OP-EDS

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April 8, 2008

Absolut nonsense

[img id="80451" align="alignleft"] When then–World Bank President Ismail Serageldin forecast a future in which societies fight over water rights, he may have had the wrong liquid in mind. If recent events are any indication, the wars of the future will be fought not over water, but vodka.

Taking a break from its usual ad campaign of Photoshopping everyday objects into the shape of a bottle, the Swedish distillery Absolut unveiled a new advertising campaign in Mexico. The ad features a map of North America that is redrawn to cede most of the western United States to its southern neighbor—all under the slogan “In an Absolut world.”

Predictably, this has caused an outcry from certain groups of concerned citizens, who have taken a break from guarding the border to take up the cause of non-violent protest. Absolutly Not!, the first and most prominent protest website to spring up in the aftermath, offers a prescription for change that includes signing an online petition and printing out a parody of the Absolut ad, in which a gigantic fence separates the United States and Mexico, under the heading “Absolut Treason.” (In a startling inattention to detail, the fence as rendered continues for hundreds of miles into both the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, wreaking untold devastation on marine life and disrupting shipping routes.)

The FIRE Coalition, one of the sparkling voices to emerge from the heated debate over immigration, has engineered similar acts of civil disobedience in the past, with similar results. Operation Bankrupt, which is exactly what it sounds like, sought to punish Bank of America for giving credit cards to illegal immigrants. The group’s ongoing Miller boycott, meanwhile, attempts to send a message to the Milwaukee-based brewery that providing limited financial support for pro-immigrant groups will not be tolerated. But Americans, it seems, can’t live without their Icehouse, and FIRE certainly didn’t do itself any favors when the group mistakenly Photoshopped the Miller logo onto the Italian flag instead of the Mexican one.

The fallout from Vodka-gate raises a number of issues, not least of which is the question of whether the sovereign nation of Sweden can really be charged with treason. We’ll leave the legal minds to squabble over that answer (John Yoo would probably argue in the affirmative), but more importantly, the boycott serves as a shining example of the deteriorating value of the practice itself.

The decline of the boycott extends beyond the battle of the beverages and into the mainstream political theater. Following in the proud footsteps of the Chicago City Council, yesterday Hillary Clinton called for a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing, citing the host nation’s failure to do enough to stop the genocide in Darfur. While you could apply that same line of argument to justify a boycott of most nations (including Sweden), her crusade stands little likelihood of becoming a reality, for the simple reason that, unless she drastically improves her pole-vaulting skills, the Senator won’t be in a position to actually boycott the Olympics.

In a similar vein of useless protests, Facebook has been onset by a deluge of “official petitions,” ranging from Students Against Facebook News Feed (207,817 members) to Official Petition Against Opening Facebook (12,427 members) to Hey, Facebook, Breastfeeding is Not Obscene (39,285 members). In the cases of both Facebook and Absolut, the mass distribution of the petitions and the ease with which users can pick and use their causes has sapped them of whatever clout they might otherwise have had, rendering them about as meaningless as a late-night impulse buy on eBay.

Boycotts had their day in the sun once, when the Earth was younger, but then again, so did professional wrestling. Until activists take the time to find new, more effective means of protest, they will be left simply with a handful of empty threats and an empty liquor cabinet.

It’s time for a boycott of boycotts.

Tim Murphy, a Maroon Viewpoints Editor, is a third-year in the College majoring in history. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.