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As America Simmers, Corporate America Racks Up the Retweets

“#BlackLivesMatter,” tweeted Mashable editor Chris Taylor last week. “The #StarWars trilogies show how a democracy becomes a police state with stormtroopers, how fascism oppresses opponents, and how fascism [supporters] rise again after its defeat. Step up, Lucasfilm.”

Taylor, the author of How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise, eventually deleted the tweet after it became the subject of widespread mockery. But you can see why he thought that Lucasfilm, a cash-cow subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, might bend to his wishes. Amidst the climate of outrage that has prevailed since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25th, numerous companies have publicly denounced racism and social injustice—often reaping much praise as a result. On May 30th, for instance, Netflix tweeted out “To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.” It now has more than a million likes.

During the 20th century, the pursuit of middle American cultural tastes typically required corporations to posture in a bland, conservative way that served to deflect controversy and project “family values.” The rise of the urban liberal as both a dominant market segment and source of skilled labour has changed all that. It is no longer sufficient for a company to simply sell you its widgets; it must also tell you about its grand social purpose, especially as that purpose reflects enlightened attitudes to diversity and inclusion.

Sometimes, this can lead to unintended hilarity—as with HBO Max changing its Twitter name to “#BlackLivesMatter” just in time for Jennifer Aniston to retweet an old photo of the lily-white cast of Friends. But occasionally, the irony hits a darker note. If it hadn’t been for the current social conflagration, we might never have learned that the Dow Chemical Company believes that when “we see injustice and inequity, we cannot be silent. We must stand up and speak out.” It’s an admirable message, but it comes from a company whose current subsidiary, Union Carbide, was responsible for the 1984 release of a methyl isocyanate gas cloud at a Bhopal, India pesticide plant that left 16,000 dead and about 40,000 others disabled or sick. The plant owner, Union Carbide India Limited, wasn’t controlled by Dow at the time. But the Bhopal tragedy remains history’s deadliest industrial disaster. And it feels strange to see Union Carbide’s corporate successor airily describe its commitment to social justice when the scene of the Bhopal tragedy still hasn’t been cleaned up. To this day, the drinking water in almost two dozen nearby communities is contaminated by toxic solvents.

The case of Nike is a little different, because it long ago hitched its brand to activist-athlete Colin Kaepernick. Even so, the company’s belief that it’s time to be “part of the change,” and that we can’t “pretend there’s not a problem,” is a strong and welcome corrective to any confusion that might have arisen last year, when Nike was busy removing Houston Rockets merchandise from its Chinese stores after the team’s general manager expressed support for protesters in Hong Kong. Disney, similarly, is devoted to “fostering a culture that acknowledges our people’s feelings and their pain.” This is the same company that hyped the Chinese release of The Force Awakens with materials that minimized the presence of black actor John Boyega, and dutifully edited out a same-sex kiss for the Singapore market.

It was much easier for PR-savvy companies to evade hypocrisy charges in the days before Chinese consumers offered them such an enormous market. This includes Apple, whose CEO, Tim Cook, told employees that while people “may want nothing more than a return to normalcy, [but that] desire is itself a sign of privilege.” This is the company that dutifully pulled an app used by Hong Kong protesters to track Chinese police. Activision Blizzard, similarly, was very public with its support for “all those who stand against racism and inequality,” while quietly suspending players who support protests in Hong Kong. The Gap tells us, in all-caps, no less, that “WE MUST STAND UNITED. Because together we are stronger. Together we create change.” Yet more muted tones were in order when offering craven apologies for failing to respect “China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” in not including Taiwan on a map of the country. As for TikTok, it’s “proud to provide a platform where #blacklivesmatter and #georgefloyd generate powerful and important content with over 1 billion views,” and “committed to fostering a space where everyone is seen and heard”—just so long as those looking to get seen and heard don’t bring up Tiananmen Square or Tibetan independence.

Not for a moment would I suggest that the corporate leaders pouring out their hearts over the issue of racial equality and social justice don’t believe these tenets with every fibre of their being. Perish the thought. I’m just saying that if, tomorrow, it suddenly became profitable for these companies to posture on the opposite side of this issue—#BlackLivesMatterSomewhatButNotThatMuch—that’s exactly what they’d do. A corporation’s mission is to promote the interests of shareholders, which means earning lots of money. Social-justice tweets are free, and so long as they help burnish the brand and bring in more customers, the hashtag parade will continue. But if the mood changes? Well, I’m reminded of Dwight Schrute’s line from The Office: “Would I ever leave this company? Look, I’m all about loyalty. In fact, I feel like part of what I’m being paid for here is my loyalty. But if there were somewhere else that valued loyalty more highly, I’m going wherever they value loyalty the most.”

