Engaging Culture

Why Boycotts Rarely Work

Although I obviously recoil at those who trivialize our faith, and sympathize with other Christians who feel offense, I’ve always been consistently resistant to boycotts – especially when it’s about Hollywood – for a number of reasons:

First, if boycotts worked, why don’t missionaries do it?  Can you imagine surrounding a tribe in a 3rd world country, criticizing them, calling them names, and boycotting them?  Would that actually change their behavior?  No.  The key to success in missions is to develop a relationship of trust, become one of them, and then share your faith.  Instead of always criticizing, what if we did that to Hollywood?

Second, I have yet to meet a single person who has accepted Christ as a result of a boycott or petition drive.

Third, as a strategy, boycotts are incredibly risky.  In most cases, they backfire and actually work against you.  For instance, during the last Christian boycott of Walt Disney Studios, Disney profits actually went up and they experienced record sales.

Fourth, I’m one of thousands of dedicated believers working inside Hollywood trying to make change happen from the inside.  When Christians criticize Hollywood from the outside, it makes it very difficult for us to make a difference.

Fifth, “petitions” generated from direct mail campaigns rarely work.  Christians in the industry will tell you that when networks receive packages of these orchestrated petitions, they usually toss them in the trash.  Want to know what works?  Original, individual, considerate letters from concerned viewers.  Those letters get noticed.

Sixth, in my experience, boycotts make very little change happen, but they raise a great deal of money for the organizations behind them.  For the most part, I believe the real reason for these petition drives and boycotts are simply fundraising strategies.

What do you think?  I’d love to know your opinion.

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  1. I have often suspected that “How Can We Piss Off The Xians?” is a widespread guerilla marketing strategy.  Just include something guaranteed to cause a screaming snit among God’s Anointed, and they’ll take the baton and give you all this publicity FOR FREE!  Just give ’em that first push and let them go!  Ever since <i>Last Temptation of Christ</i> became a big hit on the free publicity of Christian denunciations and screaming calls for boycott boycott boycott.  Back in Eighties litfandom, we even used to say “It’s gotta be good — the Christians are denouncing it!”


    Can Phil confirm whether he’s heard or experienced anything along these lines?

  2. Great remark about missionaries boycotting, considering that most Christians don’t realize that the United States is the 3RD largest mission field in the world today.

  3. Don’t forget that most boycotts fizzle sooner than later, which seems to suggest that many American Christians feel the need for consumer goods (Proctor & Gamble) and entertainment (Disney) more strongly than they feel conviction or moral outrage.  So, to the extent that the powers that be notice at all they simply shake their heads and wait the boycott out and the half-hearted, misguided attempts of believers instead serve to trivialize their message and marginalize their voice.

  4. I think you make an excellent point Phil. If we take a loook at what Paul said, he didn’t say, “I do not become anything and retract myself from all things that I may reach all”….but “I become all things…”

    I think the best way to change Hollywood into a ginormous catalyst would be to somehow infiltrate it. That’s my specialty.

  5. “You obviously have no idea what you’re talking about.  Therefore, I am boycotting your blog from this point forward.  In fact, I’m going to get all my friends to boycott your blog.  And soon you’ll realize the error of your ways…”

    Great job, Phil.  How may times can we say it:  As followers of Jesus, we must be known for what we’re FOR, not for what we’re AGAINST.  Lost people tend to act, well….lost.  You nailed it with the comparisson to missions:  we must seek to win their HEARTS for Jesus through trust and relationships. 

    And no, I’m not boycotting one of the best blogs on the internet….

  6. In many cases, I think the boycotts generate more publicity, especially for films and art displays and such. In some cases I really believe that the movie or art in question would have just withered away quietly w/o all the hub-bub and free publicity brought on by the boycotts.

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