Boycotting the Once-ler

So like everyone else, you’ve been buying Thneeds from the Once-ler for years without ever hesitating to think about it.

After all, a Thneed’s a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need! It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat. But it has other uses. Yes, far beyond that. …

But then one day you read an eye-opening, heart-rending piece of investigative journalism. You come to understand the awful ramifications of the manufacture and distribution of Thneeds. You learn about Gluppity-Glupp and Schloppity-Schlopp and what they are doing to the critical habitat of Bar-ba-loots, Swomee-Swans and Humming Fish.

Step 1: Abstaining from complicity

And then it dawns on you that you are complicit in this. Every penny you’ve spent over the years buying Thneeds has gone to support the Once-ler’s Truffula-destroying death-machine. And you decide you want no part of that.

“No more,” you say out loud, your jaw set determinedly, and you vow never again to spend even one penny on Thneeds or anything else the Once-ler might be selling.

This is a Good Thing. It’s also the right thing to do.

First, do no harm. By refusing to participate in the harm being done to the Bar-baloots and the Swomee Swans and the Humming Fish, you’re becoming a less harmful person and therefore a better person. You’re also making your money serve your morals instead of the other way around. This is all good and necessary. I would even say it’s obligatory.

But it’s also mostly about you — not in a selfish sense, but your decision to stop buying Thneeds will affect you more than it affects anything else. Your abstention may have some effect on the Once-ler and on the Bar-ba-loots, etc. By withholding your financial support, you may be very, very slightly reducing the Once-ler’s capacity to harm those creatures. And you’re contributing to market pressures that might persuade the Once-ler to reform his ways — if, that is, he is somehow able to determine that his infinitesimal dip in revenue is due to losing you as a customer, and if he is further able to guess at the reason for that loss.

You’ll probably want to encourage such reform by sending him a letter announcing your decision and explaining your reasons for it. It’s not terribly likely, but it’s possible that such a letter will help to nudge the corporation in a more positive direction.

But even after you craft a compelling, eloquent letter and fire it off to Once-ler HQ, the bottom line is that your decision to never again buy a Thneed won’t do much to change the Once-ler or to change the world. Mostly it will just change you.

That’s a Good Thing, but perhaps it’s also just a good start.

Step 2: Organizing a boycott

Having changed yourself, you’ve now become the sort of person who can’t bear not also trying to change the world. You realize that’s a much bigger job and that you won’t be able to do it alone. So you decide to start organizing and recruiting others to join you in a formal boycott of the Once-ler.

This changes what you’re doing. Before you were an individual, acting alone and vowing never again to buy a Thneed. But now, by organizing a boycott, you’re no longer just an individual acting alone. And you’re also no longer vowing to never again purchase a Thneed.

Boycotts are not about “never.” Boycotts are about “until.” (Or, to stick with our theme here, about “unless.”)

The point of a boycott is not to start a “No Thneeds” club, but rather it’s about leveraging your collective economic power as consumers to compel the Once-ler to reform his practices. If the only goal of your boycott is a cry of protest — a collective howl of “Yee-argh!” — then you probably will achieve that goal.

But that’s probably all you will achieve.

To be effective, a boycott needs to set specific goals and to make specific demands. You’ll need something concrete and measurable that you can demand the Once-ler do, insisting that none of you will buy Thneeds until he commits to doing it. Perhaps a Truffula-tree replanting program to ensure a sustainable Bar-ba-loot habitat, plus a commitment to stop dumping Gluppity-Glupp into Humming Fish ponds.

This approach is far likelier to have an impact on the Once-ler’s behavior, and is thus likely to be a more effective way of changing the world.

But note that this approach also once again involves you in the world of the Once-ler. You’re no longer abstaining. By shifting the focus away from maintaining your own impotent innocence, you may lose a bit of that innocence in exchange for losing that impotence. “Never again” becomes “not until,” and the promise of achieving some kind of individual moral purity recedes a bit.

Taking this step involves trade-offs because this step involves involvement. Involvement means caring more about changing the world than about abstaining from it to preserve your own purity.

And unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

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  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Paragraphs full of made up words are very hard to read.

  • Lori

    Not a big fan of Dr Suess I take it. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    No, I’m not. Somehow got through a childhood as a massive book nerd without Dr Seuss.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Sgt. Pepper: essential reading before this post, Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. The book, mind. Not the movie. Love interest what the fuck.

  • Tonio

    I know a couple of staunch Catholics who recently began boycotting Girl Scout cookies, because they believe the claim by the bishops that the organization supports abortion. This appears to be exactly what Fred is talking about – instead of an organized action aimed at changing GS practices, this is about individual purity. In a way, it treats the world itself as a bad thing and the believer as superior to it. Taking the bishops’ statements about insurance at face value, one would think that the only way Catholics could remain true to their consciences is by living in relative isolation like the Amish.

  • cjmr

    Except that in this case, GS practices don’t need to be changed, because although GSUSA had partnered with PP for some health clinics in the past and have distributed PP materials about women’s health issues to older scouts, no cookie money has ever gone to PP.

  • Tonio

    Assuming they would want to change GS practices, my guess is they would want the group to drop any association with PP at all, financial or otherwise. One of them stopped reading John Irving’s The Cider House Rules when he found out what Dr. Larch did on the side.

  • Tonio

    This stance on moral purity is very strange. If I didn’t know the details, I might think that the baker expects the gay couple to, say, ritually slaughter a young child after exchanging vows. 

    Aside – the couple in the article plan to marry in Provincetown. My wife and I went there when I was about 30, and that was only the second time I had ever seen gay people living openly. (The first was a guest lecturer in one of my college classes who was talking about homophobia.) No one gives it a second thought if my wife and I dine together publicly or if we hold hands in public. It’s wrong and unjust that gay couples can’t receive that same indifference in most of the country.

  • the amazing kim

    So what’s a veg*n to do? Can’t lobby a beef company to stop being a beef company and sell cow-watching tours instead. What if you think if the whole practice of making Thneeds is unethical?

  • Narccisus

    Of course the unspoken reality is that your clothes and socks and toys have to come from somewhere. Thankfully the NEW place you shop at just hasn’t been exposed yet. So you can sleep soundly (and righteously) till they do. Or we can stop pretending this shell game has any other outcome.

  • Isabel C.

    And what alternative do you offer? Just continuing to buy from the companies and not doing anything?

    I mean, yes: living in the world involves moral compromises, you have to pick your battles, and so forth. Plus, there’s also the question of the front-line workers and how they’ll ultimately be helped or harmed by your actions, and so on. These are good questions to ask.
    “It doesn’t do anything so why bother?” is not. 

  • The_L1985

    It doesn’t say that you’re necessarily buying a different brand of Thneed. If you don’t actually need the Thneeds, you can simply abstain from Thneed-buying altogether.

    Saying “I won’t buy IPhones” doesn’t automatically require you to buy a different kind of smartphone.

  • EllieMurasaki

    A cell phone pretty much is a necessity these days, and as far as I know every single one is either manufactured in or uses pieces-parts manufactured in somewhere they don’t pay workers shit. I’ll give you smartphones not being a necessity, but I don’t know of any moral reason to go with a dumbphone over a smartphone.

    (Excuse me why I throw a fit about cell phone carriers. My current plan is AT&T: I feed the phone $100 and that does me for a year or until I use enough minutes or texts to use up the $100, at the rate of twenty-five cents a minute or twenty a text. Last September I got lost downstate and couldn’t call or text my parents to Google Maps me directions or call or text the people I was meeting to tell them I’d be late, despite having like $30 still on the phone, because I’d forgotten that last time I’d fed the phone was the previous September. That is how much I use the damn phone. Any cell phone carrier that wants to tempt me away from AT&T needs to offer a plan that costs me less than $100/yr. CREDO Mobile wants to tempt me away from AT&T on the grounds that AT&T supports the Tea Party and other unsavory causes and CREDO Mobile supports the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and baby pandas. I would love to be tempted, but the cheapest plan CREDO Mobile has is $30/mo. It is much more cost-efficient to give AT&T $100, sulk about the fraction of that that goes to unsavory causes, and divide $260 among the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and baby pandas.)

