In Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, the useless apparatchik Captain Black is passed over for a promotion that he in no way deserved, or could have reasonably expected. It is immediately apparent to our jilted captain that something is Afoot – and the way to figure out ‘what’s really going on’ is to begin a campaign of voluntary loyalty oaths. The hated Major will not be allowed to sign one of these patriotic documents, of course. The existence of the loyalty oath, and the Major’s ‘curious silence’ seem to beg the question: could the Major be *disloyal*? A Communist?!
As Captain Black says, in this one chapter masterclass of solipsism, “you never heard him denying it until we started accusing him.” During his moment in the sun, Black is the most powerful man in camp: men below him can’t get flak jackets or food if they won’t sign his voluntary pledges – how would it ‘look’? He is commended for his efforts by his commanders – how would it appear if they came down hard on ‘Loyalty’?
Since January 6th, the riot in Washington DC has been the proximate cause of a great outpouring of voluntary, unsolicited ‘Loyalty Oaths’ from nearly every brand I’ve ever interacted with. My banks, leaders at my company, retailers, consumer applications, even my local grocery store have seen fit to Strongly Denounce These Events.
In the aftermath of a surreal political pseudo-event, no one in a position of power, and no sane consumer, is really looking to their fitness apps or their grocery store to make sense of things. On the other hand, most people aren’t looking to the brands with an instant suspicion that the brand’s “silence” signals covert approval of the Thing That Happened.
This mere question at lower levels can be reported by some pundit or “journalist” on the prowl for tips like these – ‘questions have arisen about Strava’s reaction to the events…’ (it is always passive voice – Questions and Accusations spring up like mushrooms). As it filters up the chain, the frisson of the brand’s perceived silence grows. Didn’t they hear the accusation?
The incorporation of social media as the farm leagues of the corporate media has created Captain Black-like influence to be seized on every level, if you’re willing to question the “loyalty” of others. Imagine you are a politically-engaged Twitter user with a few dozen followers, and you’re appalled by the Thing That Happened. As you’ve been discussing it with your friends, some small detail made you think about Strava, and you noticed that your fitness app hasn’t said anything about this outrage in Washington. Could it be that Strava sympathized with the Trump protestors, or even the rioters?
By the end of the week the brand might have had a ‘controversy’ on their hands. Some fairly large blog or magazine will have their hatchet man on the case. “Strava has maintained a troubling silence on the Capitol riots, which has led some (obviously unnamed source) to ask where they really stand on Wednesday’s events”. God forbid one of the low-level sleuths dug up that someone had tracked their riot path with *their* app. The cloud of vague, associative suspicion will crystallize into presumed certitude towards the top of the ladder. Now the brand has been loosely associated with white supremacy and insurrection, in the venerable, weighty annals of the New York Times. If these unsubstantiated rumors are retracted, it will be in far less prominent places than they were promulgated. Strava will have to summon PR consultants and image-makers to divine how they can rebuild the brand’s Image, which they nuked by saying nothing.
If they wanted to avoid all of this, of course, the founders just had to sign a voluntary, patriotic Loyalty Oath, each time an “event” occurs. We know they’re a good Brand. So won’t they play ball? “Defending democracy” is everybody’s job, you know.