Today’s Internet Outrage has to do with a Vermont café caving in to one (1) anti-bacon remark on a website. The trouble began at the “Winooski Front Porch Forum,” which is available only to Winooskites, but the story leaked out in a local TV report:
A sign on a lamp post at the bottom of the Winooski Circle displayed the words “Yield [for] Sneakers Bacon” until Friday morning. The bistro owners took it down.
It got there as part of “Operation Bloom,” a city program put in place to keep its flower beds beautiful. If businesses do some gardening they can post an advertisement where they do it, but the word “bacon” on the Sneakers Bistro sign started a discussion about diversity on the Winooski Front Porch Forum. It started with a post from one woman who wrote that the sign was insensitive to those who do not consume pork. She said as a vegan living in a Muslim household she is personally offended by it.
In this day and age, any public manifestation of an idea that differs with yours is a tort. You suspect everyone just wanted to avoid a lawsuit; it’s public terrain, and the Constitution is rather clear on the separation of Bacon and State. It’s a good thing the sign didn’t mention bagels, or someone would have complained because of Gaza. The narcissism of the constantly offended is automatic and fierce: Enough about Ukraine! What about Mekraine?
Well, once the sign was down, the Internet took a deep breath, spat on its hands, and got to work. First, the story had to go global. The matter was picked up by a British newspaper, which put the issue like this: “[The sign] asked motorists to ‘yield for Sneaker’s [Bistro] Bacon’ but the female complainant, speaking on a community forum, described it as insensitive to her as she did not consume pig meat due to religious reasons.”
“Top Commenter” Aamir Jamil wrote: “Isn’t it amazing, how due to the area i can pretty much say it was most likely a Jew, but the article would have stated straight away [if] it were a Muslim.” As the saying goes, Aamir, when you make an assumption, you make an ass out of you, and umption. Or something like that.
The next step: clumsy attempts to defuse the matter on Facebook, where the café said it was “here to serve breakfast, not politics.” Alas, agreeing to ix-nay the acon-bay was cultural politics at its most raw, and only slightly less annoying than putting duct tape over the word on the menu lest the forbidden arrangement of vowels and consonants cause someone to feel disrespected. Trigger warning! On request the staff will spell out the word in a soundproof booth, after consent forms have been signed.
The café also said it had removed the sign for “safety reasons.” Apparently it had a habit of coming off in the wind and flying around town, decapitating squirrels.
Next step: The restaurant gets hammered in the Facebook posts, where people who live in Guam vow never to eat at the restaurant. This is the worst, for ordinary folk just trying to make a living: Once the pitchfork brigade finds your page, you wake up to hundreds of denunciatory posts cursing your bloodline to sputter out so the earth is scourged of your type. Yesterday you were serving chicken-fried steak; today you’re EVERYTHING WRONG WITH AMERICA.
So you delete the Facebook page — in Internet terms, you move from your house and burn it down and salt the earth and nuke it from orbit. That should do it. Except it lives on in a cache, which the ever-helpful Google serves up with a click. Now your website is like Jacob Marley’s ghost, floating around, clanking his chains. These links I forged in life! Some were links to a pdf of our menu. Some were sausage links with maple flavor.
When people realize the Facebook page is gone, there’s confusion — until someone shouts OVER THERE! TWITTER! GET ’EM! The ruckus moves to tweet form, which compacts the ire to neutron-star-dense 140-character critiques; at press time the Twitter account is still up, swinging like a punching bag in a dingy Brooklyn gym in the days of Mike Tyson. If it’s taken down, the crowd will move to Yelp, the place where you can read 154,306 reviews of fleabag motels for amusement (Horrible!!!! bugs everywhere, air conditioner smelled of blood, hooker stole my wallet). Their reputation is still good, but the café’s Google page is spattered with one-star entries from people who think the owners acted like a house of cards in a wind tunnel.
And that’s where it stands now. Everyone will move on and something else will come along and few here will remember the words of the brave City Manager Katherine Decarreau, defending the decision to debaconate the rotary: “Winooski is a diverse community, and we like it that way. It’s uncomfortable, but discomfort can be a source of growth, not just a source of anger and frustration.”
“Growth” here is defined as “a shrinkage of the public space in which it is permitted to tout pork.” Also, “defining new ways to expedite and streamline our grease-delivery system to the squeakiest wheel.” Lots of growing. Discomfort can be a source of growth, but sometimes it means you’re stretched out on the Inquisitor’s rack. More: “I think as a community we’ll work through this. It’s unfortunate that the country seems to be reacting to reports that are blown significantly out of proportion and don’t represent what actually happened.”
Oh — we all got it wrong? Someone complained, people said “sorry for you,” and the owners responded by erecting a giant cross made out of applewood-smoked thick-cut slabs? Is that what happened? At least we know that the community will “work through this,” possibly through outreach, and no doubt with a whiteboard presentation at City Hall where a Diversity Facilitator gets a pucker-face look and says, “Now, about the ‘Dog Days of Summer’ Celebration. In some cultures, dogs . . .”
The bloviation continues, with all the poetry of boilerplate dropped from the third floor: “We welcome a rich and respectful dialogue among the people that live, work, and dine here. We believe that diversity and dialogue is a critical part of what makes us a truly desirable place to be.”
Uh-huh. Most people think it’s schools, safety, reasonable taxes, and jobs, but the truly critical detail is the hasty removal of a bacon sign to underscore the diverse nature of things that won’t be allowed, and then dialogue about how everyone’s mad about it. How would that dialogue go?
Hey, Bob, what do you think of the whole bacon kerfuffle?
I had that once. Too salty.
No, the bacon fracas.
Is that where they fry it up in corn meal?
No. The bacon situation as it relates to our ongoing attempt to work through the rich opportunities that diversity presents, coupled with dialogues like the one we’re having here, which confront the contentious attempts to blend equally valid traditions into a robust mosaic of coexisting values. That bacon situation.
Mosaics can’t be robust, Hank. All I know about bacon is that the price’s gone up something fierce in the last year. Like the price of everything I eat. Doesn’t seem like the president knows, or cares.
And that’s where the TV reporter, who’s been eavesdropping on the conversation, notes that “some in this picturesque Vermont hamlet blame the bacon controversy on the president, a troubling echo of the assertions that he is a Muslim himself.” That statement gets YouTubed and retweeted and snipped and e-mailed for next week’s Internet Outrage — aaaaand we’re off again.
Meanwhile, the bacon sign is gone for good. Victory noted. To paraphrase the formulation for cultures that seem confident and those that seem eager to self-abase: Strong horse; weak sow.
— James Lileks is a columnist for National Review Online.