Perhaps it’s the fault of social media or a president who acts like the star in a reality TV show, but Americans increasingly are fixated on the “big kerfuffle of the day.” We go from one tempest in a teapot to the next, with culture warriors expressing anger, shock and outrage. If you’re genuinely offended by an advertisement designed to sell athletic gear, then you need a reality check. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Stay off of Facebook for an hour. Hug your children.
There’s a danger in writing about a California Democratic Party official’s now-abandoned call for a boycott of our state’s beloved In-N-Out burger because the company gave a piddling donation to the GOP. Or in mentioning Nike’s ad celebrating a former quarterback who is known for kneeling rather than throwing. That danger: By the time you read this, everyone will be typing Twitter diatribes about some new affront to their sensibilities.
Hence, I’m trying to take a step back. Americans have a problem. We’ve become a nation of snowflakes. We get offended by everything. Apparently, many of us have such little meaning in our lives that we want to signal our virtues by boycotting companies that make donations or place ads we don’t like. We make everything about politics, as if that’s the highest value in life.
Enough already. But first everyone has to recognize their culpability. Typically, the term “snowflake” has applied to liberal social-justice warrior college students who spend their time shouting down conservative speakers and ranting about male white privilege. They drive me crazy. But as a libertarian who criticizes liberals and conservatives, I’ve found that adult conservatives are as given to “snowflakery” as anyone else. The Nike ad suggests as much.
When NFL players took a knee to protest police abuse and other perceived injustices, conservatives demanded that the NFL force them to stand up in respect to the American flag. They chided players as coddled millionaires. I agree that the NFL, as a private organization, can set whatever employment terms that it chooses, but the NFL shouldn’t take taxpayer subsidies, either. Nor should it have taken millions of dollars from the Pentagon to turn football games into military pageants.
But we know the people upset at the kneeling aren’t making a nuanced point about subsidies and private employment contracts. They see it as disrespect for the flag and they want it to stop. Now. They’re often unsympathetic to the concerns the athletes are raising, some of which seem legitimate and others that seem overwrought or misguided. These critics aren’t defending Nike because it’s a private company after it featured an advertisement with Kaepernick’s face and the words: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
I found the ad pretentious. Kaepernick believes in something, which is good. But he hardly sacrificed everything. But who cares? It’s an advertisement for clothing. I doubt the angry people who are cutting their Nike logos off of their clothing or burning their own sneakers are Nike’s target audience. The company, whose stock dipped after the publicity, is sophisticated enough to have anticipated the blowback and figured that the publicity it received from this culture battle would help with its customer base.
Like the NFL, Nike is a private company and it can do what it chooses in its ads. I have zero concern about Nike stock one way or the other, and generally don’t pay attention to advertisements except during the Super Bowl (where they often are more entertaining than the game). When it comes to football, I share George Will’s sentiments: The game combines the two worst things in American society, “violence punctuated by committee meetings.”
The Facebook memes in response to the Nike ad have been brutal, though. Conservatives put former NFL player Pat Tillman’s face on the ad. Unlike Kaepernick, Tillman indeed sacrificed everything by serving in the military after 9/11. However, Tillman died tragically by friendly fire in Afghanistan. The Pentagon was accused of covering up the cause of death, which is a much more troubling thought than kneeling players. Another meme suggested that if people don’t like players who kneel, they should ignore it – like they ignore war, police abuse and the national debt. Ouch.
My favorite meme placed Jonestown cult leader Jim Jones on the ad. My takeaway: It’s important not just to believe in something, but to believe in the right things. One of those is the right of Americans to protest. I recently participated in debates in lefty Santa Monica and Berkeley. These were not friendly arenas for my anti-rent-control opinions, but everyone was polite. I left feeling hopeful that if we spent less time on social media reacting to the outrages of the day and more time engaging our neighbors, we might have a happier and more civil society. And there might be fewer snowflakes.