Clowns, prophets and the Chick-fil-A Flustercluck

I suspect James McGrath is probably right when he says, regarding Chick-fil-A: “Satire is likely to be a more effective weapon in the controversy … than protests and boycotts.”

That calls to mind an exchange from Robert Wiede’s Directors Guild  interview with Mel Brooks:

Q: On the surface, The Producers is simply good, silly fun. But do you take personal pleasure in the subversive element of making fun of Nazis? There are Nazi jokes in many of your movies.

A: Yeah. If you can make them seem foolish and silly, then you’ve won. But if you get on a soapbox and go head to head with Herr Hitler and Goebbels, you’re not going to win. They’re good at that [stuff]. But they’re not good at comedy.

It isn’t just The Producers, Brooks is always making fun of Nazis — in everything from Blazing Saddles to his bittersweet remake of To Be Or Not To Be.

But Brooks applies the same approach to other targets as well, because the same principle that holds for superlatively evil tyrants also holds for incomparably lesser bullies and bigots, prudes and scolds, Comstocks and corporate overlords. None of them is any good at comedy. “If you can make them seem foolish and silly, then you’ve won.”

And the good news in all such cases is that you don’t need to do much to “make them seem foolish and silly.” Since they are foolish and silly, sometimes all you really need to do is point and laugh.

As the flustercluck swept through the news this week, Conan O’Brien introduced us to Chaz the Intolerant Chick-fil-A Chicken:

This is not what “winning” looks like for Chick-fil-A. And it’s really not good news for the chain that Chaz was popular enough that he’s becoming a recurring character with his own catchphrase: “Eat up you Godless Sodomites!

Meanwhile, at Funny or Die, we find the great John Goodman as Col. Sanders — icon of the rival Kentucky Fried Chicken. “I love gay people, always,” Goodman/Sanders says. “And we’re open on Sundays.”

Kristie Stremel chimes in with the beginnings of a song.

People are laughing.

People are laughing and Chick-fil-A cannot laugh with them because they are laughing at Chick-fil-A. The joke has taken hold and they are the punchline.

And people are likely to be telling this joke for a long time — or at least until the company gives them a reason to stop.

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  • For what it’s worth, it’s “Chik-fil-A”, not “Chick”.  But otherwise, you’re right as usual… though I don’t think you pulled the most hilarious bit out of the John Goodman video — “y’all just a bunch of money-mouths!”

  • Nirrti

    That Chik-fil-A puppet needs to become a permanent Conan O’Brien skit…

  • EllieMurasaki

     Don’t say that; we only just got him to spell the restaurant’s name right.

  • Matthew E.

    Or, as Pinkie Pie put it, “chortle at the kooky”. :)
    This was actually discussed a bit in Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys (and is part of the reason why it’s one of my favorite books): the ultimate power of Anansi is making people realize the sheer silliness of his enemy, who is an ancient spirit representing all power and oppression and unfairness.
    Gaiman makes a point of explaining why this is a Very Big Deal: first, now no one can be afraid of Tiger because he’s been reduced to a cartoonish lout in their minds, and secondly (perhaps more importantly), this means Tiger doesn’t have any more power over them either, because — like all the myriad villains who channel him — he’s the kind of person to whom being feared is itself really important. The mere realization that no, Tiger is wrong about how the world should work, so wrong that it’s honestly funny, takes away the things that Tiger values.
    Really, this is basically how the original Anansi tended to deal with things or people he didn’t like in general. I think it says something about human nature that one of those eternal, indestructible ancient narratives is Funny Little Spider Defeats the Forces of Evil and Everyone Laughs (at Said Forces, Because They’re Dumb). I guess as a species, we really are made to giggle at the ghostly.

  • Baby_Raptor

    And…Now I’ve got that stuck in my head. 

    Giggle at the ghostly
    Guffaw at the grossly
    crack up at the creepy
    Whoop it up with the weepy
    Chortle at the kooky
    Snortle at the spooky…

  • reynard61

    “For what it’s worth, it’s ‘Chik-fil-A’Jack Chick-fil-A(…)”

    There! Fixed that for ya!

