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.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

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

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Lori

    Not a big fan of Dr Suess I take it. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

     

    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.

  • 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…

  • 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.”

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

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

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • JustoneK

    Hey now, fried everything is delicious.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?”


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