Sean P. Means: Got a beef? Start a boycott

Published July 24, 2013 1:39 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

You may decide you're not going to read The Cricket column ever again, and that you're going to tell all your friends to stop reading it.

You may even go so far as to write letters to my editors, demanding The Cricket column be removed from the pages and website of The Salt Lake Tribune. You could go even further than that and contact the Tribune's advertisers to ask them to stop giving their money to the paper as long at this blight of a column remains in place.

You could do all that, though I'd kindly hope you didn't. I rather like this job, and I'm not sure how my particular skill set would apply in the exciting field of custodial building maintenance.

But if you did, you wouldn't be alone. It seems boycotts are all the rage this season.

• In Boston and elsewhere, folks got up in arms when Rolling Stone magazine featured on its cover a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, defendant in the Boston Marathon bombing.

• A gay-rights group has launched an online campaign urging a boycott of the upcoming science-fiction movie "Ender's Game," to protest the anti-gay-marriage public pronouncements by author Orson Scott Card, on whose book the movie is based.

• Several people have urged boycotts of the state of Florida in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The strongest call came from musician Stevie Wonder, who declared he would not perform in Florida or in any state that has a "stand your ground" law.

Each case shows the power of declaring a boycott and the pitfalls of such an action.

With the Rolling Stone case, people argued that the photo — a "selfie" that Tsarnaev posted on social media — glorified an accused killer on a magazine whose cover placement has inspired songs ("Cover of the Rolling Stone," recorded by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show in 1973).

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote a letter to publisher Jann Wenner, saying the cover "reaffirms a message that destruction gains fame for killers and their 'causes.' " Several retailers — including Walgreens, 7-Eleven, Rite Aid, Walmart and Kmart — announced they would not carry the issue, and many people have declared they won't buy the magazine — though one wonders how many were buying it already.

But the protests seldom mention Janet Reitman's story inside the magazine, or the fact that Rolling Stone has a history of strong investigative journalism such as Matt Taibbi's examination of the "vampire squid" of Goldman Sachs, or the late Michael Hastings' interview with Gen. Stanley McChrystal that cost him his job. In this case, it is a protest that's only skin deep.

In the case of "Ender's Game," it's a boycott that comes a little late and hits unintended targets.

The boycott was begun by a group called Geeks Out, which is made up of people in that section of the Venn diagram where "science-fiction fans" meets "LGBT community." Their beef with Orson Scott Card, the Brigham Young University-educated author, are his strong views against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

The campaign got enough traction that Summit/Lionsgate (the film's distributor) distanced itself from Card's views, and producer Roberto Orci endorsed the studio's position during a presentation last weekend at Comic-Con in San Diego.

Card himself answered the boycott in a statement to Entertainment Weekly in which he declared the issue "moot" because of the recent Supreme Court rulings over the Defense of Marriage Act. His statement didn't win him any friends in the gay community. He argued that these are "political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984" — as if gay people were a recent invention. Card also said the LGBT community should "show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them" — literally demanding the tolerance he has never shown toward gays and lesbians.

Not everyone in the LGBT community agrees with the "Ender's Game" boycott. Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who was once a Mormon (as Card is now), wrote on his Facebook page that "Boycotting a movie made by 99% LGBT equality folks in an LGBT equality industry is a waste of our collective energy." In other words, the damage would just as likely hit friends as it would Card.

Now, in the case of Florida and Stevie Wonder, a boycott could do some good.

For starters, the target is not merely to cause financial harm to a person or a publication, though that may be a side effect. The goal is positive social change, to encourage legislators to change so-called "stand your ground" laws. According to recent studies, such laws are more frequently used to get a "justifiable homicide" verdict successfully in cases where a white defendant kills a black victim than in other circumstances.

Wonder has led a successful boycott before. In the early 1990s, the singer encouraged a boycott of Arizona after that state eliminated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The boycott had power in its corner when the National Football League got involved, relocating the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona to the Rose Bowl.

Wonder's current boycott aims at a bigger target, one well-defended by the National Rifle Association and America's conservative movement. According to U.S. News & World Report, 16 states, including Florida and Utah, have laws that assert a right to "stand your ground" as a self-defense argument — and 31 states have expanded the so-called "castle doctrine," thanks to lobbying by the NRA and a corporate-backed right-wing group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The keys to any boycott are time and attention. It takes time to mobilize one's forces, and it takes sustained attention to keep those forces from being distracted by the next thing in the news cycle. Only time will tell if these boycotts will sustain and succeed.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans.



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