I had this brilliant idea for an article yesterday, where I was going to talk about how the fight over Indiana’s RFRA was a horrible example of how we’ve regressed into a perpetual childlike state as a country. Someone doesn’t want to bake you a cake? MOOOOOMMMMMY FIX IT. Don’t want to bake someone a cake? MOOOOOOOMMMY FIX IT. What would have once been resolved with a curt but polite personal exchange that resulted in both parties getting what they wanted, but coming away slightly miffed at the other party, is now a battle of legislative and judicial wills, with one party running to unelected judges to declare their will sacrosanct, and the other party running to overbearing legislators to declare their protection.
But then, one side went and had to take it to a whole ‘nother level. Behold, the Great Pizza Freakout of 2015, caused not even by a poor Christian pizzeria owner declaring her public support for Indiana’s RFRA law, but by a local television news reporter scraping for a non-story to air between overhyped warnings about hidden dangers in your child’s collection of plastic playthings and the high school football report.
ABC-57 reporter Alyssa Marino’s editor sends her on a half-hour drive southwest of their South Bend studio, to the small town of Walkerton (Pop. ~2,300). According to Alyssa’s own account on Twitter, she “just walked into their shop [Memories Pizza] and asked how they feel” about Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Owner Crystal O’Connor says she’s in favor of it, noting that while anyone can eat in her family restaurant, if the business were asked to cater a gay wedding, they would not do it. It conflicts with their biblical beliefs. Alyssa’s tweet mentions that the O’Connors have “never been asked to cater a same-sex wedding.”
What we have here is — as we called in journalism school jargon — “no story.” Nothing happened. Nothing was about to happen.
If I were forced to mark out a story line, it would be this: A nice lady in a small town tries to be helpful and polite to a lovely young reporter from “the big city.”
And had it been that simple, it might have even been better. But Eater and others decided to run with the story that Crystal O’Connor was “denying service to LGBT customers.” As though somehow not doing something they’ve never been asked to do – because who even has pizza at their wedding? – is the somehow equivalent of judging people by their appearance and turning them away from eating a single slice of pizza. And the pizza parlor, as it’s been reported, has been forced to close, at least temporarily, because they’re getting all sorts of classy responses to their interview, like people posting photos of naked genetalia on their Yelp review site, and threats from small-town Indiana basketball coaches to engage in arson.
So while everyone was acting a little like children a couple of days ago, one side really ran away with the concept. And in, perhaps, the most unproductive way possible. Is threatening a pizza parlor owner an hour out in the Indianapolis suburbs with burning her business to the ground really going to engage the people who might be inclined to support gay rights, but haven’t made a public show of it? Hyperbole may be the way of the Internet, but and this may be news to many who have yet to leave the comfortable confines of a graduate studies program or the interior walls of academia, the way people behave behind the Internet’s curtain of anonymity is not generally acceptable in public.
I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, and I’m not even an ardent defender of things like RFRA (though I do like picking on hypocritical politicos and Wilco). When I was in high school, I got a particularly bad haircut and suddenly found myself on the business end of some rather harsh bullies, most of whom were on the school’s soccer team. Even though I’m not gay (and wasn’t then, for the record), I got called every slur in the book, often to my face, but more often in a whisper just out of earshot. Years later, when expressing my view on Facebook, that I might not be totally against civil unions if we could effectively separate legal marriage from religious marriage and protect the rights of those who perform religious marriages to follow their belief systems, I was told, by a former bully who had since entered the progressive world of education and, apparently, was suffering from some form of traumatic amnesia, that I was being harsh, unjust, and, yes, a bigot.
It never quite made sense. That is, until now. Reality isn’t really what matters. It’s the smug feeling of self-righteousness that comes along with shouting down an opponent –any opponent – that matters.
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