Keurig, Papa John’s, and the Politicization of American Junk

On Sunday afternoon, a Twitter user with the display name Snoop Bailey
posted what would have once been considered an odd thing: a video of
his tidy garage, using a golf club to smash a Keurig coffeemaker to
pieces. Yet Bailey was not alone: many of his fellow-Americans had
posted videos of themselves throwing Keurigs from balconies, or
destroying them with hammers, or otherwise mangling these convenient,
single-cup coffee machines. By the end of the day, the hashtag
#boycottkeurig was trending.

The Web is home to scores of videos showing men dropping, smashing,
crushing, busting, pulverizing, streamrolling, and
hydraulic-pressing household objects into smithereens. Still, the sight
of angry white men destroying their own coffee machines stood out,
perhaps because it seemed to be the perfect visual expression for a
phenomenon, perceived and often referenced by liberals, of Americans
voting against their own self-interests. (Imagine the gloomy households
on Monday morning, in which people, craving coffee, had no way to
extract it from all those tiny, newly useless pods.)

These acts of self-inflicted property damage were inspired by Keurig’s
decision, at the end of last week, to temporarily suspend its
advertising on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. On Thursday, after the
Washington Post published its report alleging that Roy Moore had
molested a fourteen-year-old girl, Hannity, on his radio show, initially
suggested that that encounter had been consensual (of which he later
said he “misspoke”), and, on TV, cast doubt on the allegations, calling
the timing of the story “suspicious” and suggesting that women commonly
make up such stories of sexual assault in order to make money. The next
day, responding to a tweet from Media Matters calling for an advertiser
boycott, Keurig tweeted that it was working with Fox to pull its ads.

By Monday, after Keurig’s executives had seen the plastic bits of their
machines strewn across social media, the company’s C.E.O. circulated a
memo to
which was leaked to the Washington Post, in which he wrote that “the
decision to publicly communicate our programming decision via our
Twitter account . . . gave the appearance of ‘taking sides’ in an
emotionally charged debate.” In other words, someone at Keurig had
messed up by telling the world that the company felt some concern about
running ads between segments in which a TV host appeared to be coming to
the defense of an alleged sexual predator.

You could smell the brand fear in the statement, that special tang that
a company gives off as it watches some evocative skirmish in the culture
war dice up its demographic and carve off a portion of its customer
base. Yet, with this statement, in which Keurig seemed to lament its
temporary display of empathy and humanity, the company executed what has
lately become a common corporate double blunder: enraging a very vocal handful
of social-media users on one end of the political spectrum; then,
mistaking that cohort for a larger subsection of its customers, rushing
to placate the extremists, and, in so doing, alienating a group far
larger than the one it initially offended.

Before Keurig, it was the pizza company Papa John’s that, by its own doing, managed a version of the identity-politics double screwup. The
company’s founder and C.E.O., John Schnatter, attempting to justify a
bad quarterly earnings report, blamed decreased Papa John’s sales on the
poor ratings performance of the N.F.L., with which it advertises,
specifically criticizing the league commissioner for allowing the player
protests during the national anthem to continue. “This should have been
nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” he said. Seizing this bit of
news, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi Web site, declared Papa John’s the
“official pizza of the alt-right.” Alarmed, the company quickly issued a
statement distancing itself from “racism in all forms and any and all
hate groups that support it.” In the span of about forty-eight hours,
Papa John’s went from being a bland but tolerated fact of common
American experience to being something that many people suddenly
actively disliked, if for a variety of different reasons. Pizza snobs
pointed out that they’d always hated Papa John’s, just as coffee snobs
have spent the past few days mocking anyone who would own a Keurig
machine in the first place.

There is something grotesque, demoralizing, and entirely fitting, in the
Trump era, about seeing Americans act out political grievances through
the quotidian and joyless consumer products that populate our lives, of
seeing quick coffee and takeout pizza become the emblems by which we are
left to define ourselves and the hills on which we die for our imagined
ideals. And it is fitting, too, that Keurig brand battle has been
cheered on and magnified by Russia-affiliated Twitter
another example of how the agents of propaganda recognize how moored our
notions of civic engagement have become to our sense of ourselves as
consumers, and how easy that fact is to aggravate and exploit.

Trump, meanwhile, that brazen purveyor of American crapola—of mail-order
steaks and lousy wine and bullshit diplomas—has recognized this as well,
managing the Presidency as an extension of the Trump brand, in which all
attention is good attention, and rallying his supporters to demonstrate
their affection for him by patronizing certain companies, and their
disdain for his detractors by boycotting
or boycotting
or boycotting the
In his Keurig video, Snoop Bailey is selling something, too.Before he busts up his coffeemaker, he touts the qualities of the golf
club he’s using, and then later instructs his viewers to buy a competing
brand of coffee, one that’s owned by military veterans. What looks at
first like a strange act of suburban rage is really just another