    Anyway, Thneeds in the original are some sort of fiber creation. To replace a store-bought Thneed with one that has no taint of environmental unfriendliness or lack of adherence to labor standards, you’d have to do all your own knitting/weaving, all your own spinning, all your own arcane-magic-that-gets-fiber-from-the-plant-to-something-spinnable, all your own fiber-growing…wait, you’re not paying yourself a damn thing for this, so you better enjoy this whole process, otherwise it’s a thorough waste of time, because you’re lucky if you get paid enough per Thneed-substitute for enough Thneed-substitutes to cover the cost of materials and to hell with getting paid for your labor. Because we are collectively so damn used to being able to go to Walmart and buy a whole hell of a lot of Thneeds for what it would cost to buy a single Thneed if everyone involved in its production were being paid a living wage.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    re: cell phones – my wife and I used Credo for a year.  The service was fine, but the bills were not. I think, if you’re out on the West Coast where cell plans tend to be more expensive, the cost is comparable. Anywhere else, you’re paying extra to trumpet your idealism. Instead, we have switched to the Virgin Mobil pay as you go plan, and donate some of the money we save to charitable organisations. 

  • The_L1985

    So….use your old cellphone until it is literally falling apart?  That’s what I do.  I can’t think of a single phone I’ve had for fewer than 5 years before replacing it, except for the time my parents switched us from Virgin’s pay-as-you-go plan to the Cingular family plan, and the phone wasn’t compatible with the changeover.

    You don’t have to buy a cellphone every year.  A lot of people tend to forget this.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So….use your old cellphone until it is literally falling apart?

    I think I picked a model of phone that was free with any plan. I don’t need to replace it. I’ve never felt the need to replace my phone, except the time I switched from Verizon to AT&T. (I miss my first cell phone. It let me send texts, including texts with pictures or video attached, to email addresses. This phone doesn’t, which means I have no way of getting pictures and video off of it.) The yearly $100 to AT&T is for calls and texts, not a new phone.

  • DCFem

    This was me after I read a Mother Jones article about the business practices of online giants like amazon. The treatment of workers was totally appalling and so backward that I wondered when one of their warehouses would be shot up by a disgruntled employee. So I started going to brick and mortar stores for everything. But what good does that do? The brick and mortar stores aren’t exactly pillars of fairness when it comes to work practices either. So I get where Fred is coming from on this one. It is frustrating that the actions of one (or a few) people interested in justice won’t make a difference, but it won’t.

  • Parhelion

    “It is frustrating that the actions of one (or a few) people interested in justice won’t make a difference, but it won’t.”

    Hmm. I’m afraid, based on strong evidence, I have to disagree.  For example, my single-gender marriage didn’t come out of nowhere. Its seeds were planted decades ago by a very, very small group of people who were too far gone to recognize their interest in justice couldn’t possibly make a difference when measured against centuries of contrary beliefs and crushing amounts of social inertia.

    Speaking for myself, I’d love to skip all this activism and getting involved stuff.  It’s heartbreaking in its toughness and not a good fit with my personality.  But, since I have proof that the actions of a few aren’t always futile,  I also have to admit how much I owe to others who didn’t give up.  And I’d rather not entirely freeload on their actions.

    To be frank, I’m pretty sure we all owe these sorts of debts…

  • DCFem

    We do all owe debts, but boycotts today just won’t work like they did in the past. Today, wealth is concentrated in the hands of an ever smaller number of people who have an enormous amount of control over our government. So yes, I continue to fight for voting rights, marriage equality, workers rights, women’s rights, etc. but I don’t do so through boycotts because they have become an exercise in futility.

    To give you an example from the haters, do you remember when a group of evangelicals boycotted Disney for having a “gay weekend” at Disney World? It didn’t work because Disney is a ginormous corporation that is everywhere. They aren’t confined to the real estate of Disney Land and Disney World anymore. Disney is at least 45 different television channels, stores in every mall, several cruise ships, etc. Boycotting them makes about as much sense as a fruit fly biting an elephant and thinking that will kill the elephant. I think I’m just being practical by abandoning boycotts in favor of other efforts that might actually work — like donating money to the grossly underfunded groups who are battling for marriage equality.

  • Erl

     Boycotting them makes about as much sense as a fruit fly biting an elephant and thinking that will kill the elephant.

    This misconceives the point, I think. A boycot isn’t an attempt to wound or kill; it’s an attempt to shift the terms of engagement. If being openly pro-gay had lead to a 2% drop in profits relative to keeping mum, it’s not implausible that this could change behavior. It’s complicated because the executives are wealthy enough to take some hits for their principles, whatever those principles may be, but in general, a small detriment can be enough to incentivize a small change.
    This goes double for business practices, which are not matters of principle. (i.e., nobody at Amazon believes strongly in worst-possible-working-conditions) So the boycott would only have to equal or exceed the profit created by the abusive conditions, adjusted by the amount that the management cares. Which may be on your side, even! Probably most executives like to think of themselves as good people; if it can even look like good business sense to stop embarrassing, abusive practices, they may be excited to go for it. And if your target is non-monopolistic at all, you don’t need to make their profits fall to zero, just fall behind competing companies. This ruins the day of the people who can change policies, and they don’t like to have their days ruined.Long story short: boycotts have a real chance to be effective precisely because they don’t need to be overwhelmingly powerful to be successful; in many cases they can win just by shifting marginal incentives enough.

  • Lori

     

    The brick and mortar stores aren’t exactly pillars of fairness when it comes to work practices either.  

    There’s “not a pillar of fairness” and “women praying they won’t get their period because their bathroom breaks aren’t long enough to deal with it” and “dealing with a heat wave and warehouse temps high enough to make people sick not by trying to lower the temp effectively or, gods forbid, closing the place down until it’s safe, but by having ambulances standing by for the folks who get heat stroke trying to keep those smiley-face boxes flying out that door”.

    The lesser of two evils isn’t good, but it is a lesser evil and you can only do what you can do.

  • GDwarf

     

    This was me after I read a Mother Jones article about the business practices of online giants like amazon

    Was that about warehouses actually owned by those companies (Amazon, etc), or by the companies that they contracted out to?

    I mean, on one level the difference doesn’t really matter: They should’ve done due-diligence and looked at how workers were treated. On the other, it is at least slightly better if they simply hired the cheapest company, rather than setting up such warehouses themselves.

    Further, if they are contracted-out, then I’d suspect that most brick-n-mortar setups probably use them, too.

    It’s a real shame because I genuinely like much of what Amazon has done. They pretty-much single-handedly popularized eBooks, and when they had a virtual monopoly they kept prices low (while Apple negotiated with publishers to fix prices artificially high). They’ve revolutionized cloud computing and just generally driven quite a bit of innovation.

    But they’re far from perfect, alas.

  • DCFem

     It is companies they contract out to but I don’t think that makes it any better. And unfortunately, you’re probably right that the brick and mortar stores use those warehouses too.

  • Lori

    Even if Amalgamated has other customers, the brick & mortar stores are not the reason their workers are basically in hell 10 1/2 hours a day, Amazon is. The demands of low cost + fast shipping are what make Amalgamateda a hellmouth, not the work itself. I’ve worked in warehouses, in fact I work in a (different type of) warehouse now.  The work is tough because being on your feet all day on cement is not fun. However, I’ve never gotten shocked by the product because my employer was too f’ing cheap to buy static mats, my employer did not keep fans blowing all winter because they didn’t care if I was freezing, I’ve never gotten heat stroke and I’ve always been allowed enough time to use the damn bathroom. 

  • DCFem

     I haven’t ordered anything online since I read that article. Maybe I’m just cynical but I don’t think that my actions will change anything for the workers in those warehouses. I just can’t bring myself to add to their misery by ordering online.

  • Lori

    That’s pretty much how I feel. I don’t think it’s cynical, I think it’s realistic. The fact that I don’t order from Amazon doesn’t do anything at all to Amazon and isn’t going to change anything at those warehouses, but it still matters to me that I not participate in that. My current temp gig is unpleasant in a lot of ways and I just can’t deal with the idea that I’m contributing to a system that makes things so much worse for other people who are struggling.

  • Isabel C.

    Hm. I wasn’t aware of these conditions, and now am considering what–as a reader and an author–I should do about this. Thank you for posting that. 

  • Lori

    Thanks are due to Mac McClelland who, bless her, actually took the hit and worked in those places to research her articles.

    http://www.motherjones.com/rights-stuff/2011/07/ohio-warehouse-temps-unemployment

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor?page=1

    I would have gotten fired on day 2, day 3 tops. I have no poker face and
    when I’m thinking, “What the hell is wrong with you?” people can tell more often than not. Evil bosses tend not to like that.

  • Isabel C.

    Heh, yeah, me too.
    And I realize that DCFem was the first person posting about that, now. Sorry!Also, Googling says that they’ve now put in AC, at least, and are offering tuition reimbursements? So it seems like a point in favor of public exposure and protest, but…we’ll see, I guess. 

  • Rhubarbarian82

     

    The fact that I don’t order from Amazon doesn’t do anything at all to
    Amazon and isn’t going to change anything at those warehouses, but it
    still matters to me that I not participate in that.