    (Yeah, I know that this is the third time in as many days that I’ve used that; but I’m trying to turn it into a meme.)

  • Tonio

    I’m not as optimistic as Fred on this issue, because CfA’s supporters tend to be the same evangelicals who think of themselves as persecuted. CfA will be easily able to spin the jokes above as elitist.

  • arcseconds


    I guess as a species, we really are made to giggle at the ghostly.

    OK, so there are a few stories making light of the supernatural.

    That, it seems to me, pales in comparison to the general awe and terror the supernatural usually inspires in humanity.  Exorcisms and witchhunts aren’t the sort of things one would engage in if creepiness was widely regarded as a laughing matter.

    I think the purpose of such stories is indeed to defang darkness with laughter, but defanging implies that darkness is initially dangerous, not amusing.

  • arcseconds

    Do you think there’s something deeper at play here regarding the ability to laugh at oneself? 

  • Adevarul

     This is really a very transparent issue.  The “tolerant” left is VERY
    tolerant.  But only if your ideology
    meets their agendas.  When Dan Cathy
    exercised his constitutional right to an opinion, the leftists started ranting
    because he had the audacity to publicly disagree with a pet cause. As expected,
    the in-the-bag MSM howler monkeys, who use their media voices to blatantly push
    whatever causes they support (another story) jumped on the band wagon wanting
    to destroy Chick-fil-A’s business.  They
    saw it as a two-for-one.  They could
    silence a voice that disagreed with their gay marriage stand and bash
    Christianity at the same time.  Problem
    is, thousands showed up in support of:


    * Constitutional Right of Free Speech

    * Dan Cathy’s viewpoint

    * Christianity

    * Chick-fil-A’s business owners and workers who the
    left didn’t think about or care about in the trashing of Cathy


  • Isabel C.

    Yeah, but they’re gonna think of themselves as persecuted anyway, so fuck ’em.

    Keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about, as the saying goes. 

  • Jim Roberts

    There are entire cultural epics based around making light of the supernatural. Heck, you even see this in the Eddas. Before Marvel Comics made him into a superhero, Thor was pretty much a bumbling slapstick comic, with Loki as his crossdressing stage partner. Sure, some of the jokes were grim by our standards.
    And the point that Fred’s trying to make, perhaps less clearly than he could, is that it’s the people who make light of the supernatural. The liturgical Passion Plays were often written as being very sombre and staid things, full of admonishments to good deeds and righteousness.
    The peasant morality play? Punch and Judy. Let the stuffed shirts in the corporate office/Vatican/Family Research Council have their, “We r serius bigots, this r serius chikkens.” A good percentage of the country – a growing percentage, mind – is laughing at them.

  • Müntzer

    Is ‘The producers’ such a good fit in this context?
    A satire were Hitler is mainly laughingstock because he is a gay hipster?

  • Jim Roberts

    I don’t think you’ve been reading this blog much, Adevarul. Most of the posters here agree that Mr. Cathy has the right to voice his opinions.

    The problem is Mr. Cathy’s contributions to organizations that cause real and reckognizable harm to people whose sole crime is being in love. Fred had a blog post to that effect quite recently.

    And, in the end, if we don’t want to go to a place because it’s associated with something negative (in this case, denial of civil rights), then isn’t that our right as well?

  • Tonio

    True. My point was that the satire won’t work because they won’t feel shame at being laughed at on this particular issue. (adopting haughty voice) “I wear your scorn as a badge of honor!”

  • There do seem to be an inordinant number of people who seem to equate “freedom of speech” with “freedom from the consequences of speech”.

  • aunursa

    People are laughing and Chick-fil-A cannot laugh with them because they are laughing at Chick-fil-A. The joke has taken hold and they are the punchline.

    Chick-fil-A didn’t have time to laugh yesterday because they were way too busy.  We’ll see if the company displays a sense of humor for tomorrow’s Kiss-in.  I doubt it.

  • Isabel C.

