The End Justifies the Beans 

Celebs offer their takes on Goya being bad now

Welcome back to Going Downs, a weekday newsletter about the intersection of celebrity and politics. 

Hello Going Downs subscribers, it’s your corporate boycott correspondent and Claire’s husband Brenden Gallagher, back for another Wednesday guest post. 

Today, I want to talk about beans. 

The musical fruit is in the news again following Goya CEO Robert Unanue’s comments praising Trump as “a builder.” (ok lol)  Yes, like most other CEOs and soulless business tyrants in America, the head of the bean company supports Donald Trump. This, of course,  is particularly controversial, since Goya is a brand associated with Mexican food though it is an American company founded by a family of Spanish ancestry.

I am a member of two labor unions (IATSE and WGA) and am active in the Democratic Socialists of America Labor Committee. One lesson I’ve learned is that consumer boycotts don’t really work unless they are directed by workers and complemented by other actions. Even then, such a movement must have coherent, achievable demands. Caesar Chavez’ farm workers strike and Martin Luther King’s bus boycott are two great examples.

By contrast, the wave of social media driven consumer boycotts during the Trump administration -- from Nordstrom to Soul Cycle to Home Depot to Goya -- have had no lasting impact. If you want to learn more, I wrote about this for The Daily Dot last year.

But, while everything is about labor, this newsletter is about the celebs. What do the celebs have to do with this? It turns out that celebs are not well read on their labor history and love nothing more than a consumer-driven boycott. Why? Well, because unlike actual organizing, they can make it all about them 

Chrissy Teigen dropped Equinox and SoulCycle very publicly when the companies were the target of an anti-Trump social media crusade. Why someone so famous was a club member at such plebeian places is beyond me. Social media came for both high-end fitness chains after Equinox and Soul Cycle owner Stephen Ross (who also owns the Miami Dolphins) announced he would host a Trump fundraiser. 

Chelsea Handler went on a shopping spree at Nordstrom when they dropped Ivanka’s clothing line without, perhaps, asking why they developed the imprint in the first place.

Many more celebs than those with “C” names did the same. Sophia Bush, Amber Tamblyn, and Billy Eichner ditched Equinox and/or SoulCycle. Meanwhile, Michael Moore, Patton Oswalt, Mia Farrow, Aisha Tyler and many more made a social media show of shopping at Nordstrom.

Performative consumption has often stood in for actual activism during the Trump administration. As a socialist, I feel compelled to remind you that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. As a writer, I feel compelled to point out that this shit can be pretty funny.

Let’s quickly track the highs and extremely low lows of this current Goya moment. Following the CEO’s comments, politicians and celebs predictably called for a boycott. As always, Chrissy Teigen has joined the fray.

And even some of our favs are implicated. While Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez (AOC) is a socialist who knows that consumer choices will not pave the road to revolution, she is also media savvy. With a viral tweet, she jumped on the boycott train. 

Now, the average person would view this as a reasonable response to a brand associated with Latinx culture standing with a white supremacist. Donald Trump’s pointed and repeated assaults on the rights of undocumented workers and Latinx folk are a main theme of his first term. But, conservatives have concluded that the “libs” have been “triggered.” And in this era, that only means one thing: time to create some terrible content.

Exhibit A: David Lynchian style photo of Ivanka Trump holding a can of beans.

Exhibits B and C: TikToks and Insta videos of Trump Supporters bragging about buying beans.

And of course, in the interest of objectivity, I must point out that some on the left side of the aisle made videos of themselves throwing the beans away. Equally cringe content here.

Where does all of this end? Generally, after about a week or so, the #Resistance finds something else to be mad about, a new meme is born, and the favs start rolling in.

For the piece I wrote for Daily Dot, I tracked the quarterly earnings of the various companies that have been the target of pro and anti-Trump boycotts and found that there is no correlation between these performative social media stands and earnings.  I also spoke with Barry Eidlin, an assistant professor of sociology at McGill University.

“We have seen in recent years that online organizing can actually work in some cases… like the teachers’ strike wave where the online platform provided some very useful tools to amplify the organizing happening on the ground. I don’t want to be completely dismissive of online hashtag activism. [But it only works] under very specific circumstances and almost invariably only when it’s anchored by actual on the ground person-to-person organizing.”

“The ideal boycott generates a lot of attention because that is what brings the reputation pressure against the firm, but it also has an infrastructure behind it. I think the ideal boycott is one that has a message that gets spread online but there is an NGO and a social movement group behind it that is carrying out the boycott as part of a larger strategy… I think the ideal boycott would have a combination of attention plus infrastructure in place to do something with all those resources you just created.”

All of this is sound and fury signifying nothing, a burst that quickly dissipates into nothingness. In fact, you could call it flatulent. 

And in the end, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. 

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