    Ordering from Amazon really, really tears me up, because I’ve tried using brick and mortar alternatives and it’s just not feasible anymore. My time is at too much of a premium to drive from store to store, hoping that one of them will just have the item I want in stock. Even trying to buy things that should be really simple turns into a huge chore, when I can just click a couple of times on Amazon and have it delivered directly to my apartment. I’m not sure what brick and mortar stores are trying to compete on, but it’s not inventory, price, or friendliness.

    Books I can make a point of buying from the local bookstore run by the kindly old couple, but for a lot of other things I find myself having to fall back on ordering from Amazon. I think Amazon is really starting to show troubling undercurrents, especially after the California sales tax initiative debacle and the stories of how warehouse workers are treated, but… I have a hard time finding alternatives.

  • Lori

     

    I mean, on one level the difference doesn’t really matter: They
    should’ve done due-diligence and looked at how workers were treated. On
    the other, it is at least slightly better if they simply hired the
    cheapest company, rather than setting up such warehouses themselves.  

    The warehouse is not owned by Amazon. I don’t think that makes the situation a wit better and in fact may make it worse. Part of the reason that Amazon doesn’t own it’s own warehouse, but instead contracts for its abusive working conditions, is so that people can say exactly what you’re saying and go right on shopping at Amazon. Amazon knows exactly what they’re doing.

  • Chunky Style

    Here’s a small dumb thing I do.  I have a problem with the song “Sweet Home Alabama”, not because I object to Southern rock, but because this particular song is about defending Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the like.  (That’s not the song’s explicit focus, but it is certainly getting on peoples’ cases for daring to criticize Jim Crow / lynchings / etc.)

    So, when that song comes on the radio, I change the station and don’t go back to that station for about a week.  More importantly, I contact the radio station in question and tell them what I am doing, and why: nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, there is no excuse for playing a song that is attempting to defend the very worst of American history.  To my knowledge, I have not succeeded in changing any radio station’s mind.

    I don’t think a boycott would be a proper next step, though: the song is not so deliberately loathsome that any good case can be made for banning it outright.  Getting a bunch of people together to exert pressure on the radio station would feel like a genuine attempt to curtail freedom of speech, and that’s a line I don’t care to cross.  So I’ll continue to try to persuade in my halfwitted crusade, but I will leave it at persuasion, not coercion.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Here’s a small dumb thing I do.  I have a problem with the song “Sweet
    Home Alabama”, not because I object to Southern rock, but because this
    particular song is about defending Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the
    like.  (That’s not the song’s explicit focus, but it is certainly
    getting on peoples’ cases for daring to criticize Jim Crow / lynchings /
    etc.)

    Not necessarily.  The song was actually written in response to a perception that Neil Young painting the South with a very wide brush as a collection of racists in “Southern Man” and “Alabama.”  Ronnie Van Zandt has said that he was trying to say, basically, that it’s more complicated than all that.

    It’s possible that Van Zandt is just covering for his own racism, but it’s also entirely possible that he’s ambivalent about that aspect of his own Southern roots and was trying to say that there’s good and bad in everything and simply saying that all that there is in Alabama is racist hicks is just flat wrong.  It’s also entirely possible that he’s not a very good songwriter.

    I, personally, don’t care.  My only real connection to Skynyrd is that they, along with Creedence and the Eagles, are pretty much the grandfathers of modern Americana and Texas Country.  All I know is that I’ve never through of “Sweet Home Alabama” as an outright endorsement of racism, but instead an acknowledgment that, yes, it’s an aspect of life in Alabama.  What it seems to do, instead, is try to say, “That’s all in the past now, and don’t try to tell me you don’t have skeletons in your closet, Mr. Judgmental Canadian,” which is a whole other conversation.  Especially since, y’know, bringing up Watergate is kinda stupid as a counter to Wallace.  In a song that’s written to counter a Neil Young song.

    I’m sticking with “Ronnie Van Zandt isn’t a particularly good songwriter,” personally.

  • http://formerconservative.wordpress.com/ Formerconservative

    Lynyrd Skynyrd is still recording new music.

    I’ve heard some of it.  It isn’t very good.

    It also is mostly about the Tea Party and how awesome they are.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Lynyrd Skynyrd is still recording new music.

    Shocking.

    I’ve heard some of it.  It isn’t very good.

    Not shocking.

    It also is mostly about the Tea Party and how awesome they are.

    Sadly, also not shocking.

  • The_L1985

    Dear gods, they went Tea Party?

    DO NOT WANT.

  • Tonio

    What it seems to do, instead, is try to say, “That’s all in the past now, and don’t try to tell me you don’t have skeletons in your closet, Mr. Judgmental Canadian,” which is a whole other conversation.

    And that’s what makes the song disquieting. It’s the same defensive attempts at deflection that segregation proponents had been using, going back to Strom Thurmond. It implies that non-Southerners have no standing to criticize anything about the South. 

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    And that’s what makes the song disquieting. It’s the same defensive
    attempts at deflection that segregation proponents had been using, going
    back to Strom Thurmond. It implies that non-Southerners have no
    standing to criticize anything about the South.

    I dunno.  I tend to feel that some of the defensiveness is warranted, although it largely depends on who is doing the speaking.  Yankees (and I say this as a Chicagan who lived in Dallas for a year and a half and spent a little time in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana while I was down there) tend to simply dismiss The South as a bunch of unreconstructed racists and backwards rednecks and imply that they’re the sole drag on the progress of society.

    In truth, there is plenty of shit that goes down in Yankeedom.  There are racists in Chicago and Boston.  There are backwards hicks in Pennsylvania.  There are also thoughtful progressives in Mobile and mixed-race marriages in Atlanta.

    A poorly written, garbled song that starts off on the defensive and just stays there the whole time probably isn’t the best way to get that point across.  The fact is, though, that everyone is tainted in some way and simply saying, “Those guys over there are all at fault!” isn’t a particularly good tactic for solving society’s problems.  And, as we’ve discussed endlessly ’round these here parts, starting a conversation with, “You suck!” isn’t really a good way to get enthusiastic participation from the other party.

  • Chunky Style

    “In truth, there is plenty of shit that goes down in Yankeedom. There are racists in Chicago and Boston. There are backwards hicks in Pennsylvania. There are also thoughtful progressives in Mobile and mixed-race marriages in Atlanta.”

    True.  The difference is, appealing to racists in New York will make you a pariah, while in Alabama it will get you elected.  The electoral map of the United States shows it very consistently: with the Civil Rights Act, the Democrats lost the South.  (I say we’re STILL fighting the battle of the Civil Rights Act, and the battle won’t be over until dogwhistling to racists stops being an easy way for Republicans to win elections.)

    Can we talk about the Cleveland/Akron area for a minute?  That’s where I live, so I’m going to go “Sweet Home Cuyahoga” for just a minute.  Our history includes all kinds of stops on the Underground Railroad, but it also includes the largest chapter of the KKK in the country back in the 1920s.  We even have examples of segregated waiting rooms at the dentist’s as recently as a few decades ago.  I acknowledge the shameful parts just as readily as the laudable, because I am an adult.

    To muddy things further, John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame was motivated to go on his killing spree by an abolitionist preacher in Hudson Ohio (smack-dab between Cleveland and Akron); Brown grew up around Hudson, and his father maintained a stop on the Underground Railroad.  So what do we want to say about John Brown?  We can rightly say he was a terrorist, and we can also rightly say he backed a worthy cause.  My point: it’s possible to see the good and the bad in one’s culture or region, and if I can do it, Ronnie Van Zandt has no excuse for not doing it.  Besides being dead for 35 years, I mean.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     The difference is, appealing to racists in New York will make you a pariah, while in Alabama it will get you elected.

    True enough.  Although I’m given to understand that there are parts of upstate New York where that’s not quite so true.  Downstate Illinois is much the same in that regard.

    But that’s splitting hairs and gets into the rural/urban divide, rather than the North/South divide.

    So what do we want to say about John Brown?  We can rightly say he was a
    terrorist, and we can also rightly say he backed a worthy cause.  My
    point: it’s possible to see the good and the bad in one’s culture or
    region, and if I can do it, Ronnie Van Zandt has no excuse for not doing
    it.  Besides being dead for 35 years, I mean.

    Yup.  I’m still going with my theory that Ronnie Van Zandt wasn’t a particularly deep thinker.

