News Articles

SBC’s boycott of Disney called vital form of American protest

NEW YORK (BP)–Southern Baptists involved in boycotting The Disney Company are using “the most fundamental form of American protest by declaring that they will stand up for their principles and vote with their wallets,” according to Brandweek columnist Jesse Kalisher.
Brandweek is published by BPI Communications Inc., which also publishes Billboard, Adweek, The Hollywood Reporter and several other periodicals.
“… America would be a better place,” Kalisher writes, “… if only the rest of us boycotted as loudly as the Southern Baptists … .” Kalisher’s Brandweek column was received by Baptist Press through a clipping service in June after appearing in the May 4 issue of the New York City-based magazine.
While endorsing the strategy of boycotting, Kalisher parts company with the SBC over its reasons for boycotting Disney.
“Not that I agree with their opposition to Disney’s policies toward homosexuals. Quite to the contrary, I admire Disney for what I consider its progressive response to a fact of life,” Kalisher writes. Disney’s provision of health insurance benefits to homosexual employees’ partners was one of several reasons cited in the SBC boycott vote in 1997. Kalisher, however, did not address the SBC’s other reasons for targeting Disney as “anti-family” and “anti-Christian,” such as the entertainment conglomerate’s production of R-rated films with heavy sexual and/or violent content while claiming to be a company upholding family values.
But on boycotts in general, Kalisher writes: “From George Washington’s boycott of British beer … to the Boston Tea Party, from the 1955 boycott of Selma, Alabama’s bus system to the boycott of companies doing business in apartheid South Africa, from our eternal boycott of Castro’s Cuba to our nation’s boycott of the 1980 Olympics, it’s clear that boycotts have played an exalted if not imperative role in shaping American history and policy.”
Kalisher notes that a boycott is “not blackmail. It’s not censorship. What it is, is capitalism.” In voting “with our wallets,” Kalisher explains, “we’re just letting the candidates (read: products) know how they can change if they want our votes (read: money).”
When a boycott is waged, for example, against advertisers and sponsors of TV programs deemed objectionable, Kalisher writes, “This isn’t to say that networks and producers should bend to every letter or every boycott, but as responsible members of society, I believe it’s our obligation to let decision makers know, in no uncertain terms, what we find acceptable and what we find objectionable.”
Kalisher offers a “litmus test” for validating boycotts: “This is extreme, but it works for me: If, say, Adolph Hitler were resurrected and created a television show to further his views, how would I react? Would he have the right to speak and even broadcast his thoughts? Of course he would. Would I want to take away that right? No. But would I organize a boycott of all of Hitler’s sponsors and make it loud and clear why I would not buy products marketed by companies devoting money to keeping hate alive? Yes, in a New York minute.”
Kalisher adds: “Of course, this is where the First Amendment is erroneously inserted into such conversations. ‘But what of free speech?’ people cry out.
“Free Speech means that our government can’t outlaw someone’s right to express a point of view,” Kalisher answers. “It does not mean, however, that we have a moral, ethical or even legal obligation to support everyone’s right to say whatever they like. In fact, using my Hitler litmus test, I would argue that the true expression of freedom of speech is exactly the opposite; we are obligated to speak out when we find speech offensive.”
Kalisher concludes his column by writing: “If only the rest of us would vote with our wallets everytime a company did something like, say, spilled oil in a pristine bay and then dodged the responsibility to clean it up, exploited and abused third-world workers, hired foreign prison labor or discriminated here at home against customers or employees whose skin color wasn’t lily-Leave-it-to-Beaver-white … if only the rest of us boycotted as loudly as the Southern Baptists, America would be a better place.”