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Amanda Marcotte

#BoycottDisney is proof MAGA is a cult

Supporters of President Donald J. Trump before the start of the rally. At the Reading Regional Airport in Bern Township, PA Saturday afternoon October 31, 2020 where United States President Donald J. Trump spoke during a campaign rally for his bid for reelection. Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Add the humble Oreo cookie to the long and growing list of ordinary bits of Americana the self-declared patriots of the MAGA movement now are expected to shun. As Ashlie Stevens reported at Salon on Monday, the usual yapping heads of the right are so furious at the brand for sponsoring a pro-LGBTQ short film that they are calling on their followers to "boycott" the company. Well, not the actual companyOreos are owned by a multinational corporation that owns hundreds of everyday brands — but just the cookie itself. Ideally, you also issue a lecture on the evils of homosexuality to the poor checkout girl who didn't even ask why you were going with Nillas instead of Oreos for your cookie purchase today. 

Like every right-wing "boycott" before — from the one against Starbucks to the one against Gillette to the various Twitter "boycotts" to this current Disney "boycott" — the Oreo "boycott" isn't really a boycott. A genuine boycott is much like an economic sanction, except imposed by organized citizens instead of governements. It's an effort to cause economic pain for a company or other entity, with an eye towards pressuring them to change their political behavior. The most famous example is the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, in which Black residents of the Alabama city refused to ride the bus until it was desegregated. A more recent example was the targeted boycott of Wirecutter, in which the union asked readers to avoid the site during their strike. 

RELATED: "I do not like gay cookies": Conservatives vow to boycott Oreo over new ad

The inability to understand how boycotts work was hilariously illustrated last week when Republican Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance tweeted that he intended to "boycott" Disney. The very next day, however, he gushed out how much he loves "Star Wars," which is owned by Disney. 

These various and seemingly endless right-wing "boycotts" of the most ordinary parts of middle American life really aren't about political pressure, as much as Republicans may say otherwise. As Republican are keenly aware — and indeed, it's why they're in a full-blown demographic panic — they are an aging, shrinking minority. Corporations, after all, aren't engaged in what the right demonizes as "woke" marketing out of some moral impulse. They only care about the bottom line, which is fatter when a brand appeals to a younger, hipper crowd. If anything, getting that right-wing outrage is good for a brand. Pissing off cranky old people is a well-worn way to make a product seem cooler. Ask all the musicians who sold more records because of the "parental advisory" sticker back in the '90s. 

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MAGA is morphing from a mere political movement to something closer to a cult. 

One of the biggest red flags that a group identity or organization is morphing into a cult is the insistence from leaders that the followers cut themselves off from the rest of society. Any people or practices that anchor cult followers to the rest of society can also act as lifelines, a way for the cult member to escape once they realize they're in a cult. The "boycotts" of MAGAland look far more like this cult-like separation from society than they do actual efforts to influence corporate decision-making. 

By convincing each other to abandon interests outside of being Trump acolytes, MAGA ends up consuming more.

For instance, as NBC News reporter Ben Collins noted on Twitter last week, some Trump followers are trying to shame each other out of enjoying sports. 

As Collins notes, it's "a full divorce from regular people." That is very much what cults do! By convincing each other to abandon interests outside of being Trump acolytes, MAGA ends up consuming more and more of a person's identity. Soon, they don't have any life outside of being a full-time right-wing trolls and have no way to relate to people outside of their cult identity. 

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The recent Disney "boycott" is very much in line with this. It's definitely not about economically pressuring Disney, so much as it is about performatively avoiding anything with the official Disney brand. Crucially, it's also about rejecting any common ground with non-MAGA people that might remind the cultists of the humanity of the "woke" majority they hate so much. To make it worse, it's about trapping children in the MAGA cult, by cutting them off from connections to the outside world. 

As Matt Gertz of Media Matters pointed out, the dogpile of anti-Disney propaganda from the right was coupled with the announcement from right wing demogague Ben Shapiro that his company is "investing $100 million over three years in animated and live-action children's entertainment" as an "alternative" to Disney's children's entertainment. As Gertz notes, the "alternative is explicitly right-wing." 

It's also about rejecting any common ground with non-MAGA people that might remind the cultists of the humanity of the "woke" majority they hate so much.

You have to feel sorry for the kids of Shapiro fans. (Though, thankfully, his audience tends to be more of the grandparent demographic than the parent demographic.) Not only will they be isolated from other kids because they're not allowed to share in the playground passion for "Frozen," but they will be stuck only consuming inferior products that are more indoctrination than entertainment. For Shapiro, it's a money-making enterprise. For the kids being mistreated this way, it's being forced by your parent to be the "weird" kid no one wants to hang out with, so that your only community is vile bigots and MAGA cultists. 

RELATED: Disney hysteria and litter boxes: Republicans' deeply odd war on LGBTQ people escalates

To be certain, the left has its own haphazard "boycotts" that never amount to anything but self-righteous and often joyless posturing on social media. But a key difference here is the left almost never redirects people towards propagandistic "alternatives" meant to alienate the would-be boycotters from the rest of the world. The "delete Spotify" thing was ineffectual noise, but it's not like the people who did it then joined a streaming service that only produced left-wing propaganda. Mostly they just switched to another service that had the same array of podcasts and music. 

It's unfortunate we live in a capitalistic society where so much of what brings people together is shared affection for various corporate products. But it is what it is, and right now the marketplace does create a multitude of situations where MAGA acolytes encounter ordinary people — liberals, even! — and are reminded that the people they're told to shun and hate are actually pretty normal. It's hard to get sucked up in a conspiracy theory about how all of Hollywood is blood-drinking pedophile communists when you watch Marvel movies and think Chris Evans is cute and charming. It's hard to believe that your progressive neighbors are subhuman when you stand in line with them at the Starbucks. It's these connections to the real world that Fox News and figures like Shapiro are systematically targeting, by convincing their audiences to cut those ties and instead only consume MAGA products and relate to other MAGA people. 

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