Chick-fil-A in Toronto and Virtue Signalling on Social Media

Chick-fil-A in Toronto and Virtue Signalling on Social Media


Wouldnít it be great if you could demonstrate
to the world what an amazing person you are just by posting where you eatóor donít eatóon
social media? Given the current state of polarization in
our society, it should come as no surprise that something as simple as the opening of
a fast-food restaurant has become not only controversial, but also one of the quickest
ways to share with the world your remarkable example of “modern virtue.” In September of 2019 Chick-fil-A opened its
first Toronto location. As has often occurred when popular American chains venture north
in an effort to tap into the Canadian consumer market, Chick-fil-A was welcomed by long lines
of eager customers. Many fried-chicken lovers stood in line for twelve hours to sample the
latest entry into Torontoís food scene. However, not everyone was so welcoming. The
grand opening was also met with protestors wielding an array of grievances and serenading
customers with cries of “Shame, shame!” The protesters voicing their disdain for the U.S.-based
chicken specialists claimed multiple motivations. Jaymie Sampa, manager of anti-violence initiatives
for the Toronto-based activist group “The 519,” stated, “When we have an increasing
global climate and rhetoric around hate-fuelled values, this is about taking a stand against
that” (“Grand Opening of Toronto Chick-fil-A generates both excitement and anger,” GlobalNews.ca,
Sept. 5, 2019). The 519ís involvement is in response to statements made by the Cathy
family, owners of the poultry powerhouse, concerning their support for the traditional
family unit centred on the marriage of one man to one woman. Animal rights activists
joined in the protests, and some even tried to paint the opening as against native rights.
(“LGBTQ2, animal rights protesters overshadow grand opening of Chick-Fil-A in Toronto,”
GlobalNews.ca, Sept. 6, 2019). Such incidences of very public protests against
retailers and businessesóshowy and filled with an air of moral condemnationóare clearly
on the rise. In an age when people post images of their meals on Instagram and chronicle
their every action on Facebook and Twitter, everyday choices such as where to grab a chicken
sandwich or buy a sweatshirt have become opportunities to declare oneís superior moral stature.
Former President Barack Obama describes one part of the problem: “I do get a sense sometimes
now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, that the way
of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s
enough. Like if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right, or used the
wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because: ‘Man, did you see
how woke I was? I called you out.'” (https://www.businessinsider.com/barack-obama-slams-call-out-culture-young-not-activism-2019-10) Polarization is fracturing our society, with
social media serving as the jackhammer. In an age when it has never been easier to discover
any individualís views, a single Tweet “outing” someone for being on the politically incorrect
side of an issue can result in immediate calls for a boycott. When U.S. President Donald
Trump announced his plans to attend a fundraiser in Beverly Hills, Toronto-born actor Eric
McCormack “advocated on Twitter for the Hollywood Reporter to ëkindly report everyone attending
this event, so the rest of us can be clear about who we donít wanna work withí” (“Will
& Grace stars backtrack calls to out and boycott Trump backers in Hollywood,” WashingtonExaminer.com,
September 4, 2019). While McCormack later backpedaled in the face of claims he was advocating
a McCarthyism-style “blacklist,” this type of attack is increasingly common, and such
behavior is found on both sides of the political aisle. How many political conservatives in
the United States tweeted their public declaration that they would never buy another Nike shoe
when the corporation chose controversial football player Colin Kaepernick to promote its brand?
The draw of using social media for such public display is clear. “In a world where everyone
is a one man/one woman P.R. department on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram,
and Twitter, ëmoral peacockingíóoutrage on social media that is not combined with
actionóbecomes convenient and costless” (“When Do Consumer Boycotts Work?” NYTimes.com, February
7, 2017). It costs nothing and yet shows the world what a virtuous person you areóaptly
symbolizing what our society has come to value: The appearance of good, rather than substance.
What danger is there in such virtue signalling and moral peacocking? The subtle temptation
to believe that virtue is determined by which chicken sandwich we prefer, instead of the
far more difficult task of living a life of honesty, integrity, and character. When we
focus on which restaurants, clothing stores, or sports teams to avoid, the weightier matters
of character are likely forgotten. Perhaps you’ve heard the popular phrase: “Choose
your friends by their character and your socks by their colour. Choosing your socks by their
character makes no sense and choosing your friends by their colour is unthinkable.” These
days it seems we are encouraged to choose our socks by the character of the designer,
the manufacturer, the retailer, the advertising agency, and any other set of hands that may
be associated with the socks before they find their way to our feet.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with letting people know why you do or donít
patronize a business. But we should consider such stances or actions in a balanced manner,
examining what they do and do not represent. We should understand that avoiding or patronizing
a particular chicken sandwich establishment says very little about the protestorís and
patronís actual moral values. And it does risk causing us to fall for our own public
relations efforts and forget that true virtue has little to do with chicken sandwiches and
much to do with how we live our lives on a day to day basis and how we treat those around
us.

Author:

3 thoughts on “Chick-fil-A in Toronto and Virtue Signalling on Social Media”

  • Wrong again right-winger: The point of these kind of social media protests is to two-fold. First, it propogates an idea to people with the aim to build more of an awareness around the issue. Second, the awarness will result in action towards the intended protest. This could be a commerical boycott or otherwise. Using the internet in this way opens avenues for social change and progress. I can understand how if you are not aware of how this works, it could look like "just complaining". I think you need to do more work around how the internet works and its impact on human society because you premise in this video is unrealistically narrow.

  • Jennifer O' Really says:

    The Cathys have a sandwich and a mission. They are no different than any other conservative, traditional Christians out there, except they are filling the world with the best fried chicken ever created.

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