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Sep 12 2014
All Or Nothing: DEADLINE's Cynical Beverly Hills Hotel Boycott Take-Down Targets The Wrong Enemy Comments (0)

Daphne Richards, once a full-time manager at Chik-fil-A, was demoted and took a pay cut after a leave for a double mastectomy. The company defended its decision by saying they actually punished her for “poor performance and out of concern she wouldn't be able to handle the work load.”

Maybe not necessarily in that order, huh?

So if you didn't already hate patronizing Chik-fil-A for its corporate anti-gay stance or its ultra-conservative deference to the Bible, you might be forgiven if you decided not to eat there after hearing about this unfair action.

But you wouldn't be forgiven by Deadline. According to the popular movie-biz site, you'd just be a wide-eyed optimist at best or a hypocritical “shillbilly” at worst if you boycotted Chik-fil-A but still ate at a restaurant that has also potentially or demonstrably done something with which you disagree: Deadline has taken the stance that boycotting the Beverly Hills Hotel due to its ownership by the Sultan of Brunei—who has announced the death penalty for homosexuality in his country beginning in 2016—is logically indefensible, and rather than stopping there, an article on the site goes on to personally attack some of the boycott's most high-profile proponents as hypocrites.

In the piece by David L. Robb, entitled “Beverly Shillbillies: Hollywood Hypocrites Shun Hotels While Hawking Wares To Rights Abusers,” a laundry list of instances is provided to show how some of the famous faces involved in the boycott of the hotel are happily doing business with other, similarly despicable entities:

“On April 28, Sharon Osbourne, co-host of The Talk, tweeted: 'Please join me in BOYCOTTING @BevHillsHotel.' A few weeks later, she was in Abu Dhabi, where gays and adulterers also face brutal punishment, touring with her husband Ozzy and touting her Atkins diet. 'I just got back to Los Angeles, I had been on tour with Ozzy in Abu Dhabi and Russia,' she wrote on her blog. 'It was absolutely spectacular! I had the most wonderful time and I was able to stay on track with Atkins. I think that says a lot about the program. It is flexible enough to stick to anywhere you go, from grandma’s house to Abu Dhabi!'

“Abu Dhabi is one of the emirates of the United Arab Emirates, where, according to the U.S. State Department’s Report on Human Rights, 'Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Under sharia individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct are subject to the death penalty.'”

Robb is not the first to make this point. He gives many other well-researched examples, including Elton John performing in Abu Dhabi and, indeed, the entire film industry selling movies to countries in the Middle East and Africa with draconian laws against homosexuality.

I think Robb's boycott-backlash lot makes some valid points. I can see why he might feel like Saudi Arabia—a powerful U.S. ally, and yet a horrendous place for women, let alone LGBT people—is just as bad as Brunei, so why shouldn't champions of human rights be up in arms over businesses (like the Beverly Wilshire and the Four Seasons in Beverely Hills) owned, in part, by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal?

Robb does reveal how intellectually dishonest he is, however, by casually throwing Texas (because it doesn't allow gay marriage) into the mix. Because not being able to get married is totally comparable to being stoned to death. But since he brings up the U.S., this country is a great example of why not being 100% pure is not hypocritical. Fighting for gay marriage, many of us cheer each state whose ban falls while still living and working and doing business in states that still ban it. A cause needs to be selective; purity is not impractical, it is impossible. It's also not hypocrisy, but calling the impossible possible and sneering at those who are working for a better if still imperfect world hypocrites is a way to dodge taking any stand—except for the refusal to take one.

There are some more deeply objectionable aspects of Robb's piece, one of which is his argument that the business world is filled with impurities, implying that boycotts are by their very nature hypocritical. This is the argument of right-wingers, who think business trumps all, and who shed crocodile tears for the relatively small number of American workers inconvenienced by a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel while having no opinion on the gravity of the situation in Brunei.

As with my Chik-fil-A example, the decision to personally boycott a business or the decision to launch a larger boycott of one does not have to be all-or-nothing in scope. If a business commits a wrong, the time to attempt to fix that wrong is when it comes to light. The fact that other wrongs have happened in the past and are no longer getting attention doesn't mean it's intellectually dishonest to register disagreement and try to move things in a more favorable direction in the present and future. The main reason the Beverly Hills Hotel became a lightning rod is that announcement that Brunei would begin putting gay people to death in 2016, in accordance with sharia law—when that came to light, that was the time to act.

When something new and distasteful happens, it's not wrong to object as strenuously as possible, and in ways one finds personally satisfying and, hopefully, effective.

(Not that all anti-boycotters are right-wing, but it's worth nothing that the right wing constantly uses sharia law as a bogeyman to incite cultural contempt, yet the same right wing loves working with Saudi Arabia and/or any other country with money. Think: George W. Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11. The right just hates unions and organized dissent even more than it hates Islam.)

What does the anti-boycott side think should be done in a case like this? Nothing. At all. That side would argue the best thing to do is to keep funneling money into and out of the oppressive nation in the interest of building bridges, ignoring the fact that the boycott is in response to the announcement that an already-existing bridge will be blown up in 2016.

Robb sarcastically ends his piece by calling out the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees union for publicizing the Sultan's legislation, suggesting the union would not be around to help the hotel's workers if they themselves went out on strike, and using it as a final opportunity to heap scorn on “Hollywood's happy hypocrites.”

Ethical purity is apparently such a major concern of pro-business factions that the argument seems to be it's cleaner to have no moral compass than to have to apply it universally, which—due to how business works—would be, conveniently, impossible. Hypocrisy itself is impossible when you have no beliefs other than “making money is good.”

I think it boils down to this: Does one feel more comfortable being on the side that is angry at idealists for trying to bring down a tyrannical law but that expresses no real opinion on the tyrant in charge, or on the side that's offended by an international injustice and is trying to call attention, selectively, to that injustice in order to affect change?

I personally am more comfortable attacking the Sultan of Brunei than I am trying to pick apart the decency of people I know who are against the boycott. I don't think people who disagree with me intellectually are the ones to go after, and it would be a more useful conversation if people like Robb felt the same.

Bottom line: I do think Robb hits on some embarrassing examples of celebrities being passionate about the Brunei issue while traveling to similarly despotic countries, and it's America's favorite sport to needle the famous, but the people boycotting the Beverly Hills Hotel should not be attacked for trying to call attention to the disgusting anti-gay law in Brunei just because they can't simultaneously fix everything that's wrong everywhere in the world.