    Some of the older and more set-in-their-ways ones, sure.

    Their kids, on the other hand? Not so much, probably. 

    It’s the Great Aunt Hattie effect: when blatant racism/sexism/homophobia is the sort of thing you associate with your GAH, who pinches your cheek at every family gathering and smells like bad perfume and incontinent cats, you’re a lot less likely to buy into it yourself. People, especially younger people, want to distance themselves from things that make them look stupid.  

  • fuchsialucia

    The devil… the prowde spirite… cannot endure to be mocked.

    Good old St. Tom did a pretty good line in intolerance himself, but on this he had a point. The bigots can spin it any way they want; I plan to keep laughing, including a wry chuckle at myself whenever it’s warranted. (I recently met a blonde from Tennessee. She is extremely bright, very kind, and neither religious nor Republican. Stereotypes, I haz them, but I’m working on it.)

  • Sagrav

    Dan Cathy has every right to be a bigot, and we have every right to point out that he is a bigot.  We also have every right to not buy food at Chik-Fil-A if we disagree with the groups to which they contribute money.  The MSM boogeyman has nothing to do with this.  I could care less what the owners of CNN, MSNBC, etc. think about gay people.  Believe it or not, but we on the “left” don’t actually work for the MSM, George Soros, or whatever people make you fearful.
    Also, I don’t care if you want to buy chicken sandwiches from Chik-Fil-A.  Spend all of your money on their fast food; I still won’t care.  I won’t suddenly say, “No!  I was wrong all along!  Fundamentalist Christian zealots were right, and the being who created all of reality really is obsessed with where we put our genitalia!  I must buy fried chicken!”

  • Ouri Maler

    I dunno, Fred.
    I mean, it’s good that the bigots are getting mocked, but I don’t think it’s QUITE as effective as The Producers.
    Making fun of Nazis is effective because fascism tries to cast its partisans as hypermasculine ubermensch who are better, tougher, stronger, manlier than everyone else. There are SOME elements of that in the homophobia of the religious right, but their emphasis lies elsewhere – in some idea of moral purity, of being holier than everyone else.
    I suspect this will leave them somewhat less vulnerable to this tactic.

  • Tonio

    Apparently the event was spun as supporting free speech. To expand on BringTheNoise’s point about consequences of speech, just because one has the legal right to say something doesn’t mean that one should say it. One is entitled to enjoy one’s choice in music, but not to disturb others by blasting it at 120 dB. If Cathy’s principle were applied to music, he would be saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to listen to certain genres regardless of the volume.


    Problem is, thousands showed up…

    (nods) Which was, of course, a huge surprise for those of us who had somehow not been aware of just how many people in this country are perfectly OK with spending their money to ensure that families like mine are not allowed to exist. I mean, really, that’s why we oppose Cathy and those like him: we think it’s fun, and easy, and that they have no support. It certainly isn’t because we think they’re powerful and dedicated to making our lives worse and thus morally deserving of opposition.

    Of course not.

    Dude: the left in the U.S. is willing to let me and my husband live, work, and love in relative peace. The right in the U.S. is willing to use the power of the state to prevent us from doing that.

    If you want to ignore the actual people involved and spin this as “who is tolerant of what ideologies?”, as though ideologies mattered more than people, you have every right to do that (and the tolerant left would agree).

    You’re just wrong, that’s all.

    Anyway: enjoy your chicken, and enjoy your civil rights. Perhaps some day the Christianity you so admire will move you to willingly share both with those who lack them.

  • Lori

    Oh look, another Constitutional scholar. The Right is truly blessed to have so many.

    It takes a special sort of genius to grasp that members of the general public disliking the fact that Dan Cathy financially supports hate groups is a violation of his right not to have the government unduly restrict his what he’s allowed to say. Because people declining to Eat Mor Chikin is exactly like being put in prison for speaking one’s mind.

  • Lori


    My point was that the satire won’t work because they won’t feel shame at
    being laughed at on this particular issue. (adopting haughty voice) “I
    wear your scorn as a badge of honor!  

