Jul. 04, 2012 - Issue #872: The Beer Issue
Acceptance through capitalism
Support for the queer community is about more than buying cookies
Who knew the Oreo cookie was capable of so much? Earlier this month, Kraft Foods posted a deliciously simple image on its Facebook page: an Oreo cookie with six layers of cream sandwiched between the iconic chocolate wafers. Each layer of cream was a different colour of the rainbow. In case the public missed the significance of the colours, "Pride June 25" appeared under the cookie.
The reactions thus far have been—unsurprisingly—mixed. As I write this, the post has over 250 000 likes and about 50 000 comments, ranging from "buy all the Oreos!" to "I’m never buying Oreos again!" The latter comments are usually accompanied by reminders about the burning lake of fire that awaits us for our sinful ways, but luckily the haters are far outnumbered by people genuinely excited by Kraft's move.
Kraft's decision to come out in favour of gay rights follows on the heels of other large American companies—most recently JC Penney whose decision to hire notable lesbian Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson was met with outrage from conservative group One Million Moms (who, for the record, do not have a million members).
Although One Million Moms tried to advocate a boycott, the controversy ended up generating an outpouring of support for the department store. Undoubtedly, Kraft is looking for more of the same. It's a brilliant marketing ploy: reach out to a community known for its higher-than-average disposable income, wait for the bigots to start raising hell and sit back as goodwill and increased sales come rolling your way. It’s like green-washing, but cheaper and requires little actual change from a company.
Is my cynicism showing? Let me try to be optimistic: given the heated battles over gay marriage and that corporations are woven into the American socio-political fabric, it makes a strange sort of sense that corporations are coming forward to declare their queer support. I imagine that for folks living in states where discriminatory laws against queers are still on the books, a campaign like this must be refreshing. After all, a public display of support like this could not have happened even five short years ago. And, let's be honest, is anyone entirely surprised that companies are using the American queer culture wars as an opportunity to increase their profit margins?
I can't help but compare this campaign with one that I saw during Edmonton Pride: without any fanfare, insofar as I could tell, another national department store handed out free pride flags in the weeks leading up to Pride. Yes they were branded, but I saw no big announcement, no self-congratulatory Facebook post proclaiming their "acceptance." Perhaps the stakes are lower in Canada and that is what accounts for this difference.
But what really frustrates me about Kraft's campaign and others like it is that equality becomes measured in part by how attractive queers are as consumers: buy our products, we will fight for you. Why are queers legitimized as full rights-deserving citizens when, and only when, we have wallets deep enough to buy our way in? What happens to those queers who can’t or won’t worship at the altar of consumerism? Political efficacy is watered down to a monetary exchange and people feel good about supporting gay rights without actually doing anything about it.
Would I rather have large companies remain completely silent about queers? Probably not. But what I would like even more is for someone to take the five dollars they are about to spend on cookies and send it to the Edmonton Pride Centre instead. V
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