During the heyday of the anti-globalization movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, multinational corporations were cast as malevolent, rapacious institutions. Then the pendulum swung back somewhat, and some of the wealthiest CEOs now can turn themselves into social-justice folk heroes with a few keystrokes on social media. In fact, neither reaction ever made much sense. Unlike human beings, corporations have no moral character outside of the decisions made by the people who run them. As entities, they exist to maximize the financial return of shareholders, notwithstanding the window-dressing supplied by mission statements and social-media campaigns. Exxon’s executives knew perfectly well that burning hydrocarbons was leading to climate change, yet they did the coldly rational thing by continuing to drill while funding climate denial. There really isn’t much moral difference between that and a modern company that pumps cyberspace full of woke hashtags while collaborating with China to smother democracy in Hong Kong.

Corporations are inherently conservative—in the European sense of the word. They protect their profits, which means peacocking the dominant politics of their customers and prospective employees. Fifty years ago, this meant projecting a patrician moral-majority attitude that everyone knew was false and cynical. In 2020, it means projecting an ultra-progressive façade that is equally false and equally cynical. The costumes change, but it’s the same dressing room.

This isn’t virtue signalling because a corporation is a legal fiction—and so it doesn’t have virtue to signal. Indeed, the only real moral lesson to be learned from this spectacle has played out among consumers and activists, who always turn out to be a lot more gullible than we imagine. When it comes to social justice, we’re all supposed to root for the underdog. Yet somehow, we’ve become seduced en masse by multi-billion-dollar entities whose PR teams create their tweets with all the scientific precision of a Dow chemist producing a better kind of detergent or bug spray.

Oh, and as for @StarWars, it released a suitably sad statement in plain white text on a black background, just as Chris Taylor demanded: “We stand against racism. We stand for inclusion. We stand with our fellow Black employees.”

As of this writing, it has a respectable 74,000 likes. And when you click on the adjacent URL, you get an image of Boyega at a protest rally, plus links to the Disney+ streaming service, which allows access to the entire Star Wars oeuvre. And all for the low, low price of just $69.99 per year.

 

Sam Ashworth-Hayes is a journalist, technical writer, economist, and entrepreneur. He blogs at Marginally Productive. Follow him on Twitter at @SAshworthHayes.

Comments

  1. Jumping on the bandwagon of social hypes can certainly make economic sense for companies, but when they all jump on the same bandwagon and their partisan approach to political issues fuels social tensions, they are unlikely to do themselves any long-term favors. It’s quite difficult to do business in a sufficiently destabilized society.

    These companies seem to forget that a large part of the population does not share their fancy woke political positions. How smart is it to alienate more and more of your customers?

    And if you look at the anti-capitalist attitude of their progressive friends, this approach seems anything but sustainable: It may just be a matter of time and a minor offense as a trigger until their allies turn against them. And once you have managed to be hated by everyone involved, have fun!

  2. Woke corporate marketing has gone full steam ahead. It started with countless ads on how to get your most fashionable face covering. One I saw said that for only $.30 a day you can have beautiful fashionable masks. That’s nine dollars a mask! I can buy them for one dollar. As for the black lives matter marketing, I am always asking whether all black lives matter or only black criminals resisting arrests. In the US in 2019, there were nine black men who were unarmed killed by police. That is out of the population of approximately 40 million. Do the math, your odds if you are black and unarmed are 5,000,000 to 1. You have a much better chance of being struck by lightning and killed. But the 80 black people that were shot in Chicago last week 23 of which who were killed I guess do not matter to those that are woke.

  3. Place money where mouth is or shut the latter. How about vowing to triple the wages of the lowest paid in your wonderful company with a similar wave through the wage structure? How about passing a corporate resolution to never allow the highest paid individual in the company to make more that twenty times the lowest paid? How about distributing stock options and share profits equally throughout the company? How about letting workers fill half the seats on the board? How about giving same health benefits to all employees? How about offering the same retirement benefits to all employees? How about vowing to employ at every level of the corporate structure at least 13% blacks to match the population? Yeah, I didn’t think so you SJW phonies. So please, STFU!

  4. I came across this article through Tim Pool’s excellent coverage of the absurdities of modern media:

    It may imply that there is a good deal more preference falsification with polling numbers than anybody realises. If an increasing number of people feel that they can no longer express their viewpoints in public, at the risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods, then the results of November may not be what anyone expects- given that, like the Q & A session described in the article, Voting is anonymous.

  5. I am definitely not an anti-corporate kind of guy, but the Democratic party is now the party of big corporations. It’s hard to see what big-monied interests are still Republican. What industrialists are not firmly backing Democrats now? Small businesses are probably still Republican. They get gobbled up every day by those mega corporations who now fund platforms for Michael Moore. Appearances can be highly deceiving in this Kabuki theater of Wall Street cash the liberals are putting on.

