Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Starbucks, Gay Oreos, and Controversy

Some people want to Dump Starbucks because Starbucks issued a statement (January 2012) saying gay marriage should be legal, and that Starbucks is totally all about the inclusion and respect and "domestic partner benefits", all that stuff. (Here is more info on that story.)

I'm rather baffled about the whole thing.

On a related note, behold, the gay pride oreo:

Image source.

Unfortunately this is just photoshop. It's not a real oreo you can buy. (You'd probably die from that much sugar anyway. Or at least need a large glass of milk from a lesbian cow.)

But some people on the internet got all angry about this. And then other people on the internet got angry about the fact that people got angry. And some people (presumably in real life) are boycotting oreos and some people want to buy a ton, to show their support of oreo's support of gay marriage, and some people are completely confused about how one would even go about eating an oreo that thick.

(Seriously. It doesn't seem like a very structurally-sound design. And you know how the inside gets a little soft and melty when it's humid- especially in double-stufs?)

(Here is a blog post with an incredibly good perspective on this: My right to be offended by your existence trumps your right to exist, basically saying "What are people angry about? They're offended that oreo recognizes that gay people exist?")

And there was also a big deal made about JC Penney's Father's Day ad, featuring 2 dads.

The text says, "First Pals: What makes Dad so cool? He's the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver- all rolled into one. Or two." Image source.

Now I will ask a bunch of questions in an attempt to understand this.

Some people argue that companies shouldn't take a stand on a political issue. Historically, is that true? Have (seemingly-non-politics-related) companies come out with statements on political issues? Is that weird?

Some people argue that this is NOT a political issue. It's more of a human rights issue. Gay marriage is a human right. And gay people are real people. When an ad features a family with 2 gay dads, why is that a controversial "political statement"? Families like that do exist, and they're real people- they don't go about their one-dimensional lives just plotting to take over the government and destroy every straight person's family. (I mean, I assume they don't- I haven't actually asked any of them.) They just do normal-people things.

And the gay oreo- on the image it just says "Pride." You could interpret this in a lot of ways. Does it mean "gay marriage should be legal"? Does it mean "we're making a cool thing that some of our gay customers will appreciate"?

But no, it's different than a football oreo, and all those other special types of oreos. It IS a statement. They knew it would be controversial when they made that image. They made it because they think it's an important issue that they need to take a stand on.

Or maybe they're just in it for the money. Who wants to guess how many times that oreo image was shared on Facebook? That's free advertising.

And this isn't just abstract thought about "should companies make political statements?" This is about real people who get mocked or judged or excluded. And oreo is telling them "You are not alone. We support you." And maybe that's great to hear, in a culture where you just don't know how people are going to respond when they find out you're gay.

Maybe if the companies were silent on the issue, that wouldn't communicate "being neutral"- it would communicate the idea that gay people don't exist or matter. If JC Penney has ads with straight couples but not gay couples, doesn't that send the message that being straight is normal, and being gay is controversial and appalling and we can't have children seeing that? (You can argue about whether it's true that straight is "normal" and gay is "appalling"- maybe it's true, maybe not- but by not showing any gay couples, the advertisers ARE taking a side. Sometimes being silent is interpreted as agreement.)

Some people are angry that people are boycotting Starbucks. Why are they angry? People have a right to boycott whatever they want. I would assume the thinking is not "hey, you can't band together and boycott something- that's not fair!" but more along the lines of "it's terrible that they hate gay people so much that they would go to such lengths and boycott."

Are we only supposed to buy from companies whose values match perfectly with our values? Dude, it's a company. Since when do they have "values"? Besides maybe "make high-quality stuff and treat the employees/customers right." Their purpose is to sell you overpriced coffee. Their purpose is not to bring justice and human rights to the world.

But, if you were in a position of power in a company, and you thought there was a really really important issue going on in the world, and you had the power to make a statement that a lot of people would hear, shouldn't you use that power?

And the consumers' money/ purchasing decisions hold a lot of power over the company. Should consumers use that power for the greater good, and not just for getting themselves some tasty snacks?

I think part of the argument against companies that support gay rights is "You are sending the message that being gay is good and normal- but it's not. You're a bad influence." So, is there any validity here? If someone believes that gay relationships are sinful, then that statement seems to make sense. We shouldn't be encouraging something that's actually harmful.

And I feel like countering this with "you can't impose your religious beliefs on other people" doesn't work- the belief is that support for gay rights is bad for society as a whole. Therefore, people need to be warned that same-sex attraction is harmful. They could even argue that JC Penney is trying to impose on people a "religious belief" that "gay marriage isn't bad."

Maybe it comes back to the issue of whether being gay is "a choice."

Or maybe there has to be a distinction between who you are (which, in the case of being gay, is not a choice) and what you do.

Or maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe trying to make that distinction isn't helping anything. It still looks like hate to say "yeah I accept you- but you need to either become straight or be forever alone."

Or maybe it's not valid to claim that "support for gay rights is bad for society as a whole" without listening to what gay people have to say.

And at the same time, maybe you shouldn't call people bigots and assume their anger over the rainbow oreo is from intentional hatred.

So, lots of different questions/issues- I'm trying to understand all of the sides. Anyone have insight here? Or perhaps some more questions?

Image source.

edit: Oh snap, let's throw Chick-Fil-A in here too, with their position against gay marriage. How is that similar/different to the pro-gay-rights companies I've mentioned?


  1. Perhaps good questions to start with is: What is good to celebrate? What is not good to celebrates? The answers to these quesitons might provide a good framework for considering political and commercial endorsements.

    1. All right. What is good to celebrate? Things that are good- things that we are encouraging people to do. When someone does something right and it gets held up as a role model. Things like courage, love, forgiveness, overcoming difficulties. Little less-important things that are just for fun. Really interesting things, like scientific discoveries and different varieties of awesome food.

      (But this is all super-vague.)

      So, are you asking this because there is a connection between "celebrating" and companies making ads/policies related to LGBT people?

      Okay so what's your answer for "what is good to celebrate"?

  2. A majority of humans are, frankly, mean people. They'll find something to be angry about or criticize one way or another. They'll hate gay people, hate people who hate gay people, hate corporations that are neutral (irresponsible!), hate corporations that take sides, hate sidewalks that are too thin, hate cars that are too big, hate drinks that are too small, hate people that are too muscular... etc. Addressing people's hate goes nowhere.

    1. In other words, haters gonna hate. And I expected people to like, be reasonable, and that's why I've gotten so confused about all this stuff.

      If "addressing people's hate goes nowhere", then how should we respond? Or should we just not worry about it- it's not worth arguing over?

  3. Speaking as a teenage lesbian, I don't see why people are surprised that I don't really celebrate gay pride one way or another. To me personally, being lesbian means an aspect of my personality that means I like girls. It's a personality trait the same way "straight" is one. And that Oreo looks AWESOME!!