Boycotting the All-American Muslim
I had never heard of the TV show All-American Muslim until today. This is somewhat unsurprising, as it it is apparently a reality show broadcast on the TLC network. The show portrays a typical Muslim American family, doing in front of cameras the day-to-day minutia of suburban life that make reality shows so mind-bogglingly dull. As I don’t care for reality shows and they don’t show NBA or NCAA basketball games on TLC, there really is no reason I would have ever had a reason to hear about it – except for the surprisingly successful boycott against it.
According to a story by the Washington Post, it turns out that 65 of 67 advertisers, including McDonalds, General Motors, Campbell’s Soup, Lowe’s and Bank of America have pulled advertising dollars from TLC due to a boycott sponsored by the Florida Family Association. The FFA is an organization of indeterminate size, that exists for no other reason than to create socially driven boycotts of major corporations. In an open letter to the advertisers, the FFA has asked them to pull their dollars for the following reasons:
“’All-American Muslim’ is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law… The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”
In other words, the show is being boycotted because it shows a group of real Muslims that are not awful human beings. Or, more to the point, the show is being boycotted because the real-life people in it do not adhere to the narrative about Muslims the FFA wishes to be true.
Or even more to the point: Bank of America, McDonalds, Lowe’s and other Fortune 500s have just pulled their advertising dollars because a TV show portraying real minorities just wasn’t bigoted enough. (Or at all.)
Oh, how I have come to hate boycotts.
When I say “boycotts,” of course, I’m talking about today’s boycotts. Before I was old enough to have true purchasing power, I lived in Southern California and there were the occasional boycotts that made sense. A fruit grower that used toxic chemicals that made their way into the product, for example, or companies that had been caught illegally paying slave wages are the kinds of boycotts I can sympathize with. These boycotts looked to change destructive examples corporate malfeasance – usually one that put the public well-being directly at risk. For my generation, however, it seems like boycotts are all about the stifling of ideas that are different from our own. I think this trend really started (or at least I was first made aware of it) when I first moved away from home.
I went to college in Eugene, Oregon, which even in the Reagan years of my youth was about as liberal a campus and one might find. One of the more popular student hobbies was supporting Political Statement Boycotts of Things We Didn’t Buy. So, for example, most of us decided to pull all of our investments from US Bank until they divested from any companies doing business is South Africa. (Or, to be more precise, we would have boycotted US Bank had we any investments to move.) We also all agreed to boycott Dominos, which was a great boycott – partly because we had heard that Domino’s owner was pro-life, and partly because Track Town Pizza was cheaper, closer, and better tasting. Around the time I was leaving there was a movement to boycott Coors due to the right-wing leanings of the family that ran the brewery. This worked well too, since Coors was neither the cheap option nor the tasty option at that time, and consequently no one ever bought it anyway. Still, not buying these things because we liked other things better felt empty; not buying them because we were Making a Stand felt empowering.
Now in the days of the internet, however, boycotting has become big business – and the people who engage in it are not college-age hipsters with too much time on their hands. Instead, boycotts are being driven by adults who are paid through donations for their efforts. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough large public health crises to support an entire industry of professional boycotters; but there are lots of people doing things other people wish they wouldn’t do.
The FFA is a singularly magnificent example of this industry at work. That its “good work” reads more like an Onion article only makes their success with All-American Muslim that much more baffling. For example, other boycotts they are currently managing include Snickers and Starburst candy (for promoting homosexuality), Marvel and Disney (again, for promoting homosexuality), Campbell’s Soup (for promoting Islam), and 7-11 (for selling Playboy and therefore promoting
And they are hardly alone. One of the odd byproducts of having my email address available to League readers is that I occasionally get emails requesting my support in this or that boycott. Many of them suggest that the targeted company has an indirect relationship to either George Soros or the Koch brothers. Others point out that this CEO or that Chairman of the Board belong to this political party or that religious group. All of these groups, including the FFA, are 501-C3 non-profit charities; all are set up to take donations over their website. Tellingly, unlike any non-profit I work with, none of these organizations post their financial statements on their web, or offer to make them available as they are required by law to do. Instead, each directs you to contact some government agency should you have any questions.
In all of these cases, the boycotts in question are not engaged in curbing corporate malfeasance of any kind. Instead, each tries to eliminate groups of people from simultaneously (a) having different viewpoints from the boycotters and (b) making a living. The purpose of the boycott, then, is to either force others to state publicly that your beliefs are correct, or be unemployed for the foreseeable future. This feels both sinister and icky to me in the abstract. If the FFA is able to eliminate a TV show for no other reason than it honestly portrays people as human and promotes understanding among neighbors, then from my point of view it might tip all the way into the concrete “evil” category.
For me, those pro-free-market arguments that claim that corporations can be held in check by the consumer without government interference are tripped up a bit by the All-American Muslim boycott. This seems like a perfect example of how huge corporations can be swayed into outright and destructive bigotry by a small minority of fringe-dwellers. In fact, if I had to name my single biggest response to this story, it is a feeling of disappointment and contempt toward the Fortune 500 players who caved so quickly toward such an obviously mean-spirited and bigoted cause.
If you support these types boycotts – passing on mass emails to all your Facebook friends – I seriously ask you to reconsider. A company illegally throwing toxic waste into your children’s drinking water is a fine reason to drive them out of business. A company having hired someone that has a different political view than you – or a different religious belief, or a different gender preference, or a different skin color – isn’t.
Please join me in boycotting these boycotts. Do it for you, and do it for the children.
Do it for America.
A quick note here to collectively answer a number of commenters who are pushing back on my disappointment/surprise with Lowe’s and others. Perhaps I need to clarify…
I am not disappointed or surprised that Lowe’s is deciding to take a “dollars-first” approach to their advertising budget. Not only do I think they have a right to do this, I think they have a fiduciary responsibility toward their shareholders and employees to do so. However, I think of boycotting causes to be along a spectrum of “silly-to-obvious.” So, for example, on the obvious end you might have a news report that McDonalds saves money by buying cattle that are not properly checked for mad cow, and you might let McDonalds know that you will not be purchasing their product again until they correct this. On the far other end you might have someone that thinks that Campbell’s Soup is a CIA plot to control your mind, and let them know you’re on to them and will be buying Progesso from now on.
Most boycotts, of course, fall somewhere between these two ends. I would argue that a boycott against a TV show that had an interracial couple –because it had an interracial couple – farther toward the silly end. And in my opinion, the All-American Muslim boycott is pretty close to the one I made up just right there.
So it isn’t surprising that all of these companies caved to a boycott; it’s surprising that they caved to THIS boycott. I would venture that Burt’s observations above are correct; no one was going to know this show existed, and no one was ever going to be aware the this penny-ante group of rubes was staging a boycott. I can’t understand why these companies didn’t just ignore the FFA. Now they are in the news, and other larger groups are talking boycotts because they caved, and they come across as looking very bad. In attempting to avoid controversy they have created a mini-PR nightmare out of whole cloth.
It wasn’t just a morally suspect decision on their parts, although it certainly was that. It was a bad, stupid business decision.
UPDATE II: For those that continue to wonder what I would have had Lowe’s do in the face of the FFA boycott, my response is here.