    The point isn’t to shame them, it’s to neutralize them. They lose their influence in the culture at large when the enough people see them as the laughingstocks that they are.

  • Wesley Bourland

    It’s sad that the people who most easily cry “First Amendment” have no idea what it actually says.

  • I have long suspected that one of the extreme right wing’s problems with Halloween is that it encourages us to make fun of demons, devils, ghosts, and the like: all things we are supposed to Fear. FEEAAARRRRR! Stop laughing!

  • Wesley Bourland

    Mike Huckabee declared his support for Chick-Fil-A day on June 23.
    The mayor of Boston tried to violate the First Amendment on June 25.

    Chick-Fil-A Day was about homophobia and hatred, not the First Amendment.

  • Jim Roberts

    Agreed – sorry if I came across as thinking that the poster I was responding to had a point.

    Most of the people here I’ve seen have been boycotting Cathy for his actions, not his words, but boycotting for words is certainly perfectly acceptable.

  • Lori

    So, is anyone else getting the sidebar ad for KFC?

  • Ursula L

    Okay, now I’m imagining a Doctor Who sketch, with Rory sticking Dan Cathy in a cupboard, and suitable puns about being in the closet, and homophobes being gay folks in denial.  

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    Yeah, there’s a Chik-fil-A near my gym, and yesterday the place was packed. Just getting to the gym was a challenge because of the crowds. It made me sad and disgusted to see so many people supporting hate.

  • JustoneK

    The Chik Fil As in my area ran out of chicken yesterday.  If I was in the area I woulda seen about getting the protestors some water.

  • Tonio

    I would hope that many of the supporters sought to simply condemn the mayors without agreeing with Cathy’s views on gays or SSM. While such people obviously ignore the company’s attempts to enact sectarian doctrine into discriminatory law, that’s not the same as holding a view that SSM is wrong. If true, this might cause me to re-evaluate my estimation at the company’s PR skill. It reminds me of how many voters in Wisconsin disagreed with Scott Walker’s union-busting but voted against the recall out of principle.

  • Ross Thompson

    For what it’s worth, it’s “Chik-fil-A”, not “Chick”.

    You might want to tell these people that:

    They’ve been spelling it wrong all over their logos, their website, their restaurants, their facebook account…

  • JayemGriffin

    I’m afraid you’re slightly confused. Boycotts are also a form of free speech. You have the right not to have your speech censored by the government, and other people have the right to tell you what you said is stupid. It’s not freedom from consequences.

  • aunursa

    On an earlier thread I surmised that more people participated in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day because they share the views of the owner, and fewer people participated out of a principled support for Cathy’s First Amendment rights.  I may have been wrong about that.  I have read from more than one source that informal polls taken by and of people waiting in line indicated that more people came to show support Cathy’s First Amendment rights  than to demonstrate opposition to same-sex marriage.  Several patrons indicated that they personally support SSM, but support the right of a company CEO to express a contrary opinion.

  • aunursa

    In 2003 I voted against the recall of California Governor Gray Davis as a matter of principle.  I had supported Davis in 1998, but rejected both major party candidates in 2002 because I thought that Davis had done a terrible job as governor.* But all of the reasons given by the recall proponents were known to the voters before the 2002 election, and yet they had still returned Davis to office by a slim 48%-43% margin.  The Republican recall supporters simply wanted another bite of the apple, and I wasn’t willing to give it to them. 

    * Ironically, the issue that bothered me most was that Davis tried to show himself as tougher on criminals than the Republicans.  One of the responsibilities of the governor is to approve or deny parole for inmates convicted of certain serious offenses.  However Davis automatically denied an early release in every case, saying that he would not second-guess the jury that had convicted the inmate.  The person the voters elected to act as their chief executive is supposed to consider all of the facts and use his judgment … but Davis simply acted as a rubber stamp.

  • Tonio

    And while I agree with them in principle about the First Amendment, they’re missing the larger point.

