Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cheetos and Christian Bloggers

A Goliath of U.S. commerce is becoming unnerved by a hoard of pesky Davids. 
     Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo and the largest globally distributed snack food company in the world, has grown tired of the image associated with one of its most successful products.  Created in 1948 by Charles Elmer Doolin, Cheetos has created billions of loyal snackers over the last six decades, and perhaps trillions of orange, cheese-stained fingers and hands.  And therein lies the problem: orange digits and the digital age do not play well together.
     “Cheetos used to be associated with wholesome good fun, and was one of the first comfort foods—an essential component of American culture during the Cold War,” says Robert J. Thompson of Syracuse University, an expert in popular cutlure.  “But now too many people hear ‘Cheetos’ and think ‘middle-aged man blogging in his mom’s basement in a profoundly casual state of attire.’”
     As blogging has become more popular, in recent years, Cheetos has become less so.  Insiders say that this inverse relationship has much to do with a cultural narrative that associates Cheetos with troublesome Christian discernment bloggers.
     “It sends a message that Cheetos is for losers, and we don’t want that,” said Frito-Lay national PR representative Marla Pinckett. “We want Cheetos to be for ‘closers.’”  Relying on the fairly recent idea that corporations are, in the legal sense, persons—and can just as easily have their feelings hurt as individual human beings—the corporate giant is pursuing a novel legal remedy: suing Christian bloggers.

No Legal Fiction. Unfortunately for bloggers, Chester
the Cheetah (above) knows the Uniform Commercial
Code like the back of his Cheeto-stained hands.
     “It’s creating a hostile environment—for our product.  And that means a lot of us are feeling uncomfortable as well,” says Chief Counsel R. Todd Buskas.  In legal terms, it’s called Defamation of Copyright, and in this landmark case, it’s a sort of class action suit in reverse. Frito-Lay will be going after the 500 most prominent Christian blogs, the majority of which are part of an ad hoc collective known as the Evangelical and post-Evangelical Association of Christian Online  Commentators (E-PEACOC).  Despite rumors of the lucrative nature of blogging, Buskas denies that the suit is financially motivated. “We don’t want their money.  We want them to back off.  Go eat something else—preferably something baked.  I mean, would it kill a blogger to pick up a piece of fruit once in a while?”
     Buskas’s colleagues in the legal profession are skeptical. “It’s a novel legal strategy, that’s for sure,” says Clint Yeomans, professor of law at the Fairchild Online University School of Law, based in 36 convenient locations world-wide. “I’d have to say that I am not sanguine about Frito-Lay’s chances of successfully playing the victim in this case. But if they can figure out a way to get it to the 9th Circuit, they just might prevail.”
     But the Cheeto-makers are confident.
     “We think we can do it.  That whole ‘Occupy Everything’ movement pushed so hard against the big corporations, we think there’s going to a backlash in our favor—sort of a ‘front-lash,’ if you will,”  Marla  Pinckett told ST by phone.

"Cheetos don't make me feel uncomfortable. People
make me uncomfortable."  --NewSpring's Perry Noble
     We should not expect support for the suit to break down along ideological or theological lines.  Perry Noble, of NewSpring church in Anderson, South Carolina, an outspoken critic of bloggers, has announced his support for the plaintiffs. The 44-year-old pastor, who once claimed that the New Testament Greek word for jackass could equally be translated blogger, is even planning a sermon series about Cheetos scheduled for late Spring.  “I love Cheetos.  As long as I don’t have to eat them with people who make me feel uncomfortable.”
     One Christian blogger who opposes Noble’s view is Lane Chaplin. Like Noble a native of South Carolina, Chaplin is also a newly-minted lawyer, and has been recruited to represent E-PEACOC.  “They thought I’d be a good fit because I blog a lot and I’m a lawyer and can sue them right back.  Also, there’s no conflict of interest because I’m allergic to Maltodextrin (a food additive present in Cheetos).  Just one Cheeto could send me to an amillennial appointment with the great hereafter.”   

Lane Chaplin will get his chance to seek justice on behalf of fellow bloggers.

     Though money is not likely a factor, Christian bloggers are concerned that if the action is successful at any level, the legal floodgates may open. Says Chipping Norton, executive secretary of E-PEACOC, “If we don’t fend this off now, what’s next? Expect AARP to come after us because of the stereotype of grown men blogging in their mom’s basement.” 

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