The Business of Bigotry, or How To Ruin Your Business and Get Rich

Rainbow pizza  from Amirah Kassem of Flour Shop

Rainbow pizza from Amirah Kassem of Flour Shop

The headline on CNN reads: “Indiana pizzeria finds itself at the center of ‘religious freedom’ debate” but even this untrue. Memories Pizza, in Walkerton, Indiana, didn’t find itself anywhere. The owners veritably thrust themselves in the center with great vigor by announcing to anyone from the media who would listen that they wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding.  Their reasoning was, you can see from the video, that they supported the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Bill because they weren’t interested in supporting a lifestyle different to the one they, personally, have chosen. I kept hoping that someone would ask them a question about whether they would cater a Buddhist wedding, or a divorce party, or serve adulterers, but sadly no one asked. It might have been enlightening to know if, in truth, they were only willing to serve sinless Christians, or whether it was really just same-sex couples that they found insurmountable. It was never terribly clear how relevant this example was in the first place. How many same-sex couples order pizza for their wedding?

Nonetheless, Memories Pizza’s owners were speaking about their business – specifically who they would refuse as clients. They chose to do it a number of times, and to various national media outlets. This was a public relations ploy based on a tremendously unlikely hypothetical scenario masquerading as an auto-da-. When an individual does this, it’s called a personal opinion. When someone does it in reference to their business, it’s quite properly understood to be marketing. Perhaps, knowing that a gay couple would never be ringing them to cater their wedding, they felt this announcement would cost them nothing, since they had no gay wedding business to lose, but… might they be banking on increased sales from FRFA supporters?

Regardless of how you feel about their stance, it is entirely disingenuous to assume their very public statement would have NO impact on their business. Businesses are becoming very vocal in the social and political spheres. Just a few weeks ago, Starbucks had to withdraw a “Let’s Race Together” initiative under a barrage of criticism, and Apple’s CEO publicly requested that Indiana’s Governor Pence reconsider his signing of the RFRA into law. Walmart demanded Arkasas reconsider its RFRA bill.

Commercial entities have come to the well-researched conclusion that inclusiveness is good business – especially going into the future. This is not to say that their efforts are wholly devoid of ethical motivation, but never is the business impact of their public pronouncements left unconsidered.

Starbucks, it emerged, made a bad call on the “Race Together” campaign. It might have been well-meaning but it didn’t play out that way. They backed off, swallowed humble pie, and went back to selling coffee over more inane conversations.

The owners of Memories Pizza made a decision for their business, and like the Starbucks decision, it backfired. Perhaps the O’Connors were naive and sincere in their desire to be exemplary Christians. Perhaps Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Schultz, was equally naive and sincere in his desire to engender better race relations in the US. It doesn’t much matter – they did not gauge their marketplace well.

Starbucks, of course, will go on serving coffees to millions of people, not just in the US, but around the world. It might have pissed off a few thousand people who will take their business elsewhere, but Starbucks can afford that. Memories Pizza could not.

Social media made mince-meat of them.

Then out of the blue, a knight in shining armor rides forth in the guise of Lawrence Billy Jones II and begins a ‘Go Fund Me’ project for Memories Pizza to compensate them for their ‘faith’ and, it seems, for their disastrous marketing strategy. Within 24 hours, they have collected almost half a million dollars ($480,000 USD as of the writing of this post) from over 16,000 people.

I have no way to prove this, but I’d wager that this is more than Memories Pizza ever took in from sales in a year, or even two. It seems that, although their marketing strategy was disastrous for the pizza business, it was excellent for the victimhood business.

What the supporters of the RFRA in Indiana and elsewhere don’t seem to realize is that there’s no longevity to the victimhood business. It doesn’t employ anyone. It doesn’t make any food or cater anyone’s wedding. Moreover, if I was a particularly devious individual with a failing pizza business, this entire chain of events might be the single most efficient way to raise a sizable chunk of capital to start something else, since it’s obvious their business acumen in pizza restaurant business is deeply unsound.

This is where I get to take a flight of fancy. I can picture a Hollywood Comedy, about two gay guys running a failing pizza franchise and all the ways they can think up to save themselves from ruin. They decide to don the disguise of a homophobic, ostensibly Fundamentalist Christian middle-aged couple, announce their firm decision not to serve gays, ruin their business and walk away with a bundle from a Go Fund Me pity party, chiefly raised from the very people who abhor them.

It’s  Cage aux Folles meets O Brother Where Art Thou.

I’d cast Billy Bob Thornton as the evangelical fundraiser because you really need someone who knows what it feels like to have three first names to play the part well.

Call me for the screenplay.

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