Chick-fil-A is where American politics really lives, so eat it
By Colin Horgan, Thursday 2 August 2012 07.00 EDT
Americans are apparently so bored with the 2012 election campaign that a chicken sandwich has easily taken over as the most interesting thing to talk about this summer. While Mitt Romney criss-crossed his way from London to Warsaw in an attempt to, perhaps, replicate the pre-presidential foreign trip Barack Obama pulled off with aplomb four years ago, back home in the US, everyone else was wondering what eating a fried chicken filet said about their morals. This is where politics now really lives, so eat it.
The backstory is well-known by now. The CEO of Chick-fil-A decided to let it be known how he felt about gay marriage (opposed it), spawning a backlash from consumers, some major municipal mayors, and – perhaps fittingly – the Muppets. The whole thing was quickly framed as part of a new cultural war that is currently tearing America apart at its seams – the kind of episode that fits extremely well into a cultural and media narrative. Better, in fact, than Romney’s bumbling foreign adventures, which rather than providing voters with a storyline on which they could take a practiced ideological stand, was likely to be seen as a mostly embarrassing, ultimately unrelatable foreign policy glad-hand tour, set to Yackety Sax. If it was seen at all.
It’s easier to stick to what you know. No doubt knowing this, former Republican presidential candidate and current Fox News host, Mike Huckabee stepped in to defend Chick-fil-A. In order to bolster support for the company, he encouraged people to visit their local franchise on Wednesday. It was dubbed Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. As Huckabee put it, it had the “simple” goal of affirming “a business that operates on Christian principles, and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse”. Too often, he said, “those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same-sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant”.
Sure enough, the news and social media were littered with pictures of long lineups at Chick-fil-A joints around the US, and even one Wendy’s sign stating that “We stand with Chick-fil-A” – a remark that was quickly downplayed by the official Wendy’s Twitter account as being a one-off from that particular restaurant. Wendy’s, the Twitter account went on to clarify, is open to everyone.
And while it all might spawn some head-shaking and brow-furrowing over what is to be done with the state of the discourse in America, it might be argued that here, at least, is one debate in which people wish to become engaged. On Wednesday, standing in a queue for fast food was no longer just standing in a queue for fast food – it was standing for values and, ultimately, to support a collective vision for the direction and fate of a nation. In other words, the kind of lineups a politician might beg for and, arguably, the kind of lines that a democracy with fledgling voter turnout rates might desperately need come election day.
It’s hardly surprising that it’s come to this, politics-by-chicken breast. It’s the political endpoint of the idea of brand: You, the credo advertisers pumped into brains for the better part of the preceding 20 or so years. You are defined less by your allegiances or your community involvement than by the logo on your chest or that cardboard food carton you just tossed from your window as you cruise the interstate in a car that was designed and tailored to your every need, including those six cupholders hiding in sleek, spring-loaded compartments.
This is the political marketplace of the real world. This is why nobody will care about Mitt Romney ham-fisting his way across Europe. You can accuse the system of being driven by money, but no one except the top donors perceives the bureaucratic political sphere as being one you can influence with your cash. The consumerist political sphere on the other hand? Here we have anti-poverty water, over there is some environmentally friendly coffee, and this new hatchback will help you save the polar bears. Why not a socially conscious tablet. We await a progressive beer or a constitutional laptop, maybe. But surely they will come. In the meantime, here is a sandwich with traditional values, so vote with your stomach. Vote Sandwich: 2012, and all that it stands for.
Photograph (modified): http://www.thebraiser.com/mike-huckabee-chick-fil-a-appreciation-day/