May 6, 2008

Open letter to Mr. Wyn Becker

May 6, 2008

American Furniture, Electronics & Appliances
2404 W. Beltline Hwy.
Madison, WI 53713

Attn: Mr. Wyn Becker
Vice President-Advertising

Dear Mr. Becker,

I couldn't help but notice your e-mail of May 5 to Milwaukee radio "personality" Charlie Sykes announcing your intention to disassociate American's corporate self from the July 24 appearance of humorist Bill Maher in our fair city. I'm writing to express my disappointment that your firm so quickly buckled under to the claimed offense taken by so few politically motivated and highly disingenuous individuals.

Several months ago, Mr. Sykes embroiled himself in a controversy over the "Coexist" bumper stickers. Perhaps you've seen them around town. The word "Coexist" is spelled out in a pictogram, using a variety of religious symbols. An area man devised a "parody" of the bumper sticker which, among other things, replaced the Jewish Star of David with a Nazi Swastika and the Crescent of Islam with the Soviet Hammer and Sickle.

Mr. Sykes published the "parody" bumper sticker on his website, which is maintained by Journal Communications, Inc. A number of individuals and groups, most notably the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, took issue with the said "parody." Mr. Sykes, however, expended a considerable amount of resources in defending the "parody," going so far as to label it a work of "genius" and to cry righteously in favor of the parodist's — and his own — right to unfettered expression, regardless of the offense caused.

You may know by now that the entire Bill Maher "controversy" was manufactured by a Marquette University professor by the name of John McAdams. Prof. McAdams writes an internet journal, where he affords us the opportunity to gain insight into his fevered thought processes.

It's fair to say that Prof. McAdams is extremely intolerant of his political opponents, and especially against those who he only imagines to be his nemeses. He's actually something of an unintentional joke to many of us who follow the Wisconsin "blogosphere." To be sure, nowhere near as funny and incisive as
Bill Maher, but moderately entertaining on occasion.

In short, Prof. McAdams is a notorious local crank.

After Prof. McAdams learned of Mr. Maher's engagement at Milwaukee's historic Riverside Theatre, he became quite personally disconsolate, and published a series of scurrilous and unsupportable accusations against Mr. Maher. Some of us were puzzled by Prof. McAdams's initial reaction.

Among the reasons we were puzzled is that only days prior to becoming upset by Mr. Maher's Riverside Theatre engagement, Prof. McAdams had adamantly defended the Milwaukee appearance of another somewhat controversial figure, David Horowitz, a harsh critic of both U.S. academia (as is Prof. McAdams) and certain aspects of the Islamic religion (as is Prof. McAdams).

David Horowitz spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. When some Muslim students at UWM criticized Mr. Horowitz for offending their religious beliefs, Prof. McAdams, on his weblog, arbitrarily and capriciously brushed aside the students' concerns, suggesting that their offense was merely feigned.

Prof. McAdams also took issue with some vocal demonstrators who attended Mr. Horowitz's speech, and has since erratically and irresponsibly (and, of course, ironically) accused "leftists" of being "authoritarians who want to shut up speech they disagree with."

But then Prof. McAdams found two or three far-right websites containing a number of statements made by Mr. Maher on the subject of religion (Mr. Maher, like millions of other Americans, is not a fan), but removed from their original context in either comic monologues or conversations with his guests on his HBO program, Real Time with Bill Maher.

Prof. McAdams then claimed to be personally offended by those statements. Interestingly, since the statements referenced Prof. McAdams's own chosen religion, he was not so quick to dismiss his own reaction in the same manner he had dismissed those of the aforementioned Muslim students in reaction to David Horowitz.

Indeed, Prof. McAdams vigorously defended Mr. Horowitz's right to offend, just as Charlie Sykes had vigorously defended the offensive potential of the Nazi Swastika and the Soviet Hammer and Sickle (and in particular the substitution of the Nazi Swastika for the Jewish Star of David).

And it was from Prof. McAdams that Charlie Sykes learned of Prof. McAdams's baseless tirades against Bill Maher, whereupon Mr. Sykes reproduced Prof. McAdams's intemperate ravings at his own website, where they presumably found a marginally wider audience.

It's also worth noting that Prof. McAdams considered voicing his personal objections to the other sponsors of Mr. Maher's engagement, but ultimately determined that they would be unresponsive to his pleas. So he targeted his personal ire at American Furniture, Electronics & Appliances instead.

Prof. McAdams has taken it upon himself to decide what is and what is not appropriate speech, and even wrote that your company "ought to be more careful" about avoiding "embarrassment" if your company "wants to sell stuff to Christians." Perhaps I missed it, but I could find no evidence on your company's website that it specifically "wants to sell stuff to Christians."

I think you might also be interested in Prof. McAdams's characterization of your company and its employees — who, to my mind, are doubtless good and hard working people — that he expressed while determining his personal course of action, and just prior to receiving his personal satisfaction as expressed in your e-mail to Charlie Sykes.

Prof. McAdams compared your firm's sponsorship of Mr. Maher's engagement to its supporting "a Klan rally" and claimed that American was "either stupid or bigoted against Christians." So he quite obviously could not have thought very highly of your company to begin with. I seriously doubt whether you or your employees are "either stupid or bigoted against Christians."

As for myself, I had thought highly of your company. In fact I have made a number of substantial household purchases there, as have many of my friends and acquaintances. We have always been very satisfied with our purchases, and the kind service we received.

But if American is in the business of kowtowing to shamelessly hypocritical actors like Charlie Sykes and John McAdams, then we won't be shopping at American anymore.



Seth Zlotocha said...

Great work. I sent a web comment of my own to them this morning.

It really is a frustrating situation. I much prefer to shop at a WI-based retailer than the national chains. When I bought a house a couple of years ago, I specifically went to American for my new washer, dryer, and dishwasher because it's WI-based. And I did the same when I bought a flat-screen TV last fall. But this kowtowing is too ridiculous to ignore.

On a related note, does anyone have any suggestions for other locally based -- either Milwaukee or WI -- appliance and electronics retailers?

Anonymous said...

wants to sell stuff to Christians

No penance for 30 days!

Anonymous said...

does anyone have any suggestions

Ok, I'll take a shot. You and I pose as representatives of "Pater, Filus & Sanctus," a "spiritual accounting firm."

We'll walk through the store, taking note of everything that might annoy the anointed: Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners, Hitachi Ultra Thin Plasma TVs (the heathen Japaneseeses' subtle yet snide reference to transubstantiation). The retailer will be handed an invoice detailing the numinous deficit and required repentance (mortification of the flesh, vivification of the Spirit, etc. etc.)

Then we'll hire a bevy of teenagers to stand in front of the store wearing Terri Schiavo tape over their mouths and call Today's TMJ4 crack investigative unit to give fair and balanced coverage to the controversy.

Calling a press conference on the steps of St. Johns, IT will then announce on his best Emily Latella voice, nevermind.

Anonymous said...

You did not mention the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. That puts all of this in perspective.