Saturday, January 7, 2012

If Corporations are People, They’re Pussies and Should Have Their Asses Kicked on the Playground

Lowes announced last month that it was pulling its ads from the TV show “All American Muslim,” a reality show about five Muslim families living in Dearborn, Michigan. By all accounts, “All American Muslim” is about as mundane and innocuous a show as exists these days. It shows real-life Muslims talking about things like whether their shower tiles need to be re-caulked and whether their little sister’s new boyfriend is a douche. It’s not a hugely popular show; most people I know had never heard of it before the Lowes brouhaha. And, ironically, it’s probably about the best kind of show possible for easing racial and religious tensions. It shows Muslims, in their natural habitat, worrying about the same kinds of boring, mundane minutiae of modern life that concern human beings of every race, color and creed. The only thing notable about the Muslims portrayed in the show seems to be how utterly unremarkable they are.

Lowes pulled its ads after getting a letter from the Florida Family Association. FFA told Lowes that “All American Muslim” was “hiding the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values” and demanded that it stop supporting the show through its advertising. Not only is this accusation hysterical, bigoted and just flat out stupid, but the FFA is a piddly, piss-ant little lint ball of an organization effectively run by one person, David Canton, with an annual budget of less than $200,000. Mr. Canton’s strength seems to be his ability to write scary letters that make it sound as if his organization is supported by more than the handful of assholes who actually do back his mission. Before getting all wound up about Muslims, Mr. Canton focused on shows that promoted the homosexual lifestyle, such as “Modern Family” and the always envelope-pushing “Degrassi High.” And what did Lowes – the country’s second largest home improvement retailer, a corporate behemoth with 1,749 stores, 197 million square feet of retail selling space and $48 billion in annual revenues – do when it received a demand from one twisted little white guy in Florida who probably didn’t get enough attention from his dad as a kid? It folded like a little bitch.

When it came to standing up to a bully and doing the right thing, Lowes proved to be a quivering little twerp, the most groveling, insecure little pussy on the playground. But I don’t blame Lowes itself. Lowes is just a person, as we know from Citizens United (which, in case you haven’t heard me mention it 8 or 10 thousand times before, is the 2010 Supreme Court decision that held that corporations are people whose free speech rights cannot be suppressed by laws created through the democratic process by human beings). And public corporations are, down to their very DNA, pussies.

Private corporations sometimes have a little more spine. They are owned by smaller, concentrated groups of people and can run themselves in whatever way they see fit. If they want to pay more than minimum wage, or give better benefits than is market, or support causes that are non-mainstream or controversial, they can do so, even if it would result in slightly reduced quarterly profits. But public corporations are different. Capital markets are fluid and fickle. Maintaining a steady but even business is deadly. If you’re a corporation with a large, diffuse shareholder base, you have no choice but continuously to expand. Without fast, consistent growth, your shareholders will flee, your financing will dry up and you, poor pathetic corporation, will be left for dead. And if you’re a corporation that has reached a certain critical size, the only way for you to continue to grow is to become ever more bland and ubiquitous, so utterly mainstream and inoffensive that every last person in the country will find you just tolerable enough to send some disposable income your way. From a marketing perspective, a large corporation simply cannot, at any cost, rock the boat one teensy weensy little bit.

David Canton is an outlier. I’d like to believe, and I actually do believe, that very few people in this country agree with him that seemingly workaday Muslims in Michigan are in fact hiding some radical flavor of Islam, waiting for just the right moment to spring it on us and take over the country. But the issue is not quite settled yet. There are plenty of Americans who are still scared enough by 9/11 or ignorant enough about what true Islam stands for in the first place, that any mere suggestion of radicalism or terrorism can put them on edge. And putting people on edge is not what makes them buy shit from you. And so, if you’re Lowes, even if David Canton is an outcast idiot with no followers, you worry that maybe he’s onto something. Maybe some people will think he’s right, and won’t like you if you don’t do what he says. And so just in case, you listen to him. You capitulate.

It takes balls to stand up for a cause that’s real and current and divisive. Corporations are all about waiving the banner for principals of justice and equality, but only for causes that have been long settled. Standing behind Martin Luther King, Jr. or Jackie Robinson or Rosa Parks is a great way to sell sneakers. But it’s not all that impressive to declare your allegiance to a battle that was won two generations ago. In the end, Lowes probably got its comeuppance. The backlash against Lowes’ having removed its ads from “American Muslim” got more attention than the show ever did on its own. Lowes came away looking like the scared little wussy that it is.

Anti government types have done a good job convincing people that government is the source of all oppression. But there will always be, and there always has to be, some source of power that controls our society. As power shifts away from government, the most likely candidate to sponge up the power and fill the void is corporations. Whatever weaknesses and flaws democratically elected governments have, at least, at their core, their fundamental purpose is to protect and help their constituents. Corporations don’t have that mandate. Their reason for being is to create perpetually increasing shareholder value. To do that means pandering to the broadest base of spenders. And that means offending no-one, never taking a stand, and capitulating to any force that threatens even the most miniscule hint of discord. If we want the contours of our modern existence to be defined by the Lowes of the world, by the most insecure little ninth grade girls at the high school dance, trashing government and standing up for corporate personhood is the way to go. But if we prefer that the “people” we want to be in charge not be the most spineless, pathetically weak among us, we need to get things moving in another direction. Corporations may be people, and they may be good at making money, but they’re not the ones we want calling the shots. They’re pussies and should have their asses kicked on the playground.


Anonymous said...

Dan, you rock the very foundation that we are standing on. This article was very enlightening - thank you.

Rich said...

Well said Danimal. Well said.

Rubber Monkey said...

I think we should charge anyone who forces a corporation into bankruptcy with murder, and a hostile acquisition with false imprisonment, etc., etc.
If you prick them, do they not bleed? well, maybe not, but they STILL are people. Just ask Unibrow Scalia.

Michael said...

Well said, Dan. One of your best posts.

Unknown said...

Nice blog Dan, I only hope that Muslim groups threaten to boycott Lowes. You can't make everyone happy but I'd rather piss off the small minded assholes and their insipid little ways