    The real problem in this case, assuming Van Zandt was being honest when he said that he didn’t actually support Wallace, but was trying to make a point, is mindless tribalism.  The South gets attacked, so the true sons of the South had best defend it.  I’m thinking that if you’re looking to Skynyrd to make reasonable, nuanced statements about culpability then you’re probably going to be waiting a long time.  Especially since, y’know, Ronnie’s dead and apparently the rest of the band is cheering on the Tea Party.

  • Chunky Style

    “I’m thinking that if you’re looking to Skynyrd to make reasonable, nuanced statements about culpability then you’re probably going to be waiting a long time.”

    Oh no, I’m not imagining the Van Zandts as a clan of great intellectuals, encouraging intellectual debate among intellectual fans.  Pretty much the opposite, in fact: they encourage lazy acceptance of our worst instincts.

    It’s kind of like the umbrage I take at “South Park”: no it’s clearly not highbrow material, but it helps popularize intolerant attitudes.  “South Park” has gone a long way to making anti-Semitism at least somewhat socially acceptable, and they’ve even made hassling gingers a thing.

  • Tonio

    Ironic since Matt Stone is Jewish. Not that Parker and Stone are the equivalent of Norman Lear, but Eric Cartman might have been created specifically as a straw man like Archie Bunker. While reactionaries adopted Bunker as a hero, I suspect many SP fans see Cartman as a reaction against “political correctness.”

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

     

    “South Park” has gone a long way to making anti-Semitism at least
    somewhat socially acceptable,

    Sadly, yes. I think the problem is, South Park’s brand of satire walks on that thin line where whether you recognize it as criticism of or celebration of a thing depends on whether you critize or celebrate that thing. Also, though they clearly have a “he’s an asshole, anything he does is something you probably shouldn’t do” character in Eric Cartman, whoa God is Cartman a popular character. Like, on T-shirts and crap. So you have a lot of unnuanced people who just think whatever bigotry Cartman is espousing on the latest episode is funny, and they imitate it without taking responsibility for it.

    At least, that seems to account for the behavior I’ve seen.

    and they’ve even made hassling gingers a
    thing.

    Oh, is that where that came from? A handful of my league’s skaters were out at an Olde Main Street kind of function, on wheels and in full derby gear, promoting our upcoming bout. A couple of them had their kids along. One of the kids in question has bright red-orange hair. And these … pre-teen? early teen? …girls walked along with us for about a block yelling GINGER! HEY GINGER!

    I thought they were referencing Harry Potter or something. To my knowledge, calling a red-head “ginger” was more common in UK usage than in US usage.

    The red-head kid they were yelling at, by the way — and in the presence of his mother, too! — couldn’t have been older than five. Thanks, South Park.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Sadly, yes. I think the problem is, South Park’s brand of satire walks on that thin line where whether you recognize it as criticism of or celebration of a thing depends on whether you critize or celebrate that thing. Also, though they clearly have a “he’s an asshole, anything he does is something you probably shouldn’t do” character in Eric Cartman, whoa God is Cartman a popular character. Like, on T-shirts and crap. So you have a lot of unnuanced people who just think whatever bigotry Cartman is espousing on the latest episode is funny, and they imitate it without taking responsibility for it.

    I don’t know if that’s entirely fair to characterize it as “nuance”. Cartman isn’t “an asshole” who you should’t emulate. It’s not a *minor point*. Cartman isn’t a scamp or a rebel or a curmudgeon; he’s not Archie Bunker in the fourth grade.

    Eric Cartman is a murderer. He’s a sociopath.  I mean, what more exactly could Parker and Stone do to communicate “Don’t be like this guy”?

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Eric Cartman is a murderer. 

    Granted it’s been years since I’ve seen it, but who did he kill? Other than Kenny, who pops back up like Wile E Coyote – and when operating in a universe where death is just a punchline it’s hard to take it as other than a joke.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Mr. and Mrs. Tenorman, most famously.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    *reads South Park ep description*

    *backs away slowly*

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     It must be hard writing for South Park – how much MORE offensive can they possibly get?

  • Lori

     

    To my knowledge, calling a red-head “ginger” was more common in UK usage than in US usage.  

    It is. For some reason that I don’t understand at all it has caught on here recently. It seems to have started  as the latest thing that sort of pretentious people borrow from British English in order to make themselves sound cook or whatever, but then it hit Twitter and now it’s every damn where and it’s (at least mildly) annoying. (I also saw a British person say that it has some less than flattering connotations, but I don’t know if that’s true/how widespread it is in the UK.)

  • Chunky Style

    Like I say, the recent popularity of the term “ginger” in the US — to say nothing of ginger-bashing — is entirely due to “South Park”.

    Well that, and peoples’ propensity for absorbing ideas like sponges, indiscriminately.

  • Tonio

    For any UK readers of Slacktivist, did the term “ginger” originate with anti-Irish and anti-Welsh prejudice? Unlike South Park, the Harry Potter books appear to condemn the term’s usage. 

  • Lori

    South Park isn’t that popular so I think it may be a stretch to say that it’s entirely responsible for people all over the place using “ginger”. “Ginger” has stuck and spread in ways that other SP things have not, so there has to be some other factor involved.

  • JonathanPelikan

    (Long post ahead and I’m not sure I’m getting my point across well.) 

    (Also I know Disqis is going to fuck up the spacing on this big time. Apologies in advance.)

    (EVERY FUCKING PARAGRAPH BREAK WHY DISQIS YOU ARE THE WORST FUCKING-)

    I agree in specific with many of the points you make, particularly being from Missouri myself where It’s Complicated And Vaguely Southern Sometimes is pretty much the law of the land. Also, having ‘Southern’ be code for a whole raft of classist stuff and stereotyping attached to legitimate criticism of the past and current sins of Conservatives is really, really annoying, see: “trailer trash”, “poor white trash”, and other things which are aimed at people like Teabaggers and yet end up hitting a lot of collateral damage and spreading ignorance on the way in.

    Thing is, though, I worry because a lot of your points sound like what I hear of Centrism, that is, the main thrust of ‘well. your criticism may be difficult to argue against, but you’re flawed too and things are Complicated so let’s not go apportioning blame’. It’s basically one of the best covers Conservatism, either in the past or present, can ask for, as it allows them to continue without the scorn, ridicule, and hate they deserve.

    Our bigger national problem isn’t that Conservatives and Centrists and people who uphold corrupt and unjust systems are called out enough and hammered enough or too much; I’d argue it’s the other issue, where, well, you know, if somebody’s yelling at a racist Teabagger and the Teabagger’s yelling back about the Lying African in the White House, that’s a Debate and that’s two equivalent sides and who can really say?

    Boiling it down, what I end up hearing at first (and I’ll be very clear that”s not what I think you’re actually saying) is something like ‘well, there were racists in the north too, so we can’t really judge the south.’

    I’m not saying that you’re doing this but I just wanted to put in a big old plug for anti-Centrism and Both Sides Don’t. I’ll take allies wherever I can find them, still, but when it comes to the Southern History, we absolutely have Neo-Confederates and people who say Blacks And Whites Got Along Fine Until The Northerners… and those people get elected governors of states. We absolutely need to hammer them with everything we’ve got, provided we don’t end up hitting people who don’t deserve it, too.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Boiling it down, what I end up hearing at first (and I’ll be very clear
    that”s not what I think you’re actually saying) is something like
    ‘well, there were racists in the north too, so we can’t really judge the
    south.’

    Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt.  I was saying that (I think) Ronnie Van Zandt was trying to say that and expanding on the thought.

    But, yeah, I have an odd perspective as a Yankee who lived in Texas and hung out with non-stereotypical Texans.  From my perspective you can’t say, “Everyone in [insert place here] is bad,” or, “Everyone in [insert other place here] is good.”  That’s really a shitty way to solve any problems, since nowhere are all people bad and no people are all bad, either.

    But, by the same token, we can’t judge The South, just as we can’t judge The North or The City of Denver, Colorado.  There are good people in The South.  There are bad people in Buffalo.  If you want to change Alabama, you need to go find those people in Birmingham and Montgomery and Mobile who reject all of that racist, chauvinistic bullshit that is called “Southern Culture.”

    There’s a brilliant episode of Sports Night that addressed exactly that, with Robert Guillame’s Isaac Jaffe getting on TV and giving a very Sorkin speech about how there are many great traditions in the South that should be preserved, but the Confederate flag is not one of them, since it stands for ignorance and bigotry and hatefulness.  That’s how we need to do it.  Separate the wheat from the chaff, work with the wheat, and don’t say, “Y’all are a bunch of back-assward failures of humanity.”  That’s not how things get changed.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Since quoting Solzhenitsyn when it becomes appropriate seems to be a standard role I play now: Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.

