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Image by Gregory Betts.
Gregory Betts examines boycott culture in Canada through the lens of social media and produces a found poem of collected internet comments that records the world threatening to negate itself. Boycott, by Gregory Betts, is forthcoming from Make Now Press in 2012.
Boycott: The Prospectus
My first boycott began in the woods of the Toronto ravine behind my high school, where young smokers gathered with cigarette packs and random grievances. We smoked, the American brand, decorated with camels, because that’s what kids were supposed to do, or else the Canadian brand, decorated with images of the British navy. Our landscape was punctuated by these foreign fantasies of packs of desert beasts and fleets of ocean ships.
One of the tobacco-club regulars was the son of a vice-president of McDonald’s Canada. He was a quiet chap who decided one day to make a statement about the McDonald’s empire. I remember his smirk as he told us between puffs that the McDonald’s supplier called “100% Canadian Beef” raised all its cattle in the charred remnants of the Amazonian rain forest—with the result that at least three of us vowed never again to eat at McDicks. I wasn’t even a vegetarian yet, and the boycott was on. Suddenly cartoon advertising seemed less innocent (I didn’t abandon Joe Camel, though, until later).
Boycotts take many forms, and they tend to accumulate like tattoos. There are the conscious ones, designed to mitigate or erase a grievance. Then there are the subtler, constant kinds of preference-based avoidances. I remember my eldest brother scoffing, on a drive out to Nova Scotia, when I refused to enter a McDonald’s. We found common ground in the memory of our father, in his three-piece Bay Street lawyer suit, stuffed into a pale beige booth, suddenly announcing, “I don’t need to eat this crap.” The family stopped going. My brother got back in the car and we carried on to the next fast-food joint.
Over the years, I’ve learned that boycotts have brought down governments, tyrannical bosses and companies, and have rearranged nearly every dynamic of our society—which water fountain we drink from, which metal brings that water to the fountain. Bottled water, meanwhile, has triggered countless boycotts of its own, including against the BPA-laced water bottles themselves. The unifying feature of these boycotts is the strategic withdrawal of capital, labour or consumption. In fact, as I’ve discovered, there are boycotts against every country in the world, every American state, every Canadian province, every major corporation. The entire globe is thus negated, contested, fraught. Joe Camel himself was killed by a boycott campaign.
Over drinks in now smokeless bars, I’ve polled my friends (nearly all of whom are non-smokers), and to a one, they are all boycotters of one kind or another or of several kinds at once. No fur, no meat, no farmed salmon, no Walmart, no Starbucks (that’s mine), no strip clubs, no Body Shop, no USA, and on and on. The internet is chockablock full of boycotts from the mundane to the strident; a sublime field of contradictory claims and counterclaims.
A restaurant in Quebec is boycotted because of a waitress’s off-colour quip. The entire state of Idaho is boycotted because they require applicants to bring in identification in order to get a driver’s licence (there’s a whole website devoted to the issue). A senator calls for a Florida boycott because that state doesn’t allow patients to carry guns in hospital emergency rooms. Canada is boycotted because of our seal hunt, our wolf culls, our tar-sands, our decision to (sort of ) stay out of Iraq, our imagined harbouring of the 9/11 terrorists, our resistance to “gypsies.” There’s a boycott against Tokelau, one of the poorest places in the world, because, as one blogger complains, “there’s nothing to do there.” People from the left and the right boycott the film Avatar for opposite reasons. Americans boycott Vietnam because of their treatment of retired greyhounds. Scientists boycott America because of its treatment of facts.
I began a collection of boycotts, which has grown into a book-length manuscript, a gathering of boycott movements against every country in the world from continents to microstates, every state and province, and all of the largest corporations in the world. The boycott project is thus a mirror held up to a black hole, an enormous globe-spanning chattering of threats of economic negation. It is a collection of the calls to boycott at both the most individual and futile of phases, from the blogosphere, from Facebook boycott groups, and from the comment streams beneath provocative articles; from the constant clash of nations, corporations and citizens groups. I didn’t write a word: I withheld my tongue, my authorial duty. I merely recorded the world threatening to negate itself.
