Don’t Act So Shocked About Bud Light’s Virtue Signaling
News alert: Corporations don’t care about you or your values. This truth was demonstrated to conservatives when, much to their chagrin, Bud Light—that most straight-laced of watery-beer brands—invited transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney to promote its swill on Instagram. (The reaction was harsh. To paraphrase country music legend Merle Haggard, the bottle let them down.)
And the amorality of corporations was demonstrated—yet again—when Bud Light realized it had made a huge mistake and apologized. That left Mulvaney and the LGBTQ+ community under the proverbial bus.
Since then, the pandering has reached parody proportions. The latest reports suggest some of Bud Light’s packaging will be redesigned to include a camouflage print—you know, because fashion patterns associated with military combat are manly. Subtlety is clearly not their thing.
Trump Might Not Be Able to Use His Idiocy as a Defense Anymore
“Corporate responsibility” isn’t really their thing, either. And it’s time we accepted this fact. Corporations like Anheuser-Busch InBev (Bud Light’s parent company) are responsible for maximizing their profits. Period. Political stances are a means to this end.
Regardless of whether they went out of their way to virtue signal support for ostensibly conservative institutions like the U.S. Army or ostensibly progressive causes like transgender rights (or both), companies still base their corporate values on how they can (a) appease their employees and/or (b) grow or maintain their customer base and turn a profit.
In this case, Anheuser-Busch made a business decision that turned out to be a business mistake. They assumed that they could slowly broaden their Bud Light base and slightly reposition to a trendier, more inclusive image, without anyone noticing or caring all that much. They assumed wrong.
The problem with virtue signaling as a business strategy is that virtue is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s virtue is another man’s vice.
Once upon a time, we had a common culture where virtues were generally agreed upon. People generally supported ending racism (or pretended they did). People generally supported the troops (or said they did). Supporting these causes was a perfunctory way to earn cheap applause and good will.
Today, however, we live in two Americas. A culture war is raging, and virtues are mutually exclusive. What is more, activists are working to force everyone to take a side. Their side.
Corporations aren’t used to this.
To be clear, companies (shoe brands, sports teams, beer brands, etc.) do not care about you or your high-minded principles.
And (gasp) neither do political parties. Commence the pearl clutching.
Enter the Republican Party, which has (as the line goes) “pounced” on Bud Light. If corporations are amoral actors, so too is today’s GOP.
Once upon a time, the GOP held principled positions—such as the notion that it was wrong to use the power of government to punish corporations (“corporations are people, too!”) or individuals for political speech. Now, Gov. Ron DeSantis is upping his anti-Disney rhetoric on what’s likely the eve of announcing a run for president.
Such a principle is philosophically neutral, inasmuch as it would prevent the government from impinging on liberal or conservative political speech.
But those days are long gone. Today’s GOP is decidedly about using power to 1) squash ideas associated with the left and 2) favor ideas associated with the cultural right.
Kyrsten Sinema Is Just Another Politician in It for the Perks
For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is now calling for an investigation of Anheuser-Busch’s brief partnership with Mulvaney, based on the notion that Mulvaney’s prominent presence on TikTok and Instagram constitutes marketing alcohol to minors.
Now, it is plausible to say that preventing underage drinking is a conservative “family” value. But let’s be clear: Beer is not the thing Cruz worries is being marketed to young people; transgenderism is.
Cruz is reverse engineering concerns about marketing alcohol to minors as a way to punish a brand that is now off the reservation. Anheuser-Busch and other potential apostate companies have received the message loud and clear.
So why has the Republican Party abandoned its erstwhile principles in pursuit of a larger goal, which is punishing progressives?
Despite winning numerous elections, conservatives still feel like they have lost their grip on the current culture. Mainly because they have. Remember, as is the case with Bud Light, progressives are the first movers here, which is why the term “reactionary” to describe people like Cruz is perfectly legit.
Progressives do control the commanding heights of culture (i.e., academia and entertainment). In recent years, industries (such as sports and country music) and brands that used to ostensibly lean conservative have started to “virtue signal” in the opposite direction. A business theory that presumes the next generation will inevitably be more progressive has even traditionally conservative brands preemptively pandering to them.
Cheap domestic beer certainly fits into this rubric, which also helps explain the uproar over Mulvaney. Conservatives are often overly sensitive when it comes to industries and brands that have staked out a marketing niche on the cultural right switching sides.
This conflict isn’t going away. The Bud Light uproar has dragged (no pun intended) on now for weeks, and there’s no end in sight. We are heading into late May, and Dylan Mulvaney posted her now-infamous video way back on April 1. By April 3, Kid Rock was literally shooting at Bud Lights in a video he posted.
Investigate the Biden Family Corruption Allegations, Wherever They Lead
To be honest, I prefer a world where corporations focus on making delicious beer, politicians at least pretend to be principled, and the notion of worrying about Bud Light’s social media campaign is absurd.
But we no longer live in that world. Culture matters, and corporations are a big part of normalizing behavior and setting the tone for what is considered mainstream in America.
The American right is going out of their way to punish Bud Light and to send a warning to anyone else watching about the perils of woke capitalism. Sides are being chosen. People are paying attention and voting with their feet (and mouths).
We are in the midst of a culture war, and there’s no telling if or when it will end. Worst of all, I’m not even sure which beer I’m allowed to drink to get me through this. After all, according to Homer Simpson, alcohol is “the cause of and the solution to all of life’s problems.”
Gin it is. Problem solved.
Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.
Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.