenets of the First Amendment and the concept of free speech.
As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald showed, the pro-equal-rights politicians seeking to ban Chick-Fil-A from doing business in their communities were thuggishly violating both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution. According to the First Amendment, a government cannot “abridge the freedom of speech” — which means in practice, it cannot ban a company from doing business as retribution for statements made by a company’s executives, no matter how abhorrent those statements are. In their (understandable) disgust with Dan Cathy’s statements, the elected officials seeking to ban Chick-Fil-A from their municipalities exposed themselves as wholly uninformed about — or disrespectful of — this concept. They don’t seem to understand that under the First Amendment freedom of speech includes the freedom to say things politicians don’t like, and to say them without the fear governmental retribution.
At the same time, those rubes insinuating that a consumer backlash or threat of boycotts are an assault on Dan Cathy’s liberties are just as ignorant of free speech as their ideological opponents. This was the same inane argument made by attention-seeking rubes when advertisers began dropping their sponsorship of the Rush Limbaugh Show — and it’s just as idiotic today as it was back then.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean the freedom to say whatever you want and not face criticism or legal non-governmental consequences (like, say, protests and boycotts). Cathy and Limbaugh and anyone else has every right to spew their hateful vitriol, just as their supporters have every right to pig out on Chick-fil-A junk food or patronize specific sponsors in support of that hate – just as other Americans have every right to say they are all cretins and to therefore avoid supporting the restaurant company and/or those sponsors with their money.
That these most basic liberties are no longer understood by large swaths of the population shows how divorced we’ve become from our own — supposedly vaunted — Constitution.
Michael Rowe, on HuffPo, described his experience:
Over the past week or so, I’ve interacted with some of these people in the comments section of Huffington Post, and elsewhere.
What they all appear to have in common is a type of moronic, simmering frustration, mixed with an equally dull-witted glee, as though they truly believe they are on a crusade for justice. Their posts are often inarticulate and badly spelled. They fall just short of calling opponents of Chick-Fil-A’s bigotry “uppity faggots” but many seem to genuinely see their consumption of greasy, pre-cardiac disease fast food as a strike against the forces of darkness in the name of their American Jesus.
The videos from various outlets – of people singing “God Bless America” or declaring they’d come to eat chicken and strike a blow for freedom at the same time – are depressing, example of Rowe’s simmering frustration and glee.
From Jen McCreight at FreeThoughtBlogs:
I know your feelings are hurt. No one wants to be called a bigot, right? But before you do something silly like scream “FREE SPEECH” or say I’m the bigot, let’s rewind a bit.
Chick-Fil-A has funneled millions of dollars toward certified hate groups in order to fund campaigns that depict gay people as pedophiles, fight against “gay behavior” and the legalization of same-sex marriage, and support dangerous “pray away the gay” programs. They also used their profits to support Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. When I first found out about these atrocious things a couple of years ago, I stopped eating at Chick-Fil-A (despite how much I love their delicious chicken sandwiches). I did not feel right knowing my money could ultimately be used to hurt GLBT people.
I could originally understand why someone wouldn’t boycott an organization that they disagree with politically. I bet there are things I buy that support things I hate, mostly because I don’t know any better, partially because I can’t financially afford to boycott everything. But now that Chick-Fil-A has been in the public eye, you know better. And if you drove to a Chick-Fil-A today to show your solidarity with the organization, you’re not just some random apathetic person who likes a chicken sandwich and doesn’t care about where their $5 goes.
You are a bigot.[snip]
Here is a case where I might call someone ignorant (no screen capture of her tweet because she later blocked me). But again, it’s not name-calling because it’s true. The government is not taking away your right to say how much you love fried chicken sandwiches or how much you hate gay people. Thus, no free speech violation. Just as you have the right to spew ignorant hatred on Twitter, I have to right to point and laugh and say you’re wrong. And a bigot.
