by LISA BLACK | CHICAGO TRIBUNE
The man in the photos smiles broadly as he poses behind the hulking carcass of an elephant, and, in another picture, he wears the same grin as he hoists a leopard’s limp body for display.
Repulsed, I found it easy to order my submarine sandwich elsewhere.
But that brings me to an unsettling revelation: My self-righteous mini-boycotts are random, inconsistent and, often, hypocritical.
How many businesses would offend me if I knew more about their owners, their investments and their source of labor? Where does one draw the line? Am I a horrible person if I long for some amount of blissful ignorance? (Chocolate and child labor come to mind.)
Many of my friends say they, too, avoid certain trademarks that conflict with their personal values regarding the environment, politics, morals or human rights.
Wal-Mart continues to draw wrath for the methods it uses to keep prices low, from its labor practices to its effect on mom-and-pop businesses. Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria Secret’s Pink and other companies that seem to sexualize children in their advertisements grate on others.
One childhood friend who fled to Wisconsin long ago boycotts the entire state of Illinois because he is disgusted with our corruption and politics. Another refuses to use self-checkout lanes, saying that “it’s symptomatic of our absurd complacency. We get less service for the same amount of money, while unemployment goes up.”
After the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I saw a woman in a floppy hat outside a suburban gas station, holding a giant hand-lettered sign: “Boycott BP.” I had to admire her determination, though I wondered what effect her one-woman effort had on the motorists who sped by.
We are victims of our own success when it comes to consumer choices — because there are so many of them. I already spend way too much time in the cosmetics aisle, trying to make sense of which skin care products are affordable and effective.
Now that I have learned that the plastic microbeads in my favorite facial scrub are clogging Lake Michigan, I will start my product search over again.
I know, I shouldn’t complain. Some people don’t have the luxury of boycotting, say, Wal-Mart, because it’s all they can afford.
Yet I often compromise my values out of laziness, convenience, cost or sheer desire. Um, chocolate.
A co-worker who dropped R&B artist Chris Brown from her iPod because of his violent history with singer Rihanna admitted that she still listens to the also-notorious singer R Kelly. Sure, Kelly was acquitted of child pornography in 2008. But Georgia suspects he’s no poster child for healthy relationships and feels vaguely guilty about it.
Some people devote much effort toward making ethical choices, and business gurus pay attention to them.
“To do ethical boycotting, you need the ability and the time to think abstractly,” said Joel Whalen, associate professor of marketing at DePaul University. He agrees it can be challenging but added that social media have given the unhappy consumer a bigger voice, which can be conveyed by photos and graphics as well as an old-fashioned complaint letter.
The Internet is rich with complaints about businesses, mostly prompted by poor customer service, which deserves its own essay.
Remember the singer whose humorous YouTube music video “United Breaks Guitars” propelled him to fame in 2009? Canadian Dave Carroll sang about how the airline’s baggage handlers at O’Hare International Airport broke his $3,500 Taylor acoustic guitar and refused to pay for it.
United was forced to respond, and eventually it donated $2,500 in his name to support music education through the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, according to news reports.
Similarly, you can find documentaries that expose corporate interests and ethical concerns. But, as Whalen pointed out, people are quicker to react if the problem hits close to home, such as if they discover their water supply is being polluted. Human rights violations in Third World countries, however, are not as “real.”
When considering Jimmy John’s, I learned from news articles that Liautaud contributes to right-wing causes and threatened to move his business out of Illinois when the state sales tax increased.
Liautaud, through a corporate spokeswoman, declined comment on all of those issues, including the safari photos and the status of his headquarters relocation.
Personally, I don’t want to research every corporate executive to compare their right or left leanings, both of which could offend.
But those photos ruined my appetite, and gave me one less choice to make.
… and an excerpt from Rober Hirschfeld’s Jimmy John is a Big Man. With the Photographs to Prove it | Smile Politely
I believe we’re collectively culpable, and pointing out the varying degrees of hypocrisy in order to maintain the status quo is a fool’s errand at best and slyly evil at worst. After all, you may eat tofu harvested from mono-crop fields and ride your bike to work on the streets — thus mitigating your footprint, but still acting as an accessory to a few of the prongs of civilization that have destroyed animal habitat – the primary cause of species decline in the first world. Such complicity is, in fact, real.
However, I don’t think this relative complicity should prevent one from speaking out about human behavior — though that is a recurring theme in the comments, and surely will be pushed by Jimmy John’s PR department. Collective culpability and relative hypocrisy do not mean that any behavior is sanctioned, or that we are incapable of making value judgements on grossly immoral acts.
I eat meat. I don’t have a moral problem with that (partially because I firmly believe in the rightness of big predators like leopards and wolves). But I eat more than I should, and I’m not always careful about where it comes from. I do have a problem with that. If these pictures lead to greater discussion of how humans fit in to the larger landscape, I will be happy.