    That said, it is neither impossible nor necessarily inappropriate for us to take action to limit the world-affecting power of a group that, statistically speaking, acts in ways that make the world worse on net.

  • Tonio

    There are plenty of places outside the South where the “Southern Strategy” continues to be used. Romney’s campaign employs those euphemisms more and more (“free stuff from the government”) as part of a general pandering to US exceptionalism. In London, he implies that those pansy Europeans can’t run an Olympics as effectively as macho US frontiersmen. His pro-Israel talk is aimed at Christian fundamentalists whose care most about that country as a key player in their reading of Revelation, with racist slams at Palestinians thrown in. Even his visit to socially conservative Poland has pandering value back home.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    In London, he implies that those pansy Europeans can’t run an Olympics as effectively as macho US frontiersmen.

    As long as we all accept that the best Olympics was run by Sydneysiders.

    ….wait, wasn’t Mitt in charge of the Olympics that was famous for corruption?

  • Tonio

    Yankees…tend to simply dismiss The South as a bunch of unreconstructed racists and backwards rednecks and imply that they’re the sole drag on the progress of society.

    I agree in principle. I’ve lived in both the North and the South and I’ve told Northerners that they shouldn’t confuse the slower rhythm of speech in the South with lack of intelligence – it’s simply that Northern cities in particular have a more hectic pace of living. 

    Still, there are plenty of twisted values in Southern culture that deserve criticism apart from racism – the honor culture, the machismo, the false gentility, the focus on appearances. While these obviously aren’t exclusive to the South, these values don’t imply backwardness and it’s wrong and misguided to use that label for white Southerners backward.

    More to the point, my reading of Southern Man was that Young wasn’t calling white Southerners ignorant or backward. (I’ve never heard the song Alabama.) So it’s misguided  to treat a Canadian like Young as though he’s a stereotype of Yankee elitism. I can understand defensiveness when it comes to the redneck stereotype. But when it comes to the region’s history of slavery and segregation, defensiveness has the outcome of dismissing the horrors of that history, even when that isn’t the speaker’s intention. That’s partly because of the context – pro-Confederate whitewashing that began only a couple of decades after the Civil War, and generations of both Northerners and Southerners got their emotional  impressions of the war from Gone With the Wind.

    Just for argument’s sake, whenever someone criticizes Southern history without restoring to offensive stereotypes, why couldn’t the white Southerner just express regret instead of being defensive. Again, this also applies to American history regarding the Indians – I don’t remember any defensiveness when Iron Maiden and Europe recorded their songs about it.

  • Chunky Style

    “Just for argument’s sake, whenever someone criticizes Southern history without restoring to offensive stereotypes, why couldn’t the white Southerner just express regret instead of being defensive.”

    Bingo.  It takes no great effort to say “slavery was wrong, and I like to think that, if I’d been alive back then, I would have opposed it.”

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Still, there are plenty of twisted values in Southern culture that
    deserve criticism apart from racism – the honor culture, the machismo,
    the false gentility, the focus on appearances.

    Terrible driving.  Obsession with pickup trucks.  Fried EVERYTHING.  Voting Republican.

    Just for argument’s sake, whenever someone criticizes Southern history
    without restoring to offensive stereotypes, why couldn’t the white
    Southerner just express regret instead of being defensive.

    Tribalism.  And it kind of depends on the white Southerner in particular.  I personally know a few who think that racism is quite backwards and slavery was a terrible thing to do.

    Those particular white Southerners are a lot like moderate Christians.  They exist, but they don’t get a lot of play in the media.  They’re simply not interested in the limelight or interesting to people who are looking for a good story.

    And then there’s the bit where at this point North v. South in America is a big freaking family feud.  On some level we can’t be reasonable with each other and are endlessly replaying the same argument.  Whether it goes back to the Civil Rights Movement, the Hayes election and the end of Reconstruction, Reconstruction itself, the Civil War, Bleeding Kansas, John C. Calhoun and the Nullification fight, or the writing on the Constitution itself, we’ve been fighting for a long-ass time.

  • Tonio

    I personally know a few who think that racism is quite backwards and slavery was a terrible thing to do.

    My personal favorite among the ones I’ve met.

    And then there’s the bit where at this point North v. South in America is a big freaking family feud. On some level we can’t be reasonable with each other and are endlessly replaying the same argument.

    I think it’s a mistake to frame criticism of the South as though it favors the North, or vice versa, as if one had to side with one or the other. This isn’t a rivalry, and as others have said, it ignores the history of bigotry in places like Boston and Dearborn and Cleveland.

  • Jurgan

    Yeah, I’m both a liberal Christian and white Southerner.  I’m embarrassed by our racist past (and, to a lesser extent, present) and our starting the Civil War.  I live practically in sight of Ft. Sumter, so I’m familiar with the apologia.  I’m also embarrassed by some of the backwards positions the church supports.  I speak out when I can, but I hate it when ideological allies online talk about “let the South secede, we don’t need ’em anyway.”  I’d rather not be ignored, guys, thanks.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     I speak out when I can, but I hate it when ideological allies online
    talk about “let the South secede, we don’t need ’em anyway.”  I’d rather
    not be ignored, guys, thanks.

    Yeah.  When I lived in Dallas I mostly hung out with non-religious folks.  Even the religious ones were very much on the liberal end of the spectrum.  The “let ’em secede” attitude leaves my friends, who I know aren’t part of that culture, on the wrong side of the line.

    Hell, there was a period when it would have left me on the wrong side of the line.

  • Tonio

    I hear talk like that as well, sometimes in the form of “we should have them seced in the first place.” Seriously, if I had been Lincoln, I might have considered recognizing Southern independence in exchange for emancipation, just to see what the reaction would be. One strong argument against “state’s rights” then and now was that the Confederate constitution forbade any member states from banning slavery in its own borders.

  • Lori

     

      I live practically in sight of Ft. Sumter 

    How nice. (Not sarcasm. I really think that area is nice.)  I enjoyed the time that I spent in Charleston and wish that I had a chance to go back. OK, not in the summer, but any other time.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     More to the point, my reading of Southern Man was that Young wasn’t
    calling white Southerners ignorant or backward. (I’ve never heard the
    song Alabama.) So it’s misguided  to treat a Canadian like Young as
    though he’s a stereotype of Yankee elitism. I can understand
    defensiveness when it comes to the redneck stereotype. But when it comes
    to the region’s history of slavery and segregation, defensiveness has
    the outcome of dismissing the horrors of that history, even when that
    isn’t the speaker’s intention.

    Oh, I kind of lost track of why I originally responded to the post about “Sweet Home Alabama.”  This, actually, is more or less it.

    I’m not entirely sure what boycotting Skynyrd does.  It’s art.[1]  As is the case with all art, it’s also a conversation.  Neil Young made a statement about the South.  Ronnie Van Zandt replied to the statement.  Whether his interpretation of the original statement was correct or his response was worthwhile is open for debate, but this is what it is.

    The purpose of art, then, is to create or add to a discussion.  Sometimes the art in question is set to support the author’s opinion, sometimes it’s set to be the exact opposite of the author’s opinion.  Sometimes it’s somewhere in between.[2]  In this case we have a fairly straightforward discussion: Neil Young said A, Ronnie Van Zandt responded with B (and then attempted to clarify B, but it’s still pretty muddled).  And here we are, 40-odd years later, talking about it.  More than that, we’re talking about whether it was right or wrong and whether the context in which it was created was right or wrong.  Again, that’s the entire purpose of art.

    Did “Sweet Home Alabama” hurt anyone?  I don’t really think so.  Does it celebrate a culture that has hurt people?  Yes.  But we’re not being forced to agree with the song or the culture it celebrates.  As such, I don’t see the song itself as being an actively harmful thing.

    This is a very different story from, say, Chick-Fil-A.  They’re most definitely a discriminatory business that is most definitely putting it’s patrons’ money into political causes.  They’re also in the process of turning, “Come give us money!” into a principled stand on political and religious grounds.  Or there’s the Koch brothers, who take money earned by their businesses and put it into electing people who will break down the social net and the very fabric of the American republic.  They’re not doing it for the purposes of conversation.  They’re doing it from simple greed and/or a desire for power.

    At that point we get into “intent is not magic,” but I don’t think Ronnie Van Zandt meant any harm with his song.  I do think that Truett Cathy and the brothers Koch do mean harm with their political activities.

    There’s a difference.

    ———

    [1]Or, possibly, propaganda, depending on how you look at it.

    [2]Sidenote: this is why I tend to get really annoyed when people try to divine the opinions of an author simply by making a strict reading of the author’s books or arbitrarily choosing a character as the author’s mouthpiece.  That works sometimes.  With some authors, though, it doesn’t.  And a lot of times the reader is actually putting their own opinion in the author’s work.  But that’s a sidenote.  It’s true for movies and songs and paintings, too.

