Chick-fil-A and the Rhetoric of Polarization

Curator's Note

A public controversy continues to ferment around Chick-fil-A and the rhetoric of CEO Dan Cathy. His statement about biblical marriage has become a flag issue, a moment in time when attention is paid to particular circumstances as a gateway into larger issues. More than a statement of beliefs, Cathy’s rhetoric creates a polarized framework between the traditional heterosexual, first-marriage family and everyone else. It is not a surprise that his statement and framing are met with protest, given the ideology of Cathy’s discourse and how it contributes to the culture of violence, discrimination and harm facing the LGBTQ community.

Polarization—rhetoric that divides rather than unites by creating a forced choice—is a deep-rooted rhetorical strategy in American public address. In the clash of polarization, communities forge conversations and reconsider opinions. The polarization process is also fraught with things we do not culturally desire; circumstances riddled in conflict, the interpersonal discomfort of loved ones on opposite sides requires citizens to be accountable for their beliefs in public.

The problem remains; do we have spaces, venues and skills for this important form of democratic, grassroots deliberation? Is this debate further eroded or enabled by our primary public commons, social media? The featured YouTube video for this forum responds to Cathy’s rhetoric, by (re)drawing his framework of polarization as a clash between hypocritical biblical definitions of marriage and equality.

Decades ago civil rights advocates put their bodies up against the systems of oppression at the Woolworth’s lunch counter as a flag issue drawing attention to institutional privilege. With the shifting flows of capital influencing civil society, the lunch counter might look different but supports the same ideology. Yet, the critical discourse of dividing rather than uniting for social justice continues to be a necessary rite of passage for the process of social change.

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