Saturday, September 19, 2020

Gerry Bowler: Go Woke, Go Broke

The world is in the midst of a cultural war known as The Great Awokening. 

Armies of young progressives, media personalities, journalists, bureaucrats, and academics have seized the moment to demand that the rest of society must have only one set of correct thoughts about race, gender, and sex. Should you express the opinion that all lives matter instead of Black Lives Matter or call someone a coloured person instead of a person of colour, you risk losing your livelihood or being visited by a mob intent on changing your mind by intimidation.

Many businesses have decided that they had better get ahead of the wokerati and openly declare themselves on the side of the new righteousness. 

Gillette, a razor blade company, attracted widespread attention by airing an ad condemning “bullying, harassment and toxic masculinity” and another showing a father teaching his transgender child how to shave. Reaction from the company’s target audience was overwhelmingly negative; thousands of men on social media complained that the advertisements condemned every male as bigoted, sexist, and intolerant. Calls for boycotts of Gillette products seem to have produced a reaction that the corporation had not foreseen. Parent company Proctor & Gamble recently announced an $8 billion dollar write down in the value of its shares, which critics attributed in part to the consumer backlash.

When a “diversity training” program of the Goodyear tire company decreed that it was acceptable for employees to wear BLM “Black Lives Matter” or LGBT apparel but unacceptable to sport statements such as “Blue Lives Matter,” or “MAGA”, the value of company stock plummeted by 6%. Watch for thousands of police departments to remove Goodyear from their cop car procurement lists.

In the wake of anti-police protests across the U.S.A., the cable network A&E cancelled a long-running programme entitled Live PD, a popular series showing everyday law enforcement at work and attracting almost 2 million viewers. Almost instantly A&E’s ratings went into the tank: its prime-time audience was cut in half, with the worst figures in the age demographics that advertisers valued most.

Movie franchises were not immune to the danger of alienating fans with ham-handed political correctness. When the iconic Ghostbusters and Oceans 11 series were revived with all-female leads, film buffs predicted box-office trouble. The prediction came true: both films were big flops. Similar fates were in store for the Star Wars, Terminator and Charlie’s Angels remakes.

Not to miss a woke beat, professional sport organizations (the NBA, NFL, NHL, NASCAR, Major League Baseball) have chosen to immerse their businesses in BLM politics. Historian Victor Davis Hanson believes that these entertainment giants are smugly (and falsely) assuming they are invulnerable to a counter-reaction; he predicts they are destroying themselves because their non-political audiences will flee.

From this experience has come the hotly-debated phrase “go woke, go broke”, meaning that customers will react adversely if a familiar product takes a sudden, and unexplained, turn to identity and race politics. This does not mean that buyers are averse to purchasing the output of companies with a progressive reputation: the running shoes of Nike and the ice-cream of Ben and Jerry remain popular despite (or, perhaps, because of) their political stances.

It does mean, however, that the culture wars are not yet over and that institutions had better think twice before picking a side.

Gerry Bowler is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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