    Even though I’m straight, this issue is deeply personal for me. It’s not my place to decide for anyone else who to marry or where to live or what religion to follow or what to eat. Even though these have different degrees of consequences for others, ultimately they’re personal enough where only the individual should be making the final decision. If I imposed my own judgment, I would be treating the person’s individual self-determination as null or void, even if I never voiced that judgment. (I’m talking here about moral judgments as opposed to judgments about whether specific actions are self-destructive.) Other people are not characters in my own personal Sims game. I strive to treat people this way because that’s how I want to be treated. 

  • Well, daaang.  I’d always thought they had the misspelling.  I’m sorry, I’m totally dumb!

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    I wish Chick-fil-A had kept politics out of my fried chicken. I like their chicken sandwiches, but now (a) I have the “joy” of knowing that money I give them gets funneled to a hate group (FRC), and (b)  the lines are packed when it used to be a quick run through an empty drive-through early in the morning for breakfast.


  • Lori


    I have read from more than one source that informal polls taken by and
    of people waiting in line indicated that more people came to show
    support Cathy’s First Amendment rights  than to demonstrate opposition
    to same-sex marriage.    

    And why should be lend any credence to this self-reporting? It’s not like it’s a surprise that people who rather say that they’re supporting something that everyone is (generally) in favor of (at least for themselves), like the 1st Amendment, than acknowledge to those who aren’t of The Tribe that they’re bigots. See: every conversation we’ve ever had about how everyone knows that bigotry is bad so know one wants to own their shit, not matter how bigoted it is.

    The fact that this is not a 1st Amendment issue in any way, shape or form and that framing it as a 1st Amendment issue is nothing more than a Right wing talking point does not make me more inclined to take these people at their word.


    Several patrons indicated that they personally support SSM, but came to
    support the right of a company CEO to express a contrary opinion.  

    Which means that either the interviewers  found some homo cons buying chicken or they just talked to liars. See above re: folks not wanting to own their shit.

  • Lori

    There’s also the fact that the issue that Republicans used to drive Davis’ recall was not in fact Davis’ fault.

  • Jessica_R

    And on the importance of making fun of bigots, it’s rare I’m proud of my home state but I knew you wouldn’t let me down Asheville,

  • Lunch Meat

    thousands showed up in support of: * Constitutional Right of Free Speech

    Rosa Parks wants to talk to you about your discovery that boycotts violate the First Amendment.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Remind me again how the government is now persecuting Cathy for what he said? 

    The First Amendment says NOTHING about other citizens reacting to what you say. It does not guarantee you protection from a reaction to your words. All it says is that the government cannot restrict what you say.

    The Right is such a HUGE fan of the First, and they scream about it so much….I’d think you guys would actually know what it says?

  • Tonio

     Is the claim that free speech is being infringed referring to the boycott or the words of the mayors?

  • Free speech infringed? Hell, Cathy’s words are all over the Internet now. Everyone with a web connection’s probably read them – isn’t that something like the complete opposite of censorship?

    Why, one might almost think Dan Cathy’s not willing to stand behind his own words.

  • aunursa

    And why should be lend any credence to this self-reporting?

    Lori, I don’t really care whether you lend any credence or not.  If you want to believe that the patrons lied about their motive for supporting CFA; if you want to believe that the people who reported the opinions of their fellow patrons lied about taking informal polls or lied about the results; if you want to believe that I am lying about reading about these polls, then I have no desire to convince you otherwise.

    Which means that either the interviewers  found some homo cons buying chicken or they just talked to liars. Se above

    I know of two conservative bloggers who have frequently voiced their support for SSM — one of whom devoted a 2008 blog post to argue why his readers should join him in voting against Proposition 8 — and yet both of whom expressed support for CFA Appreciation Day.  But if you want to bury your head in the sand and reject the idea that a sizeable contingent of the overflow crowds were there to express a principled stand for freedom of speech, you’re certainly free to do so.

  • aunursa

    The energy crisis?  No, it was by no means entirely his fault.  But he showed a lack of leadership in handling the situation.  As I said, the voters were fully aware of his handling of the energy crisis and all of the other issues, and yet they still  reelected him in 2002.