Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day: When Free Speech Is A Trap (UPDATED)

by evanmcmurry

Hooray for conservatives and their Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. They have every right to support an establishment that shares their values, as Dan Cathy has every right to proclaim those values, and so on. Freedom, etc.

I’ll only point out that, up until now, Chick-Fil-A still could have scooted out of this thing intact. The chain got a heap of bad press due to the scandal, and likely lost a small consortium of occasional customers who stopped in at a Chick-Fil-A twice a year because it was there when they wanted lunch. Count me among them; I rarely ate at Chick-Fil-A, mostly because I rarely came across them, but I remember them from high school, thought their sandwiches were fine, and was fully aware of and unbothered by their Christian values, as those values seemed to be expressed entirely in positive form, i.e., charity, helping their employees pay for college, and so on. I’m probably never going to eat at a Chick-Fil-A again after this, but let’s face it: I was worth about $18 in revenue to the restaurant over the course of the next decade, so no big loss. If they lost the 5% of their business that was like me, they’d be fine, and Chick-Fil-A would live on in the popular consciousness as That Chicken Place That Is Kinda Conservative But Also We’re Hungry.

Today, though, thousands and thousands of people are conspicuously and forthrightly patronizing Chick-Fil-A because it does not support gay marriage. Again, they have every right to do so, but they’re actively cementing in the public mind the association between the restaurant and the stance. There’s no more sequestering Dan Cathy’s views from the restaurant’s views; there’s no more pretending this was an off-handed remark that got blown out of proportion; there’s no more acting like this was a false controversy ginned up by the lamestream media. Chick-Fil-A, as of today, is Pollo de Bigot, a chain that aggressively disputes the notion that same-sex couples should have the same rights straight couples do.

Conservatives will think this is great. But you know who probably doesn’t think it’s great? The entire gaggle of executives and vice-presidents and board members and investors, most of whom probably don’t give a good goddamn about same-sex marriage, and who just want Chick-Fil-A to be a successful company. As Jonathan Merritt informed us in what now appears to be an unofficial coming-out statement, one of the chain’s primary markets is college campuses, where support for same-sex marriage intersects a tendency to act on political beliefs. Chick-Fil-A will make hundred of thousands of dollars today, and get some more active customers out of the gimmick, but the overall effect will be to widen the impression of the chain as an actively anti-gay company beyond the likes of me, who don’t matter, and into the millions of college students who might be spending $18 a week at the place. These are young customers who could have formed lifelong habits of going to Chick-Fil-A*, but who now have a very serious and compelling reason to go find another chain that’s just as good (or bad). Today’s stunt could create a years-long boycott-by-attrition that will cost Chick-Fil-A millions in lost profits down the road.

Dan Cathy probably thinks today is wonderful; Michelle Malkin and her ilk definitely do. But I bet there are a lot of people in Chick-Fil-A’s corporate headquarters who are watching the attention the restaurant’s getting today and seeing depleted profit margins five and ten years from now. And nobody will be able to blame that fate on the persecution of Chick-Fil-A, or the PC mob; Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day is nothing if not free speech as grand spectacle. But if this entire ordeal shows anything, it’s that the freedom of free speech can also be a trap: it was precisely the freedom to express his opinion that allowed Dan Cathy to start this mess, and it’s conservatives’ unchecked ability to amplify that opinion that could seal it.

* Gross, I know. But you had your munchie fast food joint when you were a sophomore, so don’t judge.

UPDATE (7:02): As I was saying:

NYU head spokesman John Beckman hinted yesterday for the first time that the fast-food shop may not be on the NYU campus for much longer.

Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy’s comments “are out of step with NYU’s views on this matter,” Beckman said, according to the Daily News. The school’s University Senate will “reexamine” this fall whether to keep the chain on campus.

“The University Administration will ask the University Senate to take up the issue of Chick-fil-A’s status on campus again when it reconvenes this fall to make a recommendation on how to proceed,” Beckman said, according to FOX. (via Metro)