  • Tonio

    Good points. I wasn’t condemning the song itself or getting into Van Zant’s motivations, but instead illustrating how defensiveness seems in historical and cultural context. My original point was that the song became an exclusionist anthem almost as soon as it was released, and remains so to this day. I was really attacking the attitudes that led to this. I don’t blame Van Zant for this, any more than I blame Bruce Springsteen for the fact that jingoists miss the point of Born in the USA.

    And I shy away from the idea of boycotting songs, even ones that are far more reactionary like Merle Haggard’s rants in Okie From Muskogee and Fightin’ Side of Me.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     My original point was that the song became an exclusionist anthem almost
    as soon as it was released, and remains so to this day. I was really
    attacking the attitudes that led to this. I don’t blame Van Zant for
    this, any more than I blame Bruce Springsteen for the fact that
    jingoists miss the point of Born in the USA.

    Yeah.  Artists can’t really be responsible for what happens to their art after it goes into the public sphere.  Unless they’re, like, Toby Keith writing all those anti-terrorist songs or Lee Greenwood writing the most disgustingly asinine and schmaltzy crap possible.

    I actually remember an interview with Darius Rucker right after Hootie and the Blowfish hit it big.  There was a song called “Drowning” (if I recall correctly) that was a very specifically anti-racist message.  I understood it to be so when I was in junior high, so it has to have been fairly obvious.  Rucker expressed his confusion that he’d hear that song blasting out of vehicles that also had Confederate flags.  His response was pretty much, “What’re ya gonna do?”

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    I’d probably stick with Creedance. But, yes, I get the frustration. I have to remind my friends that the South isn’t all that bad and the North is no prize in terms of racism either. My home town, the Democratic stalwart Chicago, is the most segregated big city in the US. And often seemingly well-intentioned strikes at integration are really just well-placed efforts of gentrification – further alienating and dispersing of people of color in a city that welcomes them into white neighborhoods with bats and bombs.

  • Tonio

    I suppose one tactic would be for another famous performer to create an answer song, condemning not necessarily the song itself but the ethic that has grown up around it.

    Sweet Home Alabama was originally an answer song to Neil Young’s Southern Man four years earlier. At the time, the pinched, hateful faces of George Wallace and Bull Conner on the evening news were still recent memories, along with attacks on civil rights demonstrators with firehoses and police dogs. But by 1974 the whitewashing was in full swing, with whites defining Southern culture and “heritage” in exclusionary terms. “Redneck” was fast becoming a in-group code word. Whites had begun pretending that the Confederate battle flag had never been a pro-segregation symbol only a few years years before, forever drenched in the blood of the civil rights martyrs. 

    Personally I think the Skynyrd song itself is more knee-jerk defensive than anything else, and it’s interesting that Young has never really had an issue with it. In my view, all white Southerners should have some humility over their region’s racial history. But then, I believe that all white Americans should have the same humility over the mistreatment of the Native Americans. By humility I don’t mean guilt, since today’s whites didn’t perpetrate either. I mean feeling repugnance about the mistreatment and wanting never to repeat it, instead of rationalization or defensiveness.

  • Chunky Style

    Knee-jerk defensive, yes.  But why be defensive about something you’re evidently ashamed of?  Ronnie must have been ashamed, since he was talking only in oblique terms about Southern racism (“we all did what we could do” … talk about non-committal statements).

    One more thing about Ronnie Van Zandt: he felt obligated to write “Sweet Home Alabama” after Neil Young wrote not one but two songs about the South (“Alabama” and “Southern Man”).  So in Ronnie’s mind, one song is sufficient to offset a hundred years of post Civil War oppression and outright murder of blacks; but TWO songs … ?  That’s beyond the pale.

    I’d have no problem with “Sweet Home Alabama” if the song admitted that the South’s racist history is shameful, and didn’t try to muddy or deflect the point.  From there, though, Ronnie could have gone on to talk about the positive charms of the South (and there are many).  Or I could even be happy with a song that talked strictly about the joys of Southern life without bringing race into it.  But it was Ronnie’s idea to write a song in response to Neil Young; so if that’s the plan, then acknowledge the bad, but then move on to the good.

  • Tonio

    I’d have no problem with “Sweet Home Alabama” if the song admitted that the South’s racist history is shameful, and didn’t try to muddy or deflect the point. From there, though, Ronnie could have gone on to talk about the positive charms of the South (and there are many). Or I could even be happy with a song that talked strictly about the joys of Southern life without bringing race into it.

    This. Tennessee had the right idea with state quarter

    Simiarly, I remember seeing rescue workers wearing off-duty T-shirts that said “911 Is Not a Joke” in response to Public Enemy. Without diminishing the work that they do, this was mindless jingoism. I wouldn’t expect a shirt to have a detailed response to the accusation of inadequate 911 response in poor neighborhoods, but still…

  • The_L1985

    What? The 2nd verse:

    In Brimingham they love the governor (BOO, BOO, BOO!)
    Now we all did what we could do.
    No, Watergate does not bother me,
    Does your conscience bother you?

    Boo-ing George Wallace, saying you “did what you could do” to keep him OUT of office, and implying that Wallace-supporters were in the wrong is pretty much the opposite of racism et al.

  • Tonio

    For years I thought the lyric was “they love the gum-nout,” assuming that the word referred to a Southern candy. The rest of the verse is very oblique – what did they do and what would the listener’s conscience have to do with Watergate?

  • Chunky Style

    Guess I’d take “Sweet Home Alabama” as a stronger statement against racism if Van Zandt didn’t immediately go into a false equivalency with Watergate, and spend an entire verse getting on Neil Young’s case for “Southern Man”.  Like I said originally, “Sweet Home Alabama” is defending racism by attacking racism’s critics; even if Van Zandt was personally not racist (and I have no reason to believe he was), he’s still defending the racists — who, I might add, took it to the next level with lynchings, church bombings, segregation, voter suppression, and a century of terrorism.  Dan Cathy’s got nothing on Ronnie Van Zandt in terms of backing the bad guys.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Guess I’d take “Sweet Home Alabama” as a stronger statement against racism if Van Zandt didn’t immediately go into a false equivalency with Watergate, and spend an entire verse getting on Neil Young’s case for
    “Southern Man”.

    After someone explained in a previous Slactivist conversation what Van Zandt’s actual intent with the Southern Man verse was, I wasn’t impressed. Claiming that by saying “Neil Young is criticizing us? Well, Neil Young can take a long walk off a short pier” you were actually trying to say “It’s more complicated than that,” makes you look either disingenuous or stupid. Or possibly both.

    Also, accusing Generic Southern Man of perpetrating lynching culture and segregation isn’t so far off. It’s not like corrupt sheriffs and business owners and governors could get away with half the amount of violence and social mistreatment without having a significant portion of the majority of their society going along with it.

    Institutionalized racism! It takes a village!

    …and now to go back and edit out all the superflous hard line breaks that Disqus insists on inserting inside every blockquote element.

  • Trixie_Belden

    You know, if a group is going to sing something in a lyric they think is meaningful, it helps if they articulate.  Not until I read your comment did I discover what they were supposed to be saying was “Boo, boo,boo”.  Any time I ever heard it on the radio, it sounded as if they were saying “Woo, hoo, hoo” and for years I just thought it was just some random non-lexical vocable.

    My dislike of the song isn’t becasue I think it’s racist. it’s because I object to the whole mushy “everybody does bad things, no one has the right to criticze us” rationalization.  WTH does Watergate have to do with Neil Young?

  • Trixie_Belden

    A confession – I just remembered that my understanding of the lyrics is even worse.  For years, I though the lyrics were:
    In Birmingham they love the girls, now.  Woo, hoo, hoo
    I just assumed it was some sort of talk about being on the road, touring, and going to cities and playing to audiences filled with hard-partyin’ guys and the groupies who loved them.
    Now we all did what we could do
    And then they were euphemistically singing about trying to get as many of these girls as possible -that makes sense, right?
    Then they go on singing about Watergate and I still stay WTH did that have to do with Neil Young – or anything else, for that matter.
    What can I say – not much of a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.

  • Bificommander

    Step 2 is a big reason why the Dutch Occupy movement kinda pettered out. There were no large scale violent clashes with police here. It was just that they didn’t like the current day buisness practices and organization of the economy (neither do I), but they didn’t really have an “Unless”. They tried. They had a lot of discussions in the Occupy camp about exactly what they wanted changed. But it went too slow, and the protests were nomally ongoing already. Even if the powers-that-be were inclined to listen, the Occupiers didn’t have any concrete demands that could be met to get them to clear out. So instead, the powers just waited it out, the general public didn’t cry out that the occupiers reasonable demands should be met because they didn’t have any yet and a lot of the Occupiers just left. 