About that simmering frustration:
Something has been simmering. Something the Tea Party represents. Something Sarah Palin has represented. Something that has previously kept media companies afraid of advertisers and people like Anderson Cooper and Sally Ride from being more forthcoming with their sexual orientation. People do care. It is a big deal and when someone like Chick-Fil-A’s Dan Cathy stands up and says it, one by one people start to cheer. (You might wonder how many other companies and company owners/advertisers feel the same way.)
Cathy’s statement and the overwhelming support for Chick-Fil-A are not about free speech, or they would have cheered for Anderson. It was not an expression of the rights of businesses, or they would not have boycotted JC Penny for hiring Ellen DeGeneres and Disney for offering domestic partner benefits.
The people who cheer and revel as they wait in line at Chick-Fil-A and those who supported those boycotts are most likely the same ones who heard their fears resonated in Pat Buchanan’s words 20 years ago. “The America I know, want and believe in is slipping away… and it’s their fault.” It’s the “us’s” versus the “them’s.”
The simmering frustration is all about the feeling that there is a “them” out there who are stealing America, who are threatening what the “us’s” value. When those folks standing in line at Chick-Fil-A started singing “God Bless America” they were enacting what Paul Rosenberg described in posts at OpenLeft over three years ago as mythos. It doesn’t make sense because it’s not about reason or facts. It’s about enacting a symbolic narrative, a mythos of America and American identity which talismanic and symbolic; why shoudl they sing that song? how is eating fried chicken a blow for freedom?:
. . . those questions come out of looking at her diatribe as if it were an example of logos, which it most clearly is not. It is mythos through and through, and mythos has no need of evidence, as logos understands it. The Birther’s own birth certificate is not evidence in the sense of logos, it is a talisman, a symbol of her authentic identity as an American, and once she has established that identity, all it takes is her word as an American to cast The Other out. (And, of course, there is no doubt that Obama is The Other after all, he’s
blacka Kenyan citizen! And probably a Muslim terrorist, to boot!) This is why she doesn’t offer any evidence that Obama is a Kenyan citizen, but instead simply asserts that she’s an American. Well, that proves it! Not according to logos, of course, but according to the Birther mythos it damn sure does!
It’s as if we’re operating in the world of dreams in which the logic of reason and facts are overruled by the mythical order of symbols:
But, of course, disrupting the logos of the meeting is precisely the point-she is enacting a defeat of logos by her own mythos. And who could argue against her? To argue against her is to refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag! This is the crowning accomplishment of ritual performance-she has gotten everyone to follow her lead in pledging allegiance to the flag. Anyone who would not do it would have identified themselves by their own actionsas not being a real American! Who needs a birth certificate to prove that?
This is why this brief videotaped interaction is so strange. It is a complete subversion of one reality by another, and the reality that is subverted is the reality of facts, logic, and good civil order, while the subverting reality is that of unhinged white supremacy utterly cut off from, and contemptuous of all manner of logic and evidence.
All those people standing in line to order chicken, saying its about freedom, are enacting myth, are making real a mythology of America. It sounds daffy but consider:
Myth only became a reality when it was embodied in cult, rituals, and ceremonies which worked aesthetically upon worshipers, evoking within them a sense of sacred significance and enabling them to apprehend the deeper currents of existence. Myth and cult were so inseparable that it is a matter of scholarly debate which came first: the mythical narrative or the rituals attached to it.
The tacky transcendence of the fast food franchise, singing a hymn to America, proclaiming the whole effort was about “freedom” – can this be anything other than an impromptu ritual? When people in line were talking about freedom, an no matter which location they were at they used almost the same language, it was as if we were watching people recite a litany in a worship service. It’s not accidental that song was from the hymnody and was not the actual national anthem. The combination of American patriotism and religious identity into a single, conservative identity has been happening for decades. After twenty years of right wing culture war, conservatives have created a Frankenstein monster of American-ness, equal parts Christianism, historic myths and jingoistic proclamations of patriotism turned into a lumbering being and set loose on the land.
Do not doubt that it was transcendent for the participants. It was a moment of shared identity, a communal proclamation of membership in “America” defined by faith and freedom in which the enemy is ever present and in which for a brief shining moment, Chick-Fil-A became their sanctuary, safe from the “others.”