Way back in my reporter days, I covered the Yippie versus Yuppie debates between aging 60s radical Abbie Hoffman and 60s radical-turned-capitalist Jerry Rubin.
During their contretemps, Rubin claimed to have supported a particular presidential candidate, to which Hoffman snorted in his unrefined New England accent, “You supported Gary Hart? Gary Hart got more support from his jock strap!”
Hoffman was a master quipster, but he was on the losing side of history, and today we claim to “support” things we merely donate to, think about, or even worse.
Consider all those who claim to support our troops by advocating that they be shipped off as cannon fodder to ever more and dangerous exotic quagmires.
Support has staked its claim to the marketing world as well. Ads running on the radio today ask me to support local music. Likewise, I’ve been urged to support our local sports teams, local restaurants and other commercial enterprises.
These pleas are made with the force of moral suasion, as if declining to support them – which is to say purchase their products – is a moral failing on our part.
My unspoken reaction to these arguments is not just rejection but a bit of pique. They feel like a sleight-of-hand, where marketers are hoping we will be so wracked by guilt that we won’t notice they’re just attempting to burrow into our wallets without providing a superior product. That strategy won’t work on me: I have a Jewish mother!
I hope you, like I, appreciate the majesty of the free market and buy what you want, at the price you want, unmoved by specious appeals to some amorphous and unearned loyalty. Or by your mom, of whatever religious persuasion.
(Right here I should exempt, to some degree, the effort to push us towards locally-grown food and local restaurants over chains. In both cases, the quality is generally superior and the price is often comparable. Even there, I make my choices not because they are ethically purer but because they are better products. If you think Bubba Gump gives you greater value than Fish, by all means, eat at Bubba Gump. Of course, if that’s the state of your palette, you could just dumpster dive behind Fish and kill the quality and price bird with one stone.)
So here’s my question for those support phonies: what exactly is local music doing to support me and my boyhood dream of playing shortstop for the Kansas City Royals? Since the answer is, nothing, in what way has local music earned my loyalty?
See, here’s the thing: when I buy music, or see a band in concert, I am purchasing entertainment, not democracy and human rights. There is no moral component to this decision. Shovels and Rope are a magnificently talented duo, but that’s not my musical flavor of ice cream. So when I fork over cash for a slew of songs by Frontier Ruckus or purchase concert tickets to see The Tallest Man on Earth, I’m not dissing my homies; I’m satisfying my desire for tunes that appeal to me.
This reminds me of a complaint by a long-gone TV reporter repeatedly pummeled by local non-profits for coverage. They would argue that he had an obligation to broadcast stories about them. They didn’t understand (and many still don’t, I’m sure) that his job was to report news his viewers (i.e., customers) wanted, and so the only way to win his “business” was to provide him with what he considered news. In effect, they were demanding his support without providing the business imperative for it.
As far as I can tell, the support appeal is a failed strategy, and for obvious reasons. So to all of those who demand my support, just remember: my glove is oiled and ready.