    A shame. Cause I do agree there’s something messed up with the economic system as is if, for example, wealthy investors lend a lot of money, use the money to buy a company, and then put the debt they made when loaning that money on the balance sheet of their new company. Not only does this mean the only reason a streetsweeper can’t buy a multinational is because the banks won’t loan him a couple of billions for a few days. But it also lets the new owners profit from tax loopholes, because their newly acquired company is so deeply in debt and needs to make such bigs payments to repay the loan that they technically don’t make a net profit and don’t need to pay any more taxes. Then sell of a few profitable parts of the company, stick the loan to the remainder of the company, and move to the next one while the original company now struggles with bankruptcy.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Boycotts aren’t necessarily doomed to be ineffective. Especially on the smaller scale, and especially when they are coupled with the decision to actively support businesses whose behaviour you want to see more of.

    I live in a small, pretty left, pretty well-educated city. A few years ago a couple of local restaurants were hauled in front of the court for serious maltreatment of workers. Specifically, they were bringing in migrant workers to work as chefs and telling them that they’d get no pay at all for some period of time, then very little pay ongoing–much less than the mandated minimum. The restaurants copped a fine but were allowed to stay open, although they were watched carefully.

    Being a small city, it was common knowledge who owned and managed the restaurants and what other establishments they owned. It was also known which restaurants had a reputation for treating their staff well. Being a lefty city, a whole stack of people chose to stop patronising the former and switch their custom to the latter–enough to give the “good employers” a bigger market share, thence hire more staff on good conditions. Several years later the shift remains in place.

    By voluntary, collective action people were able to send the message that such behaviour is not acceptable, and they were also able to increase the percentage of the restaurant workforce in our town employed with decent conditions.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Boycotts, to be effective, need to attract the attention of an entity with the right countervailing power to be able to combat the entity being boycotted.

    Blacks boycotting buses in the South were drawing attention to discriminatory practices the state governments permitted, but that the federal government could overrule.

  • MaryKaye

    I think that the big companies will not notice small drops in consumption.  However, small companies will notice small increases.  So, if you mindfully shift your business to a small local company, that will make a small, local, noticeable difference.  If you think the big coffee chains are not good for your city, well, they won’t much mind about one latte.  But the indie down the street–if you get a latte a week there, they *do* notice.  And your opinions about how they should conduct business are a lot more likely to matter, because the business is small and local.  You are also a lot more likely to know if there are problems in how they conduct business, because they’re doing it in your own community.  (Though the source of the coffee has to be a concern whether you go Starbucks or indie, because the coffee can’t be local.  Many strange things including bananas can grow in Seattle, but coffee, no.)

    Over the years I have seen “buy local” and “buy organic” make big differences in how grocery stores–even Safeway–stock goods here.  So that really does make a difference, and it starts with people making a little effort to seek out such goods, proving there is a market.

    I think there’s plenty of places where buying decisions have real power.

  • JustoneK

    Hey now, fried everything is delicious.

  • mud man

    Step 3, or maybe 2b: Develop your own alternate source. Cut the once-ler out. 

    Level 1, learn to knit your own thneeds and supply them to your neighbors. Teach people in the community to knit thneeds and develop an income-producing market niche.

    Level 2, develop your own ways of supplying your personal needs for self-actualization. Learn to question whether thneeds are really the best thing to have, the best thing to spend your time-talent-treasure acquiring.

  • Notes N Stanzas

    Someone on Christians Against the Tea Party Facebook page re-wrote the poems from this : )

    https://www.facebook.com/Christiansagainstea?ref=hl#!/Christiansagainstea

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Apropos of nothing in particular… this whole discussion of “Sweet Home Alabama” was really, really confusing to me until I realized that the song in my head is actually Warren Zevon’s “Play it all Night Long,” and “Sweet Home Alabama” is a completely different song.

  • Jurgan

    I don’t think so.  So I boycott the Onceler and demand he stop polluting.  But there’s still demand for thneeds, so people will keep buying them.  The Onceler agrees to install new scrubbers, water purification systems, and starts a truffula planting program to reduce his economic impact.  I have to pay a bit more for my thneeds, but I think it’s worth it.  Except that Onceler Industries is not a monopoly.  Now a new, smaller company sets up shop creating thneeds and not following any of the self-imposed regulations the Onceler has taken on, so naturally they sell for cheaper.  Self-imposed regulations can’t solve the problem, because there will always be a less scrupulous competitor ready to undercut their prices, and I’m thus punishing the more ethical companies by making them enact more expensive regulations with no benefit.  I doubt the extra business they get will make up for the costs.  So now I start boycotting the new thneed company?  I really doubt we can continue to shift the targets of our boycott to keep up.

    What’s more, most of the thneeds are not sold through direct sale stores, but through big box retail like Wal-Mart and Target, and they will buy from the cheapest source.  Do I also boycott Wal-Mart and Target?  Some people say yes, for any number of reasons, but those people are living in a privileged world.  It’s easy to have moral choices and good products if you can afford both.  In the end, though, many people can’t afford to buy from “moral” stores, and saying they should is demanding they be fined for trying to live a more moral life.  We can’t all afford to only shop at places that follow our personal codes.  I also find out that the poultry farm that sells to my grocery store uses thneed feed.  They use thneeds to humanely kill the chicken, as well as avoiding the overuse of antibiotics.  So now I have two conflicting moral goods and either choice will cause environmental damage.  It turns out that thneeds are integrated into the economy to the point where doing without them is impossible.

    The solution, then, is not to demand an individual company change its practice.  The solution is to demand that the government pass laws forcing all companies to use sound techniques so that every company is competing on the same playing field.  That’s what Ralph Nader did.  He publicized dangers of cars, but he didn’t simply demand Chrysler or GM make safer cars.  Rather, he demanded laws force the cars to be safer across the board.  Companies are far too intertwined today, and competition is too high, to reasonably expect boycotts to change the situation.  Getting new laws and regulations passed is probably harder, but it’s also the only way to fix the problem, rather than just shift it from company to company.

    Addendum: I make exception to this policy if the thing I am objecting to is unrelated to business practices and correcting it would not impose additional costs.  The most current example is Chick-Fil-A.  They are engaged in practices I disagree with, but opposing gay rights is not part of their business strategy.  There’s no practical reason why they need to continue supporting the Family Research Council, and other chicken restaurants do not do so, so it makes sense to shift my business in that case.  Trying to shift my buying decisions based on business practices, though, is not a practical solution in a world where business are so entangled.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Pretty much agreed with this, but it’s worth noting that if we’ve badgered Onceler Industries into adopting more truffula-friendly thneed manufacturing methods, we’ve also made Onceler Industries our ally in lobbying the government to pass laws mandating such methods, since it turns the playing field into one where they have first-mover advantage.

    Whereas if we ignore Onceler Industries, they are our opponent.

  • Jurgan

    Good point, and one I hadn’t really thought of.

  • olsonam

    I was wondering if Fred might have been referencing the Hyatt boycott, as that is going on right now but no one seems to be talking about it, even though it’s meant to help some of our most vulnerable.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I was wondering if Fred might have been referencing the Hyatt boycott, as that is going on right now but no one seems to be talking about it,
    even though it’s meant to help some of our most vulnerable.

    This has been preying on my mind lately. I only found out about the boycott after getting all my plans in order for attending ChiCon7 (World Con in Chicago… main hotel space is the Hyatt). Tiger Beatdown has the scoop on LGBT support groups joining in.

  • Victor Savard

    (((This is a Good Thing. It’s also the right thing to do.)))

    WHAT ARE YA TALKING ABOUT sinner vic?

    (((Boycotts are not about “never.” Boycotts are about “until.” (Or, to stick with our theme here, about “unless.”)))

    UNLESS WHAT sinner vic?

    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=DYYY7PNX

    STOP “IT” sinner vic cause me, myself and i know who you are and you are http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=hUxECgPxyEw

    (((And unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.)))

    I can hear ya salvage, Where is your so called “Jesus” NOW Victor? http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/2012/07/mass-roulette/comment-page-1/#comment-53528

    GOD ( Good Old Dad) only knows!

    Go Figure! :)

    Peace

  • JonathanPelikan

    Immediately thought about Mass Effect 3. Specifically, that was the straw that finally broke my loyalty to Bioware and spurred me to boycott their stuff now. They’ll not get another dollar from me. A set of things just building and building and then the ending and the dustup over the ending… I’d reached a personal point where I couldn’t stand it any longer. And since BiowEAre collectively care far more for my dollar, as a statement of fact, I’m simply going to deny them the thing they want most from me, Mo’ Money.

