cOrganizations have some strong rotation capabilities. One by one, they boarded the we-are-all-in-this-pandemic-together bandwagon. You’ve seen the commercials I’m sure. From CarMax to Burger King to Budweiser, and even Charmin, advertisers have tailored their messaging to show how much they care about our unprecedented situation and are so eager to help in our distress.
You can get all this support for really low price!
And our cynicism grows. Because, of course, much of this marketing smacks of opportunism, companies taking advantage of the crisis and our lowered defenses to move their products. CJ Faison is all of us when he asks on Twitter where this concern was just two months ago:
Airlines send me emails: « We’re all in the same boat… »
Uhhh where were you when my suitcase weighed 51.9 lbs
— CJ Faison (@cjfaison) April 22, 2020
Watching this scenario unfold fuels our suspicions, perhaps even a little more than usual. Yes, we know that corporations simply see us as consumers, economic means to a pecuniary end, but now, as we shelter in place, we watch the death toll rise with no vaccine or treatment in sight and wonder how our lives will change again. more before the virus is contained, we acutely feel the gap between advertisers’ perceptions of us and our existential, all-too-human reality.
Steak-umm dramatically subverted our expectations of advertiser behavior, captivatingly reminding us of our interconnectedness and shared humanity in an environment that only thrives on desensitizing us to that reality.
For many of us, COVID-19 has disrupted our sense of security and pierced the facade of autonomy under which we often work. We are reminded daily that our lives and our physical and emotional health are inescapably linked to what is happening around the world, across the country, in the city. That renewed awareness is what’s behind the trends we’ve seen on social media to support and encourage each other. When done right, that’s a beautiful thing to witness: neighbors taking care of virtual neighbors far and wide.
But at a time when genuine solidarity is needed, the false camaraderie is frankly unbearable. Ads playing on our frayed nerves seem parasitic to the community we all need right now.
ANDLog into the Steak-umm Twitter account. Yes, Steak-umm. Thanks to its social media presence, the company has become an unexpected source of social support just when we need it most.
On March 16, the week Americans started to self-isolate in earnest, Steak-umm dropped its first coronavirus thread:
in these chaotic times:
1) beware of misinformation
2) listen to updates/advice from credible sources
3) take care of yourself
4) take care of loved ones
5) be respectful of strangers
denial and division only lead to worse outcomes. it’s time to reunite
— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) March 16, 2020
Anticipating the onslaught of conspiracy theories now threatening to choke our Facebook and Twitter feeds, the frozen beef patty personified has given some solid advice for navigating the pandemic landscape. The story reminded us of the need for credible sources and pointed us to several, challenged us to speak the truth with love when we encounter misinformation, and reaffirmed health best practices promoted by the World Health Organization. In short, he has managed to cut through the artificiality of the corporate world and offer us something of real value: sympathy, understanding, guidance and exhortation.
Since then, the account has continued with this service-oriented approach: strengthening the voices of the experts, support the Feeding America charity, offer a summary of critical thinking, articulate the attraction of conspiratorial thinking (along with suggestions to encourage friends and family to walk away from it), e stimulating us to control and love our neighbors.
Yes, as the account is fast indicate, its main goal is to sell the Steak-umm product. But in a refreshing change from the typical order of things, their current selling method dovetails perfectly with a broader vision for human prosperity, one that aims at cooperation not competition. And, counterintuitively enough, that community approach rebounded on their economic success Increase Sales– suggesting that there may be more room for win-win situations in business. Steak-umm’s intended readers are envisioned as more than frozen beef patty eaters. They are human beings with genuine needs for community, for purpose, for health, for recreation.
These Steak-umm tweets are aimed at an audience that can think and create, support each other and solve problems. Indeed, it is that respect for our humanity that resonates with readers who have been pleasantly surprised by the good advice and good wishes emanating from the account. In this way, Nathan Allebach, the person behind the accountit has provided a respite, however brief, from the onslaught of dehumanizing attitudes and practices so prevalent in our consumer-driven society, which ties a person’s worth directly only to his or her income and consumption.
These transactional habits of mind are insidious, ingrained in our daily interactions at work and in the marketplace, ingrained in our political and educational systems, even infiltrated into the church. Besides being an emaciated view of what a human being is, they also foster emotionally unhealthy conditions.
In his trenchant critique detailing how this spirit of consumerism has dominated American culture, Philip Slater accuses both corporations and consumers of perpetuating a dysfunctional system. His 1970 Pursuit of loneliness argues that our participation in this system profoundly frustrates the essential human needs of community with others, engagement with our environment, and mutual interdependence. To the extent that we agree with the idea that we are reducible to what we produce and buy and that we must compete with our fellow humans for our slice of the pie, we find it increasingly difficult to build friendships and develop trust, accept our limitations or to ask for help.
That’s why Steak-umm’s activity on Twitter has been a gift, especially during the pandemic. Allebach has drastically subverted our expectations of advertiser behavior, captivatingly reminding us of our interconnectedness and shared humanity in an environment that only thrives on desensitizing us to that reality.
ORand obviously the Steak-umm bill is not the solution to what ails us. At the core of our being, we long for love and service, fellowship and partnership, communication and support. We are symbiotic creatures that come to life fully only in community. We need authentic relationships, not just a human voice that sounds like someone we know, like Allebach does described the Steak-umm bill.
Some of Steak-umm’s tweets suggest that he’s aware of the danger inherent in the account’s subversive messaging, which could awaken people to a need for community, but also subtly promise to provide that community. Which of course it cannot, given the barriers of technology and human limitations. (However, I think the Steak-umm equation of their messages with propaganda AND misdirection is not entirely correct and unfortunately blurs the line between transparent and benign forms of persuasion and manipulative and treacherous forms, but that is a criticism for another day.)
At best, however, the Steak-umm Twitter account takes aim at our individualistic and consumer-centric thinking and challenges us to resist competitive and selfish attitudes and behaviors. However flippant the comparison may seem, these are the values of the kingdom at their core, and they echo Paul’s mandate Romans 15:2: « Each of us should please our neighbor for his own good, to edify him. » In the logic of the market this charge makes no sense, but in God’s economy it allows us the freedom to be what He made us to be and to abandon our claims to autonomy and control. Importantly, it allows us – and expects – us to treat others as the image bearers they are. The prophetic voice of that message may be frozen beef patty personified, but its truth is vital all the same.