On Boycotts and Marvel
On Thursday, Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter was announced as one of the donors to Donald Trump‘s fundraiser to “benefit veterans.” I put that last bit in quotations since it’s unclear exactly where the money will be going other than the Donald J. Trump Foundation. During the event, Trump announced Perlmutter had donated $1 million to the cause.
Almost immediately individuals took to the internet voicing their displeasure feeling that Perlmutter’s donation and involvement with Trump was a tacit sign up support for the Republican Presidential Candidate/business man/celebrity’s policies and views which can only be summed up as racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, and I can go on and on.
Calls for boycotts followed with individuals stating they would no longer watch films based on Marvel properties and/or purchase or read comics produced by the publisher. They also felt that Perlmutter’s donation was a slap in the face of the progressive changes the comic publisher has made in its publishing line, though the company still has far to go when it comes to those making the comics.
The reclusive Perlmutter has a history of “issues,” and this donation is only the latest. In 2012 it was reported that he is verbally abusive to staff, even threatening a female staffer that he had a “bullet with [her] name on it.” It was also reported that Perlmutter said no one would notice Terrance Howard being replaced in Iron Man 2 because blacks “look the same.” Though he donated $1 million to Trump’s cause, he’s also notoriously stingy in spending when it comes to his employees. And it’s not like he hasn’t been involved in politics in the past. His wife donated $2 million to Marco Rubio’s campaign (who has issues of his own), as well as contributing to Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential bid (again issues).
In other words, nothing of his behavior is new or shocking.
The reaction by creators, especially those that work for Marvel, has been mixed to the calls for boycotts and attacks directed towards Marvel. The responses have ranged from the claim that this donation was from Perlmutter not Marvel, to boycotts impacting creators and not him.
Those responses are disappointing to hear, especially from many who claim the “progressive” mantel. It diminishes someone else’s belief and action they want to take. It’s also ignores the reality of boycotts which have a very long history. They can be very successful and make change if they are sustained especially when mixed with other actions.
Boycotts don’t work on their own. Mixed with the tarnishing of a brand, they can be an excellent way to make change and get a company to change a policy, staffing, or support over what’s disagreed with. In theory it would impact Perlmutter along with creators. If sales were to decrease you’d hope Marvel’s parent company Disney would look in to WHY sales have dipped and make adjustments, ie remove Perlmutter as CEO. That’s the logic behind a boycott. The reality of this happening with just a boycott is slim as Disney needs to connect the decrease in sales with the reason for the decrease. As a whole the brand needs to be attacked, not just avoiding their product and output. This action does work though.
The second part of the strawman argument is that Perlmutter’s money is not Marvel’s or that this would only impact creators. Perlmutter earned roughly $1.5 billion from the sale of Marvel to Disney in 2009. I’d assume as CEO he still earns a paycheck and benefits in his role, and as CEO he directly influences the company. I can attest in my experience in the business world, a CEO’s worldview directly impacts the attitude of the company they run in direction, goals, and how employees are treated. I went from working in a company whose corporate culture shifted after a new CEO was installed to a new company where the CEO implements policies that reflect its liberal/progressive leanings (in this case increased parental leave for both parents). The CEO sets the standard, and while I don’t know Perlmutter’s day to day involvement, anecdotally it sounds like he has a lot. While Marvel touts its diversity in the characters and comics it produces, behind the scenes that’s not necessarily the case. Perlmutter himself may be the reason its taken so long for a woman to headline a Marvel film. The fact remains, he has made his money from, and continues to earn from, Marvel. The goal of a boycott would be to change that, and unfortunately would impact creators too.
But, I have to ask, is working for Marvel worth working for this man?
For those who wear their progressive badge and do, they have made a choice, just as they ignore past abuses of creators by the company. This aren’t issues that creators face just at Marvel. Other publishers regularly have taken, or take, advantage of creators. I have been told by those working in the industry of moves by publishers that borderline on illegal in how staff are treated, and those actions very well may be. I haven’t reported on them due to the lack of corroborating evidence. There is no truly progressive comic company that I know of that pays a liveable wage (or more) to all staff, profit shares with creators, provides healthcare, good benefits, the list goes on. As fans who purchase comics, we not just make this compromise in the beliefs we hold dear, but we also make those choices and compromises in everything we do. We are all hypocritical in some way.
But, that hypocrisy gives creators no right to condemn one’s choice and decision to boycott. It is an individual’s choice in how they want their voice heard and the actions they want to take. It is their decision. In this case their way is to speak with their wallet.
I in no way condemn one’s decision in a boycott (I encourage it as action unto itself), just like we should not have been condemned for our past calls (it’s funny how censorship hasn’t come up in this case, but that’s a discussion about hypocrisy for another day).
Laura Sneddon said it best on Twitter.
Plenty of great folk work for Marvel. There are plenty of legit reasons to boycott Marvel. The former does not negate the latter.
Everyone has to make a living. If the folks you work for do something seen as immoral you either change job or take the hit.
Happens to us all at some point. Them’s the breaks.
But don’t guilt trip those making an ethical stand.
So Marvel’s CEO used his ~personal~ money. So it’s Trump rather than an anti-gay/women/whatever charity. People have the right to boycott.
And they have the expectation not to be shamed, judged or guilt tripped by comic creators. Especially those who self-label as progressive.
I have companies and individuals that I choose not to support with my money and I spend it elsewhere. It’s neat how that works.
Similarly I’m veg*n AND understand that doesn’t help individual animals or hurt profits. But it doesn’t /help/ the practises I oppose.
Everyone draws their lines in different places according to their own moral compass and means. That’s all that really needs said in fact.
I’ve been struggling with what “action” I want to take, and think I have made my choice (more to come with that). But agree or disagree with what an individual chooses to do, it is their choice, it is their empowerment.