    Yet at the same time, this was a deeply personal decision I made based on my own value system and my own this and that and I’m not even sure a ‘Bioware sucks now’ or ‘You shouldn’t buy Mass Effect stuff anymore’ is something I even want to say to other people. I supported efforts like Retake Mass Effect and demanded a better ending, but now that it’s clear that the Extended Cut is the end of the line and that’s it, that’s the end of the story on Mass Effect, (until 4, Gods help them.) then what? No point in lobbying them to change at this point, their reaction to the fan outcry was just terrible all the way down.

    So I’m not going to organize a boycott to try and take them down, and not just for my hopes now that they sink as the Titanic did, perhaps slowly, perhaps quickly, and that for their recent actions they will reap a rightful capitalistic return, that is, failure.

  • http://formerconservative.wordpress.com/ Formerconservative


    Immediately thought about Mass Effect 3

    Because playing a video game that has an ending you don’t like is *exactly* like being marginalized and having your civil rights taken away.

    Huge Mass Effect fan here.   Original ending was mildly disappointing. Extended ending was perfectly fine.   The ending could have been Commander Shepard and Garrus flipping off the player and saying “thanks for wasting 120 hours of your life, sucker!” and it still wouldn’t  even approach the level of injustice of what Chick fil A is doing.

  • JonathanPelikan

    That’s not even close to anything I actually said and you’ve set up quite a fancy straw-man over there. Let’s add the ‘there are starving children in Africa’ fallacy whereby if I’m not constantly focused like a laser on the highest levels of need/injustice/critical crises then I don’t give a shit about them at all. Sorry for going off-topic in a slacktivist thread, too, an unprecedented offense.

    Seriously, what the fuck got up your craw about my post so badly and what made you immediately interpret what I said through the worst possible lens?

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

    Seriously, what the fuck got up your craw about my post so badly and what made you immediately interpret what I said through the worst possible lens?

    Your initial post. You implicity compared some (arguably) shitty writing by Bioware to CFA funding anti-gay groups. Maybe you didn’t mean to, but that’s how it came out, particularly with the moralising tone.

  • JonathanPelikan

    Sorry it came out that way.

  • http://formerconservative.wordpress.com/ Formerconservative

    I think both of our posts came out the wrong way,  so sorry for my part in that too.

  • http://formerconservative.wordpress.com/ Formerconservative

    I don’t think that you have moral myopia and I don’t think you are incapable of seeing the difference between a video game franchise and human rights issues.

    I am quite an avid gamer though.   I listen to game podcasts. I spend lots of time reading about games.   Mass Effect is probably my favorite franchise ever.

    There are plenty of works of fiction that I love that have had endings that I didn’t like.  I think that it is rather silly and entitled to treat an entire company like they are the worst people on earth, because of it.   There was a poll recently that voted EA as the worst company in America, which is just silly.  

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/04/09/why-ea-won-the-worst-company-in-america-award/ 

    There are so many companies that are doing things that actively hurt people and a bunch of people decided that the fact that they didn’t like the end of Mass Effect 3 was worse than any of those things.  Nevermind that practically the entirety of Mass Effect 3 was wrapping up the many different conflicts and story lines, all of which could have ended vastly differently.  I’m one of the only people that’s played it that I’ve talked to that managed to get the geth and the Quarians to play nice with each other.

    I apologize.  I probably could have worded that better, but I’m just really tired of hearing about that particular boycott.  At this point, I don’t think Bioware could make anyone happy unless they animated the exact ending that each individual player that protested wanted and sent it to them on a DVD. 

  • JonathanPelikan

    I’m sorry for blowing up, too. I go full nuker far too often, especially when it’s morning and Grumpy Times. Completely understandable to just be sick of the whole thing; at this point, pretty much everybody is, which is why I’m not standing around yelling at Bioware ‘fix this now!’ anymore. No point. Also, I specifically said this is a personal decision to be done, which means it’s my choice and nobody else’s whether I continue to buy from them, and I’m not expecting anybody else to do likewise or lobbying them to leave.

    People who hate the ending are frakked, especially if our objections to it are written into the premise (you know the character I mean) and therefore couldn’t have been fixed by the Extended Cut, even though it made things so much better by filling in a lot of narrative coherence and character focus. And Extended Cut was the final word, that was clear, allowing Bioware to turn around and shrug their shoulders. “They’ll never be happy.” So they went from clamming up for 2-4 months and assuring us nothing was wrong to releasing one thing that didn’t address the core complaints and then considered the issue settled forever.

    It was really more that reaction from Bioware (and their defenders to some degree) to the whole thing that disenchanted me. Seeming alternately to say that we were all a mob of filthy ingrates and that the outcry never even existed or was tiny, and seemingly deliberately misunderstanding the primary objections to ‘it’s too sad’. That’s what got me off them for good, really; everybody messes up, but I’ve seen entirely too much of the doubling-down frak-you we’re sticking with our decision even unto Hell itself in the political world to have much tolerance for it here.

    To quote a semi-famous Youtube vid on it, “Even raising 80 grand to buy toys for sick kids [The Child’s Play thing for Retake Mass Effect] was cited for evidence of how whiny and entitled we were.”

  • Isabel C.

    This.

    Also? If you end up having to use the phrase “artistic vision”* or its synonyms more than once in a paragraph responding to complaints about your work? Your work has failed, and so have you.

    Seriously, as a writer, I have asked my friends to take me out behind the barn Ol’ Yeller style if I ever go Casey Hudson or Anne Rice. Because dude. No. 

    *Which is often code for “NOBODY UNDERSTAAAANDS MEEEEEEEE”

  • MaryKaye

    There are cases where you don’t have to organize a boycott, because the customer base recognizes that something wrong is going on and departs en masse for an alternative.  But that requires (a) what is wrong is clearly visible to customers and affects them, (b) there is an alternative available.
     
    I enjoyed what happened to WOTC/TSR with the release of 4th Edition D&D (they lost a lot of business to a competitor whose practices I prefer).  But if WOTC had been putting out the same game, and had just taken to using sweatshop labor to make the books, it wouldn’t have played out like that.  It was the combination of WOTC putting out something that was not what (some of) the fans wanted, and also acting in ways that made (many of) the fans feel abused, that led to the mass flight.  I don’t even think these are boycotts, or at least only the fraction of fans who left *because* of the behavior and not the product were actually boycotting.  Don’t know what fraction that was–pretty small, I’d guess.

    When the bad behavior is not directly tied to a bad product it’s a lot harder to get consumers to notice.  For fruits and veggies, “certified organic” was a huge step forward because it gets (some of) the conditions of farming onto the vegetable where consumers can see them, rather than requiring consumers to figure out “Okay, Company X uses toxic pesticides–I’ll try to avoid them.”

    Hm.  One thing that would help, if legal considerations would allow it–I’m not sure they would–would be easier customer access to bad news about companies.  For years I subscribed to the Better Business Bureau’s Charity Ratings service, until I got broke enough that I figured the money had better go to charities directly.  They rate charities on financial responsibility and transparency, mostly.  It’s a good way to avoid the horrible “Fifteen cents on every dollar goes to the cause, the rest is fundraising” scams, but it doesn’t tip you off to, say, the difference between a “crisis pregnancy clinic” and a clinic that helps pregnant people who are in crisis.  Having info like this on the Internet, from a well-vetted source, could really help responsible businesses and hurt irresponsible or evil ones.  But how to get it up there without being sued, and how to keep it accurate?  I disbelieve in Yelp and its brethren because so many of the reviews of places I actually go seem unconnected to what I experience there.

    A Snopes for corporate behavior sounds great, but I think its socks would get sued off.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    This thread is giving me deja vu. A very similar discussion of “Sweet Home Alabama” was one of the first mutli-page threads I remember reading in the comment section of Typepad Slacktivist when I first started following it three or four years ago.

  • Will Hennessy

    Can I just say right here that one of my favorite parts of the show The Boondocks is that the rich white man who owns everything in the show is named Wuncler (Once-ler), providing both a wink and a nod to Dr. Seuss AND providing an appropriate initial for his idiot grandson who is a clear reference to a recent president (W.? Who on Earth could THAT be?!?).

    Man, Aaron McGruder is awesome…

  • Chunky Style

    Uh, make him less fun?  Make him less funny?

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

    I’m glad this all got sorted out – now time for a corny joke, a hearty laugh and a freezeframe![/80s TV]


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