Friday, April 3, 2015

Indiana: Hating the Haters

Obligatory pizza clip art

I realize I'm a day late, and I'm getting sick of feeling compelled to stand up for bigots, but here we go again.

You must know the story by now. A local news reporter walks into Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana (pop. 2,144), and asks the proprietors how they feel about the state's contoversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Owner Kevin O'Connor and his daughter Crystal say they're a-okay with the bill, and tell ABC 57 that if asked to cater a gay couple's wedding, they would decline on the basis of their religious beliefs. As you might expect, the hivemind noticed and did not take kindly to this. And as you might expect, Memories Pizza announced a day later that it was temporarily shutting down while the owners waited for the phone calls, emails, Facebook posts, and calls for violence to stop.

I'm getting sick of saying this: harassing people for their beliefs (however screwed up or stupid) is going to ossify those beliefs in them. And this was entirely about what the O'Connors believe, not about any acts they've actually committed. Nobody was ever discriminated against at Memories, as far as anyone can tell.

It would be one thing if somebody from Indiana wrote a blog post about how they've been residents of Walkerton and customers of Memories for years, and felt betrayed when the O'Connors, members of their community, people who were a part of their lives (the part during lunchtime, I guess) told them flat out: "sorry, we like you, but something something Leviticus, you'll have to get someone else to cater your wedding." (I would hope the story might end with "we were hurt, I don't think we or our friends and family will ever be eating at Memories again, but we found a pizza parlor down the street to cater our wedding—because yes, we wanted to have the same food at our marriage ceremony that we had at our thirteenth birthday party, and that's our own business—and we said our vows, and life went on.")

But that's that's not what happened: some Huffington Post editor trawling local stations in Indiana found the news clip with Memories' owner and screamed into the bullhorn: LOOK, LOOK AT THESE PEOPLE. THEY SAID THEY WOULDN'T CATER A GAY WEDDING IN THE EVENT THAT SOMEBODY ASKED THEM TO. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?

So some yokels we've never met, from some town we've never heard of and won't ever visit, state that if they were ever approached about catering a wedding between two gay persons, they would have to decline. Their business never even had the opportunity to be guilty of discrimination; the wedding they preferred to not cater never left the realm of the hypothetical. But the rod was nevertheless raised, and we dutifully (gleefully) brought the lightning down.

This shit is wearing me out.

I was disappointed to see people on my Facebook feed posting the pizzeria's number and encouraging their buddies to join them in taking time out of their day to anonymously threaten and harass some people from Indiana (people they've never met, who own a pizzeria they've never set foot in, in a town they've never even driven past) for saying stupid things about their stupid beliefs. If anyone should be having a conversation with them, it should be the members of their own community—the people in Walkerton, the people they actually live and do business with. Let the people who actually have to deal with them deal with them. They'd have a better chance at changing the O'Connors' minds than a swarm of vindictive anonymouses screeching out of the ether to terrorize and abuse them.

This story wouldn't bother me as much if it weren't for the palpable sadism we exude during these events. We're hurling stones at the heretics, and we're just beside ourselves about it. This hysteria about homophobic pizzeria owners in a flyover state ultimately wasn't about a constructive progressive social agenda: this was about singling out an ideological enemy, blasting them to pieces as a crowd, and congratulating ourselves for being so fucking justified.

I suggest we ask ourselves what was actually accomplished here. Did we help to further the social acceptance of LGBT people? Well, not really: I don't see how this spectacle softened any hearts or changed any minds. Did it give social conservatives a martyr to converge around? Absolutely. What did the O'Connors learn? Good question. Whatever the case, they have hundreds of thousands of dollars in crowdfunded cash headed their way. Maybe they actually came out ahead after all of this, and now they know they can count on the support of a network of likeminded friends across the country. Boy, we sure gave them cause to sincerely reexamine their beliefs, didn't we?

Yes, it's 2015 and we should all of us be past the kind of bigotry espoused by these podunk pizza slingers. But it's equally disappointing that in 2015 the course of our social evolution is apparently even further from carrying us beyond self-righteous mob behavior.


  1. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to actually go through with calling and harassing a small business, and thought "I find it difficult at times to try even a little to imagine how some people experience sentience", then I realized everybody has that problem.

    I've been trying to use this reply as a prompt to come up with poetry material, either because or despite how annoying it is to ponder.

    Here is a tangentially related image from reddit that I agree with parts of but would probably smash my way into a wall cavity to avoid at a party: Maybe you've seen it. You've probably seen it, I am maybe two steps ahead of everyone's cool dad when it comes to web content.

  2. *would probably smash my way into a wall cavity to avoid the author at a party.

  3. And I probably should have used a semicolon after "seen it".

  4. Another example of technology advancing faster than the intelligence that birthed it! Within the lynch mob there's probably at least a few troubled souls who fear that they will be cast out of society for not being sufficiently outraged at the injustices they're told about, and their voices are the loudest by far.

    I wonder what social structures would arise if people were suddenly, abruptly, rather less concerned about whether people accepted them or not.

  5. Reminds me of this: