WE HAVE MANY REASONS to hate Mr. Guido Barilla: he is a fourth generation billionaire who inherited his fortune from his dad. He lectures at universities. The language he used in the now infamous radio interview was cynical and crude, in particular when he said he respects everybody, including gay couples, as “long as they don’t disturb others”. If you’re familiar with Northern Italian entrepreneurship you are not surprised by this patronising tone disguised as tolerance.
Yet is interesting to see how the collective sentiment seems to tolerate, among the justifiable rights of an industrialist, that of imposing restricting and humiliating rules on almost every aspect of one’s existence, but not to have a reactionary viewpoint on how to portray families in his ads.
Indeed, urban legends on bra size requirements at Hooters might be untrue, but their waitresses are still there, prohibited to dress a long uniform to work. Their commercial are so flagrantly, unapologetically cruel and nasty. Many widely accepted retail chains pay unemployed people less than 10$ per hour to go around distributing leaflets wearing a banana or a sandwich costume. Do not even get me started on the de facto discrimination against workers unions and radical employees.
Mr. Barilla is a symbol of ruthless capitalism and an exploiter, like he was yesterday and like he’s always been, even ten or twenty years ago. In 1998 he personally called Shimon Peres and got the authorization to invest millions in experimenting with a new crop variety in the Occupied Territories — and promptly called it “Pasta of Peace”; since time immemorial Barilla has used an extremely cheap, genetically modified and mediocre quality of corn from Canada; according to a Greek newspaper, Barilla was among the eleven companies who asked the Greek government to lower the minimum wage to about $400 a month, in order to have access to a more competitive workforce.
But we needed, we absolutely needed, a douche corporate leader saying he would not consider using a gay family in his ads to start a global boycott. And some went so far as drawing a comparison between this and the one in Montgomery, Alabama.
Of course, I don’t feel sorry for Barilla, and at the same time I understand the idea of “punishing” a CEO whether his primitive remarks might offend someone. And I don’t want to comply to the moral blackmailing of “think about those who will lose their jobs”.
But how many “boycotts” will people do before they realize that arrogance is endemic to capitalism, and it is not just about gay ads, not just about marketing management?
Probably decades of post-modernism changed thoughts and tactics of the Left, and developed a mental dependency on fictitious change together with an involuntary acceptance of the narrative of Power. But one comes to wonder what’s behind the idea of activism these days. It is really worth to raise the barricades because we – I mean everyone who doesn’t apply to the idea of “traditional values” of Barilla – are seen as “controversial” by a specific brand? What kind of “dialogue” we want to establish between us, offended consumers, and the oppressor?
We should actually be grateful to Mr. Barilla for having shown us (with his tone and ill-fated expressions) the proprietorial essence of corporate leadership, wheter family-based or not. After all, not many tycoons have the same elegance and persuasive courtesy of Gianni Agnelli or Steve Jobs — who are still mourned in Italy like elsewhere, despite not being less exploitative than Barilla.
If the LGBT community believes that being represented in commercials the same way as heteros is a key issue, they’d better explicit that. Because that’s what at stake now — not something bigger nor more important. But I am afraid this not very compelling episode has revealed something else: the innate bigotry of today’s comradeship, quite indifferent to the narrative of modern capitalism, but always alert when it comes to defend the boundaries of Identity.
John Aravosis of the pro-equality AMERICAblog is a fine example of this schizophrenia, when he said: “Barilla absolutely has the right to say that Barilla pasta is for straight people. And we have the right to tell him to vaffanapoli.”
Vaffanapoli? Last time I heard it was from an Italian-American originally from Milano: being a portmanteau of “vaffanculo” (go fuck in the ass) and “Napoli” (my unfortunate hometown) I don’t see it exactly as an emancipatory expression.