I am once more late to the party of outrage and debate on this topic, but recently there was social upheaval over the name of a cheese brand. With or without prior context, you can probably guess who took which side and what arguments were used for or against the pending change. But I just want to make a quick point, mostly to call out a frequently recurring criticism about the motives of corporations to instead smack them back down with an entirely separate criticism. Sorry to upset some people, but Coon cheese – the cheese of contention – is capitalist.
Coon cheese was so named because it was the surname of the man who originally created it, which is pretty common across any industry, like Ford. Admittedly, I do not have a comprehensive knowledge of how it has been used in different countries and contexts, but the word “coon” has also been used, and been considered as, a racial slur, or at the very least a racially insensitive and charged term. As a result, the manufacturing company, Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, has taken the totally radical move of rebranding the cheese so it does not carry any negative implications. This has taken place following the Black Lives Matter movement gaining prominence globally after the death of George Floyd in the US (new bodycam footage does nothing but prove that, yes, it was clearly murder).
So the usual stances to a decision like this have been spouted across the spectrum. On one side, you have the people celebrating the change, acknowledging it as a small symbolic measure (no, it didn’t “end racism”) that contributes to a wider social and cultural picture. The other got irrationally angry over a rebranding of a popular cheese, calling it SJW nonsense, political correctness gone mad, and all the other empty phrases snowflakes make about cheese and other comparable products.
Most people, myself included, just do not give a shit (I’m in favour of the change, but it is a negligible issue).
The fact that Coon Cheese was named for its creator is the general argument against it – it can be a slur, but in the context of the cheese it is merely a name. Well, yes, a name that, in other contexts outside the cheese bubble, has rather unfriendly vibes surrounding it, pertaining mostly to the fact it’s a racial slur. The company is only now changing it because they don’t want to be seen as “racist” by the “left” – the “left” has corrupted cheese! Nothing is sacred!
These people only choose to view the rebranding through the lens of a politically charged campaign, believing that the power of “Marxist” movements like Black Lives Matter is forcing change and taking over all aspects of society. Yes, first they came for your cheese.
But I would like for someone who actually believes this to offer proof. What proof is there that Black Lives Matter has so much influence that it can control what a cheese is called? Further, where’s the evidence that Warrnambool has now become a Marxist institution simply for one symbolic deed? “They’re destroying Australian culture!” Ah yes, an Australian dairy company that is majority owned by a multibillion-dollar Canadian company is Australian culture.
Point is, the rebranding of Coon Cheese is not some leftist plot. It is a very transparent – for those who wish to look – marketing move carried out entirely within the corporate sphere of a capitalist system. The point of a company is to make money, and when one of your brand names can be associated with a racial slur – regardless of the actual origins of the name – it might, to some degree, damage sales. To prevent or reverse this negative perception, to continue receiving revenue from their product, they have decided to rebrand.
There needs to be a very clear distinction between the incentives towards this change. The moral arguments used by the “left” (a vacuous phrase that does not always preclude capitalist ideas, despite the crying over Marx) in a fight against racial inequality and other laudable goals is one thing. Corporate power recognising this trend and shifting environment will adapt – that’s a word free markets like, right? – as required to maintain profits. The individual opinions of those behind the decision, or even the systemic nature of the company in question, are completely irrelevant when the sole motive is profit.
It is similar to the film industry, or any other media like games, shows, etc. move to diversify their cast of characters. Sure, it is a symbolic victory and allows previously disenfranchised groups to see some genuine representation in the mass media we enjoy, but some people on the other end think it’s an overhaul of society – you made this person black? Well was there a reason for that, or are you just kowtowing to SJW leftists? (An actual argument used by someone in the Warhammer 40K community for whom the straight, white man is the default with no self-awareness of the political implications whatsoever).
Firstly, there doesn’t “need to be a reason”. The idea that in fantasy, sci-fi, superhero movies, etc. a character can’t be something other than a straight white man is ridiculous. It isn’t backing down to “leftist” pressure, it’s acknowledging the massive proportion of the population that isn’t that very specific archetype. Secondly, there is a reason beyond creating a space for representation AND just because they can create diversity for the hell of it – it’s profit.
Star Wars, Marvel’s Avengers, Disney – ok, all the examples off the top of my head are basically just everything Disney – have all recently jumped at any opportunity to increase the diversity of characters in their movies, from Rey and Finn to Black Panther and Captain Marvel. These, despite some desperate souls trying to crush any kind of diversity attempting to prove otherwise, have been insanely successful film franchises that have generated billions of dollars for Disney.
Again, the symbolic and moral goals and victories of “the left” (read: people who think racism, sexism, etc. are not that great) are achieved, but as a result of profit-driven systems. A “true left” (seriously, the terminology is utterly meaningless, bloody hell) person would be trying to do a little more than just commodify social justice causes by, you know, opposing unjust systems and proposing alternatives.
Coon Cheese is a much smaller scale version of this. Society shifts and evolves in a particular way, or picks up a certain trend, and what are called “woke companies” (a term used by “left” and “right”, but for different reasons) will create a marketing strategy out of it. Just now as I write, KitKat is sponsoring an advertisement about their partnership with the RUOK campaign. From a corporate perspective, where profit is the motive, why would they do that?
Cynical, sure, and obviously any small good that corporate structures can achieve can be acknowledged, if grudgingly, but that’s reality. If you want to mope and scream about the rebranding of Coon Cheese, then by all means go die on that hill like a dickhead.
But that’s the free market baby!