A Chick-fil-A Summer: The Follies of Boycotting | By Quentin Lau

The end of summer is upon us and many are wondering “what happened?” Among the noteworthy events such as the horrific shooting in Aurora to the captivating London Olympics, the controversy concerning the popular American fast-food chain Chick-fil-A probably made it to your table. Protests, support rallies, political feuds, and an untimely death — Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s statement against gay marriage has opened up a massive social media feud unlike anything seen before it. The American restaurant chain Chick-fil-A has been at the center of a raging debate this summer over gay marriage, fried chicken, and whether or not the two should intersect. If you are not familiar, here is a brief recap.

It is evident that this controversy has resulted in the use of boycotting. To put it simply, the supporters of same-sex marriage refuse to eat fried chicken, while those against it eat more fried chicken. Although boycotting has been a popular form of protest for centuries, it makes me wonder if this whole dispute was not based around a chicken restaurant, would it be such a big deal? Would people still participate? My idea is that people began boycotting a fast-food restaurant because it is just so easy. An individual can simply go down the street to KFC or McDonald’s for their chicken needs.

Furthermore, it is even easier to boycott something that you do not use everyday, unless you absolutely need fried chicken to survive. On the other hand, the mere fact that a fast-food chain would become political is silly. Imagine if you saw Ronald McDonald speaking at the recent Republican Convention instead of Clint Eastwood. In my opinion, fast-food restaurants do not have the political capacity to become political and thus are not highly influential. Like seriously, people just want to to get their occasional or daily kick of calories and saturated fat, not an opinion on a highly contested political topic with their fries. This lack of capacity was evident when politicians were not afraid to jump in when there was such a low-risk of political backlash. However, Chick-fil-A gained political capacity when the politicians with influence supported the company. Moreover, the immense backlash by ordinary people put more attention to the issue and gave Chick-fil-A the undeserved media attention. In a way, the ridiculousness of Chick-fil-A’s statement became legitimized (or became something to be taken seriously) because of the huge amount of attention it was given.

The point is, what if Mark Zuckerberg advocated against same-sex marriage? Would the millions of users stop using Facebook and turn to the oh so popular Google+? If Apple CEO Tim Cook supported the arms trade would people stop using their iPhones, iPads and Macs? Or even on a larger scale, if an individual was against China’s human rights record, would they stop using Chinese made products? Although these are all hypothetical statements, consider that recently Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, Mackenzie, donated $2.5 million to the campaign to defend Washington’s same-sex marriage law. Considering Amazon’s recent substantial growth in the business world and popularity, will a boycott occur? In addition, as mentioned above, publicly boycotting something may give unwanted attention to the issue. In the case of Chick-fil-A, supporters of the restaurant lined up for hours to buy their products in order to counter the boycott.

While boycotting remains a popular and accessible method of protest, it is important to note its limitations or follies. Would you boycott something that would significantly affect your everyday life? I believe that many would not. Many would instead find different outlets to express their concerns, rather than risk their own personal losses to a certain cause. Furthermore, I make the argument that boycotting can have the opposite effect that it was intended for. This is especially the case with Chick-fil-A where the business’ views were given legitimacy through the attention it received following the controversial incident. Although I understand the motives of the boycotters, their intentions should not be read as something entirely selfless, but something done for the sake of practicality.

Quentin is a fourth year political science honors student who enjoys studying Chinese politics, discovering new viewpoints and most importantly, learning something new everyday. He is currently reading On China by Henry Kissinger. In addition, he is currently trying to be more active on Twitter, where you can follow him @quewl. 

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  • Lau Bak

    Boycot, an action to achieve political objectives. Effectiveness of boycotting depends on the objectives and public opinion on the subject matters. Supports from the general public will gain ground for success and yet government administration could “kill” the aciton through legislation for so-called public interest.

  • It’s not just fried chicken that’s doing the talking, or the company’s leadership. Chick-Fil-A’s charitable arm The Winshape Foundation donated $2 million in 2010 alone to groups that fight same-sex marriage and “ex-gay” organizations.

    When corporations have money like that to throw around, it’s naive to say any of them are innocent bystanders. Even the choice not to get involved in these debates can have a massive influence on the public conversation.