Featured in each issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, “Citizenship Confusion” by Alan Noble looks at how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with our citizenship to the state, culture, and world.
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When I read that Burger King released a “Proud Whopper” to celebrate and support LGBT rights I was horrified and disgusted to learn that Burger King still legally sold food. Seriously, y’all: Burger King makes meh fast food at best. But after my revulsion wore off, I was frustrated knowing that this was bound to become yet another skirmish in the Cold Culture Wars, where we use businesses as proxies to fight for or against various social and moral issues. It’s not that I don’t think these issues are worth fighting over. And it’s not that I think businesses should remain “secular” or “neutral” in regards to social norms and morality and politics. I don’t think that’s possible, let alone desirable. My frustration is that the energy poured into Cold Culture Wars is not productive or helpful. It helps us avoid serious thinking about issues, rather than dealing with them.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for people to turn this “burger” promotion into a “serious” political act.
For Burger King’s part, that YouTube video uses customer reactions to imply that they’re taking a real and meaningful stand for LGBT rights by wrapping their strictly meh burger in a rainbow wrapper with the words, “We Are All the Same Inside.” So, sex, gender, and orientation are just like cheap, fattening, mediocre burgers? Setting aside the problematic division of outside/inside as an analogy to orientation and gender/humanity, doesn’t this promotion trivialize advocacy for LGBT rights? Isn’t it kind of condescending? And the jokes about wanting “meat” and going “both ways,” how did they make it past the marketing department? Middle school jokes about gays hardly seem supportive, but if that’s the style they were going for, they at least could have changed their name to “Burger Queen” for the commercial.
In the Wall Street Journal‘s report on the promotion, we get a glimpse into BK’s motive:
The film and limited-time offer are part of Burger King’s efforts to evolve its long-time ‘Have it your way’ tagline to what it sees as the more modern ‘Be your way,’ said Fernando Machado, Burger King’s senior vice president of global brand management
Creating an inclusive image is a tactic other retailers have used as a way to boost sales among a population of Americans that has almost twice the disposable income as the population overall.
Perhaps that last sentence is a bit of cynical commentary by the reporter, but it does seem like the most plausible motive for Burger King. Gay people have almost twice as much disposable income, so Burger King becomes a gay “ally” to increase sales.
But this revamped slogan is fascinating. Apparently, it’s more modern to think of individual choice as ontological rather than ethical. When you eat Burger King’s strictly meh Whopper, you aren’t just choosing to live a certain way — you are choosing to live authentically, according to your very being! I guess Burger King is right. That is a very modern slogan. Our individual choices are not merely choices: they are the very stuff that justifies us, that gives us significance as persons. It’s no coincidence that this vision of the “Good Life” as existential validation through market preferences happens to promote conspicuous consumption and is therefore really good for business.
I suspect that this view that consumer choices define us might help to explain the central role that businesses now play in the culture wars. If our commercial choices are essential to who we are, then shopping becomes a religious ritual and a battlefield where we defend and promote various religious beliefs.
Since the left politicized the Whopper, the right was compelled to acknowledge and respond. Soon after the release of this commercial, John Piper “John Pipered” Burger King:
Good-bye, Burger King. http://t.co/jCFLPgJjN2 (If you wonder why, watch the last five seconds of the video, and weep.)
— John Piper (@JohnPiper) July 4, 2014
Should we really be saying “goodbye” to Burger King over this? And why not just say “Farewell”? By boycotting Burger King for this lame promotion, evangelicals are validating it as a legitimate political and social statement instead of a cheap and tactless co-opting of the LGBT movement for profit. Most of all, focusing on silly faux-political/moral “stands” like Burger King’s only distracts us from richer and more edifying work. Two years ago, when Chick-fil-A became a similar target for the Cold Culture Wars, I explained why using the fast food restaurant as a proxy was not productive. I think these words also apply for Burger King:
Making Chick-fil-A the symbolic battleground for the definition of “marriage” is a poor use of our resources. Are we making a public statement by supporting or boycotting Chick-fil-A? Sure, but only in a coercive and circuitous way. Rather than deal with the issue directly, we’re devoting resources to coerce a company to adopt our values. This method of political activism leaves almost no space for public discussion about the issue, since our “activism” is comprised of buying or not buying a chicken sandwich. The purchase doesn’t convince anyone of the rightness of our cause, just the extent of our power. If we want healthy public political discourse, we need to be encouraging charitable dialogue, rather than economic arm wrestling.
Our culture sees economic coercion as an important tool in social change, whether it’s Mozilla or Duck Dynasty or Chick-fil-A or Burger King. There are times and places when boycotts and buycotts are appropriate, certainly, but the way in which they have become the default method of public discourse and social advocacy is troubling. The Church has richer and more effective means of prophetically speaking, through preaching, service, and modeling an alternative to the world’s order; I hope we begin to use them more.
Alan Noble, Ph.D., (Co-Founder and Managing Editor) is an Assistant Professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University. He and his family attend City Presbyterian, OKC, a PCA church.
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