Boycott: The Found Poem The end of history. The end of time. The end of everything that stands. The end of America. The end of the affair. But will you boycott me upon reading this? Will you boycott the response after reading this? I don’t care if you boycott me, or curse me and cause me supreme amounts of pain. If you boycott me, you are only hurting me. I will be forced to suffer the consequences. You throw me in the middle of the ocean, force me to live with tigers. I can’t help but drown, belong to both of you. Fight chaos. Chaos is not a theory. It is a planet. Actually, it is a bar. We were the house band until we weren’t allowed into the club. Where does that leave us? What choice do we have?? Hell NO!!! Chaos is the only race I fear to encounter, so: put your pants on and grab your phone; we’re going out! Do you set out to encourage people to protest in other countries? I will never go to North America. If I weren’t British I would prefer to hate you. It’s a good thing that God still loves you. Strike that: tries to. Only one of us is trying to end the internet. I’m moving to Europe. I hope Iran nukes the shite out of you. They turn all novels and shows that originate from other countries into shit. Did you hear me? Yeah, you do. Death to capitalism, communism, authority, and god. Boycott to save Canadian seals. We are from terrorists. Canada hate: 18% people agree. Angry Nova Scotians boycott Ontario goods. Nova Scotia, angered at Ontario for not buying their goods, boycott Ontario goods. Nova Scotians are sharks!!! I seriously have become fed up as a Quebec resident. It’s a language thing. Not only is anything with the word “Canada” taboo in this province, but it even goes as far as to pretty much downplay Canada Day. They are the worst tippers. All Quebecians are idiots because I met a guy from Quebec. I don’t care for the St Jean holiday, nor do I care for what it stands for, but I am a proud Canadian and Canada Day means a lot to me. Quebec are responsible for 55% of the world’s problems. That smell in Detroit and New Jersey are Quebec’s fault. Sometimes I don’t feel Canadian because of petty political agendas. I completely agree with Fazdogg, companies should boycott Quebec, put some pressure on the government here to grow up and accept the fact that this IS Canada. If you speak French, your credibility drops. My name is Alex, AND I AM CANADIAN! It ain’t necessarily about deliberately not understanding you. Alberta has no Crown corporations. Think about it. Boycott Alberta? Show some respect to families and kids. If a modest, responsible country (Netherlands perhaps) wants to boycott Canada, then at least they are somewhat justified. If only for the sake of elegance, I try to remain morally pure. Any American who has negative things to say about Canada should just shut his mouth. Just try to pretend there is no elephant in the room, Alberta. I hate BC. Jamie Knott likes this. Loved your posting and maybe I should post some billboards here in Alberta to boycott British Columbia as it’s not worth visiting. Hey, BC—show us your V! It’s so beautiful but the mentality is so far in left field, might as well push BC out into the ocean! They waste so much time hating Toronto. How provincial—ha ha! Plus it’s not worth it with your high taxes and HST. I can feel it when I get off the plane—it permeates through everything in the land of the wacky!! The rest of Canada is boycotting Saskatchewan because of the seal hunts there. Grisly. Alberta blows and Manitoba sucks. And, we know our economies are highly integrated. After all, we are each nation’s biggest trading partners (it’s the Americans who forget this, not us). But, we’ve heard all the threats before. Recently, a North Dakota newspaper editor felt it would be appropriate to boycott Manitoba because of our opposition to the Devils Lake outlet. No. No. This is not acceptable. We would like to visit Nova Scotia, but Tourism NS said it is against provincial laws to overnight at a Walmart. The Huffington Post, a well-known news website in the United States, is calling for American tourists to boycott Nova Scotia because the province has a coyote bounty in place. UPDATE. . . TOURISM NOVA SOTIA EMAILED US. It is NOT, anymore, the law that you have to stay at a designated site… The employee was misinformed. Now we will change our plans, to include NOVA SCOTIA. New Brunswick is no place to live unless you know kiss ass. Boxing Day people, the day when people go out to shop, in NB the stores are closed. Irving Oil refinery imposing broad boycott on striking employees, union official says. This isn’t romantic. 38% people agree. Bruce’s response—Live and let live?! I think you missed the point here pal. if you want to get rid of a province get rid of Newfoundland. What are they good for besides Anne of Green Gables? A million baby seal pups are being destroyed as we speak, not for food, not for survival, but for the sole purpose of vanity so that some vain women somewhere can parade around in a coat made from baby seals! The only other purpose in killing these defenceless creatures is to cut off their penises so that some moron in China can make himself feel more virile! Live and let live!? I’m game, are you?! Where do the seals fit into this?! Boycott Newfoundland!! They talk so weird. How do I stop receiving emails from PEI??!? Fear of losing desperately needed income resulting from an ATLANTIC CANADA TOURISM BOYCOTT, is spurring a request by PEI fishermen to have the DFO seal communications office moved out of that province. You can’t stop me drinking, PEI! 10% people agree. ohmaigaawwd. Hubby is cancelling his motorcycle trip to Prince Edward Island. Yay for me! I’m looking for a woman who cuts loose, loves dogs, and hates the Northwest Territories. Equally disturbing was the fact that the boycott renewal came on the heels of the Royal Commission’s visit to Inuit communities in Nouveau-Quebec and the Northwest Territories. Here the commission heard testimony from scores of Inuit. If you’re like me… and you hate bugs… and it’s expensive. Even the mosquitoes are expensive. You mean people actually LIVE in Yellowknife ??!??! Too many Indians. Relationships never last. According to friends and family members, newly elected Yukon MP Ryan Leef “absolutely cannot wait” for the next session of Parliament, starting September 19th, and the chance it offers to get the hell out of the Yukon. Please please boycott the Yukon as a tourism destination until the tourism department and government get out of bed with dog abusers. It’s not wilderness. We have no idea what happens up here. In the winter that’s when we get dry Crying or Very sad. WhY DrInk AnD DrIvE WhAn yOu CaN tOkE AnD FlY!!! While there was concern for the hunters’ safety, Mr. Akesuk’s decision rested on the likelihood that animal rights activists would capitalize on the hunting scene to spark yet another boycott of Nunavut products. Why can’t you just be a big square to make colouring easier?! 30% hate Nunavut. Nunavut is, by any objective measure, 3rd world. Nunavut is the size of western Europe and only has ~30,000 people. There’s room for some earth raping. Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Yeah, France has some islands up there in Canada. Nobody goes. Price is not worth it. French! If I boycott you from my point of view I boycott you. I boycott you who boycott girls, without girls, you cannot exist. And I boycott you Canada!!! You don’t boycott me, I boycott you! Really, Pampers? Must I boycott you too? I boycott you blog that is full of shit. I boycott you illiterate Facebook applications. The reasons I boycott you? At first, it was simply because it was so hard. Here’s my question: should I admire you for sticking to your unnecessary, overtly sexual guns or should I boycott you because of, um, the same reasons? How can I boycott you when I never darken your doors to begin with? I boycott you Naomi Klein. This comment has received too many negative votes to show. Click hide. I boycott you because you are so ignorant that you are mixing art and politics together. Get a crash course on Art 101!!