Bud Light Is Going to Be Just Fine

Photo: @KidRock/Twitter

The year was 1995, and the American Family Association was furious. The Walt Disney Company had extended health benefits to the same-sex partners of its workers. “But that’s the least of it,” Dave Caton, the president of the association’s South Florida chapter, told Entertainment Weekly. “What we’ve seen is a change in the entire culture of Disney. They’ve shown an outright disrespect and arrogance in their attitude toward the American family.” Caton had proof. Disney World had for years hosted a private Gay and Lesbian Day, where his spies saw horrors. People handed out “pro-homosexual material.” A pink Mickey Mouse adorned a group-discount ticket. Worst of all, “homosexuals in drag” chanted, “If you’re gay and you know it, clap your hands.”

Disney’s alleged betrayal of the “traditional” family reached deeply into the Evangelical world. As EW observed at the time, the American Life League promoted rumors that workers had planted racy subliminal messages into its movies. Look closely at one scene in the Lion King, and the stars spell out S-E-X, they claimed. In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott the corporation. “You can’t walk the family side of the street and the gay side of the street in the Magic Kingdom at the same time,” insisted Richard Land, then the president of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Disney bet otherwise, and the SBC withdrew its boycott in 2005, a month after the AFA had done the same. Conservatives still fret over Disney: After it (finally) criticized Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law in public, Governor Ron DeSantis tried to take over its special taxing district, with mixed results. The Mouse and its attorneys have outplayed him so far, a lesson, perhaps, to others on the right.

It’s no mean feat to challenge a powerful American corporation like Disney or, more recently, Anheuser-Busch, the parent company of Bud Light. Conservatives are raging because Bud Light sent Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman and popular TikTok star, cans with her face on them. For example, Kid Rock filmed himself shooting cases of Bud Light with a semiautomatic rifle. Anheuser-Busch must be punished, said far-right commentator Benny Johnson. “You will kneel before us and you will apologize,” he added. “Until then, no Christian, no person of faith, no red-blooded American — if you have red blood in your veins that you do not buy a Bud Light product. The end. The end.” Until Bud Light bends the knee, conservatives can buy alternative swill:

It’s a good time to be a snowflake. Is Starbucks too woke? Try Black Rifle Coffee Company. The Daily Wire hawks razors and chocolate bars in a bid to build a “parallel economy” and is dipping into moviemaking. The goal, of course, is not to coexist with Bud Light or Starbucks but to conquer them, as DeSantis is trying to do with Disney. And the right’s consumers can wield significant economic power. They number in the millions and have propelled figures like the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro to the heights of genuine fame.

What does this mean for boycotts? Conservative outlets, including Fox News, have insinuated that a recent 4 percent decline in Anheuser-Busch’s stock price is due to the Mulvaney partnership. Correlation is not causation, however, and the history of right-wing boycotts is generally one of failure. Disney isn’t the only behemoth the right has challenged over the years. Harry Potter was once an Evangelical bête noire — my own mother once called it “a primer for witchcraft.” If only! Years later, the Hogwarts Industrial Complex churns onward, undaunted by boycotts. (In a cruel irony, the transphobia of J.K. Rowling may make the property more attractive to conservatives than it otherwise would be.) Some Evangelicals once tried to boycott Starbucks over its “holiday cups,” which they said were proof the war on Christmas was real, but this, too, went nowhere.

Liberal boycotts tend not to fare much better. Though Rowling’s transphobia has alienated many of her former fans, HBO is proceeding with a Harry Potter series, and Rowling is attached as an executive producer. Chick-fil-A persists despite the homophobic views of chairman Dan Cathy. A 2019 boycott of SoulCycle over a major investor’s support of Donald Trump may be an exception to the rule. But even in that case, competitors like Peloton may have pulled customers away for unrelated reasons, and it’s difficult to tell how effective the boycott was over the long term.

Anheuser-Busch may suffer due to the quality of Bud Light, but a boycott is unlikely to harm it. If history is any guide, the right simply lacks the power to bend major American corporations to its will. Its tactics aren’t exactly helpful to its cause. It’s weird to shoot cases of Bud Light! It’s weird to go on TV and insist the company apologize to you. These are strange, angry people who have little in common with the average American consumer. Anheuser-Busch — and Disney — aren’t truly “woke.” They’re interested in profits. At present, they believe they need young consumers, who are typically at odds with the right over LGBTQ+ rights. Conservatives can count on a martyr narrative to sell the occasional successful grift, but they’re too unpopular to do much else. The free market they love has spoken.

Don’t Worry About Bud Light