Notes on the Chick Fila Brouhaha

I found the photograph that leads this article and the Facebook comments below it (in which I appear under my own name and image, taking full responsibility for what I say) uniquely disturbing. The couple look nice enough. But what looks wrong for Michigan Avenue, as a place that used to have some class, is for them to be feeding, not having a meal, feeding on things in bags and paper cups.

How we’ve normalized deviance! I used to take the lucky lady who became my ex-wife out to nice places on Michigan Avenue, and we wouldn’t stare into space like this nice but to me rather glazed couple! We’d look each other in the eye and talk! We’ve normalized a communal meal to something taken out of a bag in silence.

My Dad and Mom used to work on North Michigan Avenue near Stuart Brent’s old bookshop, art galleries, the old Water Tower, and an incongruous but practical Woolworth’s with a lunch counter that was always racially integrated and at which people were served proper lunches with cutlery on plates with dignity by servitors making more than minimum wage. Nor were they God-walloped by the boss because commerce in America, having to sell to a multi confessional society, has traditionally stayed away from religion…until recently.

On Friday evening, Mom and Dad would go to Armando’s (which Mom always called, in her New York accent, “Ah-mahndo’s”) for a meal served with even more dignity by people making even more than minimum wage on tables with table cloths.

But ever since the 1980s, Michigan Avenue has just become an upscale and less interesting form of State street, a haven for people who feed out of bags.

[Kenny Rogers, the country singer, has a small chain…there was a Kenny Rogers in Idaho Falls where I worked in 2000. You got a plate, a knife and a fork like a human being and to my knowledge Kenny Rogers doesn’t bash gays.]

[Fried chicken is curiously political in societies with racial conflict, if the USA and South Africa are any guide, but in South Africa, the leading chicken restaurant uses humor and grace to sell its product as here, not sour “pro-family” God walloping.]

As I show in my comments at the Tribune, something very disturbing is going on in my country. Its CEO class has ever since the 1980s and to an extent even more, failed to deliver on its false promises and has instead delivered true miseries, including my ever more precarious work life in software…in which my knowledge and hard work never seemed to gain any traction and for the failure of which I mistakenly blamed myself. Romney claims that he’s a job creator but if we consult the Guardian we discover that one of the biggest employers in Freeport, Illinois, is being shipped by his former firm Bain to China, with its long-term workers losing their jobs.

Just. Like. That.

[And, we have to consult a British newspaper since Fox won’t carry this news.]

What’s happening bears a curious resemblance to Iran after the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1978. In Paris in 2008, I met a Marjane Satrapi, a dissident who documented the emotional history of that time in a graphic novel that was made into a film (Persepolis).

Satrapi’s family name itself shows that they predated the Pahlavis installed by the British as rulers of Iran in the early 20th century. To her family, the Pahlavis were arrivistes, uncultured and rude, and the Shah certainly conformed to this expectation in the way he treated dissidents, with the enthusiastic support of the United States after the convenient CIA overthrow of the popularly elected leader Mossadegh in 1954.

But in a few short years after the taking of the United States Embassy and the overthrow of the Shah in the late 1970s, the new rulers of Iran, a sort of coalition of the lower middle class, clerics and workers, failed to deliver economically in the context of the US embargo despite their oil wealth.

Now, it appears to me that in Iran’s Shi’ite Islam, there’s a “Lutheranism” in that Martin Luther preached, in the face of Renaissance Catholicism’s priestly and episcopal hierarchy, “the priesthood of all believers” which meant at the time different things to different people. Islam, notably Shi’ite, has no priestly caste, unlike mainstream Protestantism or Catholicism: Islam is a regime of the brothers who have no father in the form of spiritual authority that mediates the believer’s relation to God, and Fundamentalism in the United States has followed this path in some measure: in many Fundamentalist churches the pastor is also a businessman or employee outside of the church…because his brethren in the congregation believe themselves to be in effect his spiritual equal.

Luther’s meaning of “the priesthood of all believers” on the face of it was quite radical and triggered a Jacquerie or peasant war which Luther quickly disavowed and, cooperating with his new best friends the German princes anxious to reduce Rome’s influence, suppressed in the 1540s. It also caused women to get, in places such as Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690s, the strange idea that they could be under “the priesthood of all believers” priestesses, and form Bible study groups. They were, in Massachusetts and in Europe, burned as witches for this foolishness.

That is, “the priesthood of all believers” was in terms of “dialectical logic” (look it up, this is going to be one of my forced marches, so stop whining) was like “we the people of the United States” a thesis which elicited almost immediately, whether in 1540 or 1776, an “antithesis” of the form “you have got to be kidding”.

“Is my servant a priest? Is my wife a priestess? Are black people, people?” So by way of dialectic, the “priesthood of all believers” and “we the people” become the authority of a subset of males defined by easily recognizable markers: white skin and economic success in the form of property.

And, once a class of leaders is seen to fail, as American CEOs have so signally failed in recent years to deliver the “jobs” they promise in return for their being allowed to pull their stupid stunts (such as creating “jobs” by eliminating “jobs”), those leaders often turn to religious claptrap…whether “pro-family” talk that enables fag bashing or Islamic Fundamentalism that also enables fag bashing, strangely enough.

Dan Cathy and Chick Fila are straws in the wind. I noticed in 2000 in North Carolina at one of their restaurants that they had a policy of not opening on Sunday and I vaguely approved, since Sunday openings had destroyed my neighborhood of downtown Evanston in the 1970s. I did not realize that ultimately it’s mischief to conflate or confuse the CEO role with that of the spiritual leader.

Satrapi’s Persepolis shows how lower middle class males gained authority over her educated and cultured Mom because they could sprout beards and become religious police in addition to their day jobs as ordinary slobs and grease monkeys, admonishing Marjane’s Mom to conceal her hair and calling her a whore when she talked back. Because CEOs can no longer create real jobs at a living wage in the United States, they are enabling the murder and bashing of gays with “pro-family” talk when in my direct experience, their policies destroyed my family.

The United States is becoming Iran and vice versa, which is why I prefer, like Ho Chi Minh and Sun Yat Sen, to live in Hong Kong.


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