Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a cashier in a grocery store. You’re minding your own business one day, just doing your job, when a customer storms in. They are mad because the price of milk has gone up and they don’t want to pay that much. They yell and scream and no matter what you do you can’t get this person to understand that you have no control over the price changes. The customer gets madder and madder and eventually goes out declaring that they are never going to shop there again. However, this customer manages to convince thousands of other customers that the milk price is too high and they should boycott the store. The movement gains momentum and before long the boycott is huge.
The boycott begins to hurt the bottom line of the store, and upper management is starting to get annoyed about it. They begin to cut hours to the store and suddenly your full time job is suddenly a part time job. They take away your benefits and continue to cut hours as the milk boycott continues. However, the boycott is too much and the store needs to let some people go. Your manager comes up to you and tells you that he has to let you go because the boycott is affecting the business so much. You leave the store and watch as more people continue to boycott the store over the milk price. The boycott is going to continue and you know it’s only a matter of time before more of your co-workers also lose their jobs.
While that analogy might be a little much the point still remains; how do you boycott a major company without it just hurting the people at the bottom of the food chain? We are in strange and dangerous political times as major companies align themselves with a fundamentally flawed government in the United States of America. For comic fans, seeing the head of Marvel Comics, Ike Perlmutter, donate heavily to Donald Trump‘s campaign along with his wife Laura Perlmutter. Laura later became a member of his inauguration committee, and Ike went on to score a “significant” role in Trump’s administration as an advisor on veterans’ health care.
On January 28th, 2017 there was a mass protest at John F Kennedy Airport in New York City and the ride sharing company Uber turned off their surge pricing to say that they weren’t trying to take advantage of the strike but users were not convinced. The hashtag #deleteUber was born and not long after the tag #deleteMarvel also began to gain some traction for similar reasons. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with boycotts and they can work but the problem with trying to hurt someone like Perlmutter or the CEO of Uber Travis Kalanick is that there are a lot of people between our money and them. As we look to the analogy presented at the beginning of the article it is not Perlmutter or Kalanick who will be affected by a boycott but the people who drive the Uber cars on a daily basis and the various creative teams behind Marvel comics.
Marvel Comics have spent the last several years expanding their roster of costumed heroes away from the handful of white men that have dominated superhero comics since their inception. The title of Wolverine has gone to a woman, Ms Marvel is a Muslim teenager, and heroes such as Black Panther, Hellcat, and Mockingbird have been getting solo series that pushes them to the forefront of the comic world. Characters are also coming out of the closet as the world of Marvel begins to look more like the inclusive world we live in today. Those creative teams are helmed by voices that are finally getting heard. If the public were to boycott Marvel then Perlmutter could look at the comics and decide that the reason for these low sales isn’t because of anything he did but the current line up. The reason for the low sales are all these new inclusive characters so we need to cancel all of those books and return everything to the status quo. Not only have many people lost their jobs but we, as readers, have lost the opportunity to see new faces in the Marvel universe.
So what can we, as consumers, do to let Perlmutter know that we don’t support him supporting Trump without putting a bunch of good people out of a job? It’s a question of morality which means that it is subjective but there are ways to hurt the bottom line without hurting the creators of these books. The reality of the situation is that Perlmutter likely cares about toys and merchandise a lot more than the comic side of the business. If you must boycott Marvel then boycott the merchandise. It is also best to support progressive books, the ones that are pushing the boundaries and being more inclusive, because there is nothing more irritating to a bigot than seeing progressive books fly off of the shelves. Perlmutter has little to do with the movies so there isn’t any real reason to boycott those but holding out on merchandise likely wouldn’t hurt either.
The reality of the situation comes down to “what are you willing to risk to make a point?” It’s something protesters ask themselves every time they go out and risk the chance of getting arrested. As consumers, we have to ask ourselves is the risk of losing Kamala Khan, Miles Morales, or Laura Kinney worth telling Perlmutter that this will not stand. There is a line to walk but there is always the chance that boycott would hurt the wrong people. It’s what happens when the problem is at the very top of a major company; there are layers upon layers of grunt level workers that could be hurt before you get to the top.
To hurt Ike Perlmutter we risk losing all of the progress the various creative teams at Marvel have made over the last several years. However, if we do nothing then we risk complacency and nothing changing. What are we willing to risk?