    In a related bit of ironic humor my radio station has been playing rap and revolutionary music all week and one song is worth mentioning here. Gil Scott Heron’s classic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised has turned out to be spectacularly wrong. Listen to the lyrics. In fact, the revolution is everything the songwriter claimed it wouldn’t be. It is being televised and it is “being brought to you” by our woke corporations. The DJ did point this out after playing it a few times.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnJFhuOWgXg
  6. Yep, I suspect we live in an era of widespread preference falsification.

  7. I wonder what the ratio is of the odds of an unarmed black male being killed by the cops vs. the odds of him being killed by another black male? Taking a stab at it, I’ll guess 1:1000.

  8. The judicial opinion on ‘disparate impact’ has been weaponized, and unleashed a reign of terror on corporate America. Coca Cola has paid out $8 billion, for example, and Microsoft $5 billion. Yes, billion, not million. There have been many such, and innumerable settlements in millions. It is a reasonable calculation by corporates that appeasing the DIE syndicate is the smart move. They may be hoping to recoup the cost in increased market share, as mid sized competitors drop out. (New barriers to entry, and high costs of regulatory compliance are standard progressivism.)

    The DIE syndicate today draws more than half its funding from taxpayers. It has a breadth of coalition networks, and a depth of pockets today that dwarfs any rival in American politics. No laws have been broken, technically. All relevant laws have been evaded structurally, or twisted by their letter, against their spirit.

    The DIE syndicate leadership is very high IQ, full time professionals with deep, trenchant hatred of historic, Christian America. I call it the clandestine communist party of the United States. The civil rights establishment is their creation largely, and run by them with a deft compound of flattery and bribery. As is BLM.

    Antifa is a new import from Europe. O’Keefe of Project Veritas is intrigued by their untypical professionalism and meticulous, rigorous methods. He thinks it has the hallmarks of being crafted by experienced professionals of clandestine services.

  9. Yes, the arithmetic is on a knife edge. It is why the beatification of St. George Floyd has such a triumphalist air. The DIE syndicate is running a full court press. Bland, boilerplate recitations of communist talking points are dropping like torrential rain, from all corners. None dare refuse.

    People are dying on the streets regularly now. There is no respite. Historic American statuary and memorial monuments are dropping like flies. This is a revolutionary push.

  10. Myths and half truths are used to rally mobs. Mob Justice is never real justice. In this case the myth is that there are legions of white cops looking to kill, injure or harass blacks. So what is the truth? The truth is George Floyd died after his encounter with police officer Derek Chauvin. Derek Chauvin is currently in jail and charged with homicide. The other officers involved are also in custody and charged with aiding and abetting the killing of George Floyd. So what about the argument that the percentage of blacks killed by police is greater than the percentage of blacks in the population? It is a canard. For if the percentage of blacks killed by police is indicative of any type of conspiratorial malfeasance or racism, then that same logic would apply to the following:

    Police officers are targeting males because the percentage of police shootings involving male victims is greater than the percentage of males in the population. In 2019 49 people died in the U.S. after being struck by lightning. Of those 49 people killed by lightning only 5 or slightly over 10% were female. Are the heavens gender biased? Is Mother Nature conspiring to eliminate men?

    To date the evidence shows that there is probable cause to believe that office Derek Chauvin and others to be criminally liable in the death of George Floyd and that is all. Yet people are willing to perpetuate a myth in hope of whipping up others into a frenzy in order to elect a candidate, prevail on an issue or sell a product.

  11. Also, the Invisible Black Man — the faceless black conservative, who votes Democratic by sheer force of habit. Rasmussen is reporting a bump in Trump support, that even after discounting it fully by the margin of error, is around 30+%. And, the bump has been holding all week long. This is no shocker to me, because regular black folks do not like the ghetto negro. Unlike whites, they know the ghetto negro, very well! They are not at all swept by his displays of testosterone overflow, okay?

  12. I wonder if most black people really want a bunch of woke, white people to solve their problems? I somehow doubt it. In fact the way many of the woke, white crowd respond to what they think black people need or want seems to me incredibly condescending.
    In addition, with today’s left, its impossible to even have a dialogue about race: There’s simply too many taboo subjects. One can’t have an honest discussion if one can have only half a conversation.

  13. Note that to say this is anti-white discrimination is conflated with racism. To say that blacks commit more crime is “racist,” even though it is fact. This movement is extremely disturbing. I’m watching my so-called friends gulp the Kool-Aid then prostrate themselves…promoting their “anti-racism” kits of the foundational texts, reading groups starting with White Fragility…

    To call all of this Kafka-esque seems an understatement.

  14. Uhm… Remember the bit about scaring off tourists? Some people might think your dolphin is just an avatar, not an identity.

    Edit: Yup! Without the context of you referring to all humans as monkeys, can you blame @Voitonen for that reaction?

  15. You know thats funny. I am so used to @RayAndrews calling me a monkey that my eyes slid right over that phrasing without noticing its other more common meaning.

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