By Jeffrey A. Tucker, the Brownstone Institute
What were they thinking? How did someone believe that making “trans woman” Dylan Mulvaney the icon of a Bud Light ad campaign, complete with a beer can with Mulvaney’s image on it, would be good for sales? With an ad featuring this person vamping around in the most preposterously possible way?
Dylan, who had previously been interviewed on trans issues by President Biden himself, was celebrating “365 Days of Girlhood” with a grotesquely misogynistic caricature that would disgust just about the whole market for this beer. Indeed, this person’s cosplay might as well be designed to discredit the entire political agenda of gender dysphoriacs.
Sure enough, because we don’t have mandates on what beers you must buy, sales of the beer plummeted.
The parent company Anheuser-Busch’s stock lost $5 billion or 4 percent in value since the ad campaign rollout. Sales have fallen 50-70 percent. Now there is worry within the company of a widening boycott to all their brands. A local Missouri distributor of the product canceled an appearance by Budweiser Clydesdale horses due to public anger.
Ads are supposed to sell products, not prompt a massive public backlash that results in billions in losses. This mistake could be for the ages, marking a distinct departure from corporate deference to wackadoodle ideas from the academy and a push for more connection to on-the-ground realities.
The person who made the miscalculation is Alissa Gordon Heinerscheid, Vice President in charge of marketing for Bud Light. She explained that her intention was to make the beer King of ‘Woke’ Beers. She wanted to shift away from the “out of touch” frat party image to one of “inclusivity.” By all accounts, she actually believed this. More likely, she was rationalizing actions that would earn her bragging rights within her social circle.
Digging through her personal biography, we find all the predictable signs of tremendous detachment from regular life: elite boarding school (Groton, $65K a year), Harvard, Wharton School, coveted internship at General Foods, and straight to top VP at the biggest beverage company in the world.
Somehow through all that, nothing entered her brain apart from elite opinion on how the world should work with theories never actually tested by real-world marketing demands. Would that she had worked at Chick-Fil-A at some point in her teen years, perhaps even preserving some friend relationships ever since. It might have protected her from this disastrous error.
She is a perfect symbol of a problem that afflicts high-end corporate and government culture: a shocking blindness toward the mainstream of American life, including working classes and other people less privileged. They are invisible to this crowd. And her type is pervasive in corporate America with its huge layers of management developed over 20 years of loose credit and push for token representation at the highest levels.
We’ve seen this manifest over three years and ruling-class types imposed lockdowns, masks, and vaccine mandates on the whole population without regard to the consequences and with full expectation that the food will continue to be delivered to their doorsteps no matter how many days, months, or years they stay at home and stay safe.
The working classes, meanwhile, were shoved out in front of the pathogen to make their assigned contribution to herd immunity so that the rich and privileged could preserve their clean state of being, making TikTok videos and issuing edicts from their safe spaces for two or even three years.
In the late 19th century, the blindness of class detachment was a problem that so consumed Karl Marx that he became possessed with the desire to overthrow class distinctions between labor and capital. He kicked off a new age of the classless society under the leadership of the vanguard of the proletarian classes. In every country where his dreams became a reality, however, a protected elite took over and secured themselves from the consequences of their deluded dreams.
The people who in recent decades have drunk so deeply from the well of the Marxian tradition seem to be repeating that experience with complete disinterest in the lower classes, while pushing a deepening chasm that only became worse in the lockdown years in which they have controlled the levers of power.
It was startling to watch, and I could hardly believe what was happening. Then one day the incredibly obvious dawned on me. All official opinion in this country and even the whole world – government, media, corporations, technology – emanated from the same upper echelons of the class structure. It was people with elite educations and who had the time to shape public opinion. They are the ones on Twitter, in the newsrooms, fussing with the codes, and enjoying the laptop life of a permanent bureaucrat.
Their social circles were the same. They knew no one who cut trees, butchered cows, drove trucks, fixed cars, and met payroll in a small restaurant. The “workers and peasants” are people the elites so otherized that they became nothing more than non-playing characters who make stuff work but are not worthy of their attention or time.
The result was a massive transfer of wealth upwards in the social ladder as digital brands, technology, and Peloton thrived, while everyone else faced a barrage of ill health, debt, and inflation. As classes have grown more stratified – and, yes, there is a reason to worry about the gap between the rich and the poor when malleability is restricted – the intellectual producers of policy and opinion have constructed their own bubble to protect themselves from by being soiled by contrary points of view.
They want the whole world to be their own safe space regardless of the victims.
Would lockdowns have happened in any other kind of world? Not likely. And it would not have happened if the overlords did not have the technology to carry on their lives as normal while pretending that no one was really suffering from their scheme.
The Bud Light case is especially startling because the advent of commercial society in the high Middle Ages and through the Industrial Revolution was supposed to mitigate against this sort of myopic stratification. And this has always been the most compelling critique of Marx: he was raging against a system that was gradually winnowing away the very demarcations in classes that he decried.
Joseph Schumpeter in 1919 wrote an essay on this topic in his book Imperialism and Social Classes. He highlighted how the commercial ethos dramatically changed the class system.
“The warlord was automatically the leader of his people in virtually every respect,” he wrote. “The modern industrialist is anything but such a leader. And this explains a great deal about the stability of the former’s position and the instability of the latter’s.”
But what happens when the corporate elites, working together with government, themselves become the warlords? The foundations of market capitalism begin to erode. The workers become ever more alienated from final consumption of the product they have made possible.
It’s been typical of people like me – pro-market libertarians – to ignore the issue of class and its impact on social and political structures. We inherited the view of Frederic Bastiat that the good society is about cooperation between everyone and not class conflict, much less class war. We’ve been suspicious of people who rage against wealth inequality and social stratification.
And yet we do not live in such market conditions. The social and economic systems of the West are increasingly bureaucratized, hobbled by credentialism, and regulated, and this has severely impacted class mobility. Indeed, for many of these structures, exclusion of the unwashed is the whole point.
And the ruling class themselves have ever more the mindset as described by Thorstein Veblen: only the ignorable do actual work while the truly successful indulge in leisure and conspicuous consumption as much as their means allow. One supposes that this doesn’t hurt anyone…until it does.
And this certainly happened in very recent history as the conspicuous consumers harnessed the power of states all over the world to serve their interests exclusively. The result was calamity for rights and liberties won over a thousand years of struggle.
The emergent fissures between the classes – and the diffusions of our ruling class into many sectors public and private – suggest an urgency for a new consciousness of the real meaning of the common good, which is inseparable from liberty. The marketing director of Bud Light talked a good line about “inclusivity” but she plotted to impose everything but that. Her plan was designed for the one percent and to the exclusion of all the people who actually consume the product, to say nothing for the workers who actually make and deliver the product she was charged with promoting.
That the markets have so brutally punished the brand and company for this profound error points the way to the future. People should have the right to their own choices about the kind of life they want to live and the products and services they want to consume. The dystopia of lockdowns and woke hegemony of public opinion – complete with censorship – have become the policy to overturn if the workers are ever to throw off the chains that bind them.
The boycotts of Bud Light are but a beginning.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.
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