In the midst of our ongoing discussions about Lowe’s pulling its ads from All-American Muslim, there’s something fitting about the arrival of the trailer for Rock of Ages, complete with a band of perpetually-offended pearl-clutchers led by Catherine Zeta-Jones:
There’s something profoundly odd — and perhaps deeply privileged — about the presumption of a right not to be offended, which framed in any other way reveals itself to be ridiculous. Even if one assume that you’ll get decent parenting and a fairly good education, I can’t imagine expecting that the world beyond school and childhood home will not just give you a fair shot but wrap you in cotton wool. It may be reasonable to expect a good shot at finding employment. It’s not reasonable to assume you will get your dream job and get it quickly, that you will never clash with a supervisor, that you will never fail. It may be reasonable to assume that you’ll get to go out into the world and date. It’s not reasonable to assume that you’ll find your soulmate, that you live in a world without divorce, infidelity, early widowhood, or childhood illness. We’re promised the pursuit of happiness, not a guarantee that we’ll never experience another emotion. Boycotts based on opposition to the ideas expressed in a piece of culture are an expression of the idea that the world can and should bend itself to fit your preferences, and that others’ preferences, values and aspirations are simply not as important.
That, or the boycotts themselves are a means less of changing culture than perpetuating a cycle that allows organizations with no other dicernible purpose to survive. My colleague Zack Ford has done a nice job of documenting how the Florida Family Foundation, the organization that got Lowe’s to buckle, does little other than manufacture fake — and presumably revenue-generating — outrage. The Parents Television Council and I may not always see eye-to-eye, but at least they provide parents with their assessments of the appropriateness of various media products and other tools to help adults make decisions about what they want their children to see and do parenting work. That said, their advertiser boycott calls certainly seem to generate the most light around the organization, and they, like the Florida Family Association, have the bad habit of claiming they’ve convinced advertisers to pull ads when they actually haven’t.
This is all unfortunate, because as Tod Kelly points out, they’ve diluted the power of actually meaningful boycotts. If a product is in itself unsafe, or if it is produced in a way that poses a danger to participants — reality shows that require participants to sign contracts that absolve networks of responsibility if they get raped — seem like they’d be a good example of an entertainment product that meets these standards. People have the right to be safe from bodily harm and psychological abuse. They don’t have the right to be free of ideas that are difficult for them. I don’t like virulent sexism and Islamophobia, but people have the right to express those ideas and to present themselves to be exposed as narrow-minded bigots.