American Rhetoric: A Game of Political Chicken, or, The Ballad of Abby Farle

Chick-fil-A versus Marriage Equality

     Well, after a months-long hiatus from writing, I’m back at it. Nouns here, verbs there, a preposition or two…let the wordsmithing commence!

     I’m not really sure just where to begin with this one. Suffice it to say that it’s a mess; a political food fight which is unfolding in the debate regarding marriage equality. By the title alone, most of you probably already know who the subject of this long overdue article is; Chick-fil-A. First, please allow me to give you, my ever-appreciated, fine young readers, a little background to the story…

     First established in 1946 as “Dwarf House” by S. Truett Cathy in Hapeville, Georgia, and then re-branded and opened as Chick-fil-A in 1967 in Atlanta, the restaurant chain has grown to over 1,600 locations in 39 states, as well as future plans for locations in Mexico and the Philippines. Founder S. Truett Cathy is a devout Southern Baptist, whose religious views are reflected in the manner in which the Chick-fil-A business is run; the entire chain is closed on Sundays, and according to President and COO Dan Cathy’s bio page on the Chick-fil-A website, their stated corporate purpose is to, “glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”(1)

     Within the scope of this “divine mission”, Cathy et. al. have also established “WinShape”, a foundation from which charitable donations are channeled to various faith-based interests. According to a July 5th article at Business Insider, in 2010 WinShape doled out charitable donations totalling 2 million dollars, including 1.1 million to the Marriage and Family Foundation, one thousand dollars to the Family Research Council and two thousand, five hundred dollars to the Georgia Family Council.(2) Notably, each and every one of these charities is opposed to the concept of same-sex marriage.

     Now, we arrive at the current controversy swirling around Chick-fil-A. Between two interviews given to the Baptist Press and the Ken Coleman Show, Dan Cathy shared his thoughts on both the operation of the restaurant chain, and on same-sex marriage. From the July 16th Baptist Press interview:

    “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that”(3)

    In the Ken Coleman Show interview, he stated:

    “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”(4)

     Now, up to this point, Chick-fil-A had been in a partnership with the Jim Henson Company to develop and market toys for the restaurant’s kids’ meals. The Jim Henson Company, creators of the puppets of Sesame Street, The Muppets and Fraggle Rock, has now broken ties with Chick-fil-A over their stance on marriage equality, and issued the following statement on July 20th, via their Facebook page:

     The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-Fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors.  Lisa Henson, our CEO is personally a strong supporter of gay marriage and has directed us to donate the payment we received from Chick-Fil-A to GLAAD.  (http://www.glaad.org/)(5)

Posted at a Chick-fil-A location in Plano, Texas

     Within hours, a public relations fiasco took shape. A Chick-fil-A in Plano, Texas posted a recall notice dated to July 19th, stating that the toys had been voluntarily recalled, due to possible safety issues.(6) (7) Meanwhile, a debate was taking place on the Chick-fil-A page at Facebook. At some point within the last week since the announcements by both Chick-fil-A and the Jim Henson Company, a user named “Chris” initiated a discussion thread with the following post:

     “Admit it, Chick-fil-A: you stopped carrying Jim Henson’s puppets as kids meal toys because you got dumped for being bigots, not because some kids “got their fingers stuck.””(8)

     At some point in the thread, a user named Abby Farle posted the following reply:

     “It was taken back weeks before any of this…check your info Chris…John 3:16”

The infamous Abby Farle thread

     Later in the thread, a user named “Robert” noted that the Abby Farle account had been created a mere eight hours before the post, inferred that this account was in fact a “sock puppet” for Chick-fil-A Public Relations, (sorry, but Chick-fil-A will never be as good at puppetry as Jim Henson!) and pointed out that the Abby Farle profile picture was actually a generic stock photo from Shutterstock.com, of a teenaged girl. Once this post was made, “Abby Farle” disappeared back into the mist. Since then, Chick-fil-A has denied any involvement in the Abby Farle situation.

     In the midst of this public relations quagmire, Don Perry, Chick-fil-A’s vice president of public relations, died suddenly on the 27th due to a heart attack.(9)

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Now that we have an overall view of what’s been happening, the opining can commence. First of all, I think that this whole thing is a “tempest in a teacup.” If Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A want to run their business in the way they see fit, then as long as it’s legal, I say go for it. Those of us that support marriage equality don’t absolutely have to spend our money at Chick-fil-A. There are several other restaurants out there, even ones that are run by people based in Christian faith such as In-N-Out Burger, that haven’t crossed ideological swords with other groups or people. Let’s spend our money at those establishments instead. The point is…we have a choice here.

     As far as the mess with Chick-fil-A and Abby Farle, there’s no way to be absolutely sure that it was someone from Chick-fil-A’s PR wing (chicken?) that created the account. It’s also quite possible that this was done by an opponent of the chain, in order to further discredit them. It’s also possible that it was Chick-fil-A. We just don’t know.

     As for the toy recall, I find the timing of Chick-fil-A’s “safety recall” extremely suspicious. One has to know that the decision to break ties with the chain wasn’t undertaken and announced within just a few hours. I suspect that there were a plethora of “back-and-forth” phone and e-mail discussions between Chick-fil-A and the Jim Henson Company, beginning shortly after Dan Cathy’s July 16th statements. A decision was definitely arrived at, most likely around the 18th or 19th of July, and the Henson Facebook announcement was posted the following day.

     What’s become clear in this imbroglio, is that Chick-fil-A has done something that no fast food chain should do, especially if it wants to maintain its profit margin in today’s struggling economy; get its self embroiled in a political “hot button” issue.

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