Russell Crowe’s anti-boycott stance with Beverly Hills Hotel is short-sighted and totally misguided, says Rob Buchanan.
Russell Crowe has not only refused to back the boycott of Brunei-owned hotels but he has gone so far as to call one supporter of the ban who called him out on it a “pathetic bully” in a heated exchange on twitter. It’s a surprising and disappointing stance from a normally socially conscious defender of gay rights, and it shows a bizarre naivety towards the power that targeted boycotts can have on corrupt political systems.
The Irish actually invented the term, ‘boycott’. It comes from the Land War of the late 1800s when Charles Stewart Parnell urged people to socially and economically shun those involved in the unscrupulous eviction of farmers. With no weapons or resources, save the ability to ostracise and ignore, the local peasantry found they had a powerful tool for social change on their hands. The corrupt Captain Charles Boycott was the first famous victim of this campaign, hence its name.
The beauty of a boycott is that it non-violent and self-empowering. It is actively protesting a cause, denying it financial and moral credibility by passively resisting it. It often forces dialog and occasionally an apology from the boycotted party.
Boycotting isn’t just some social media fad. It has a great pedigree as an effective weapon against prejudice and injustice. The Jews successfully boycotted the notoriously anti-Semitic Henry Ford in the 1920s. Gandhi led successful boycotts against the British Raj. There were massive economic implications for the Apartheid government of South Africa when large parts of the world boycotted trade and cultural exchange with the racist regime. And on perhaps a less epic but no less vital scale, LGBT groups boycotted Coors Beer for its anti-gay hiring practices which resulted in the company making a massive U-turn to become one of the most gay friendly in the drinks industry.
As seen with the latter example, boycotting is also an excellent weapon in these days of multinational corporations for pushing companies towards a more moral and socially conscious ethos. Not necessarily because they want to do the right thing, but because they know it’s economically better to appear to do so. Profits depend on sales, and when sales depend on treating people with dignity.
On the other side of the coin, it’s important to remember that boycotts against products supporting LGBT rights have been used as a weapon of oppression by homophobic organisations. If this tactic is going to be used against us, and the cause of equality, then we need to be capable of defending ourselves.
Crowe tweeted: “I don’t agree with the boycotting of Dorchester Collection hotels. It only hurts the hard-working staff who I consider friends. These are hardworking people with families and I guarantee you they come from all walks of life. To me, it is not acceptable collateral damage to ignore them. These are people I know, people I consider friends.”
I can see where Crowe might be coming from but he is being massively shortsighted. His heart is clearly in the right place, but his actions are misguided. He feels he is somehow fighting a coercive force by standing up making some small-scale moral stand in support of a handful of staff that work in an upmarket hotel. What he really is doing is vocally giving his support to a billionaire murderous tyrant who has introduced a law whereby certain human beings will be stoned to death because they dare to love.
The message Crowe’s passive support of such barbarity sends out to other parts of the world involved in introducing draconian anti-gay laws is very damaging. Those who want to brutally use gay people as a political pawn do not care about the workers of a high-class hotel. They care only about their own ends, which Crowe is inadvertently endorsing.
That said, I hope the Russell has inadvertently stimulated the ‘Anita Bryant Effect’ with his outburst, by unintentionally whipping up more outrage towards Brunei and generating more media attention towards the just and noble cause of boycotting enemies of LGBT rights and indeed LGBT life.
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