On Sunday afternoon, a Twitter user with the display name Snoop Bailey posted what would have once been considered an odd thing: a video of him in his tidy garage, using a golf club to smash a Keurig coffeemaker to pieces. Yet Bailey was not alone: many of his fellow-Americans had posted videos of themselves throwing Keurigs from balconies, or destroying them with hammers, or otherwise mangling these convenient, single-cup coffee machines. By the end of the day, the hashtag #boycottkeurig was trending.
The Web is home to scores of videos showing men dropping, smashing, crushing, busting, pulverizing, streamrolling, and hydraulic-pressing household objects into smithereens. Still, the sight of angry white men destroying their own coffee machines stood out, perhaps because it seemed to be the perfect visual expression for a phenomenon, perceived and often referenced by liberals, of Americans voting against their own self-interests. (Imagine the gloomy households on Monday morning, in which people, craving coffee, had no way to extract it from all those tiny, newly useless pods.)
These acts of self-inflicted property damage were inspired by Keurig’s decision, at the end of last week, to temporarily suspend its advertising on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. On Thursday, after the Washington Post published its report alleging that Roy Moore had molested a fourteen-year-old girl, Hannity, on his radio show, initially suggested that that encounter had been consensual (of which he later said he “misspoke”), and, on TV, cast doubt on the allegations, calling the timing of the story “suspicious” and suggesting that women commonly make up such stories of sexual assault in order to make money. The next day, responding to a tweet from Media Matters calling for an advertiser boycott, Keurig tweeted that it was working with Fox to pull its ads.
By Monday, after Keurig’s executives had seen the plastic bits of their machines strewn across social media, the company’s C.E.O. circulated a memo to employees, which was leaked to the Washington Post, in which he wrote that “the decision to publicly communicate our programming decision via our Twitter account . . . gave the appearance of ‘taking sides’ in an emotionally charged debate.” In other words, someone at Keurig had messed up by telling the world that the company felt some concern about running ads between segments in which a TV host appeared to be coming to the defense of an alleged sexual predator.
You could smell the brand fear in the statement, that special tang that a company gives off as it watches some evocative skirmish in the culture war dice up its demographic and carve off a portion of its customer base. Yet, with this statement, in which Keurig seemed to lament its temporary display of empathy and humanity, the company executed what has lately become a common corporate double blunder: enraging a very vocal handful of social-media users on one end of the political spectrum; then, mistaking that cohort for a larger subsection of its customers, rushing to placate the extremists, and, in so doing, alienating a group far larger than the one it initially offended.
Before Keurig, it was the pizza company Papa John’s that, by its own doing, managed a version of the identity-politics double screwup. The company’s founder and C.E.O., John Schnatter, attempting to justify a bad quarterly earnings report, blamed decreased Papa John’s sales on the poor ratings performance of the N.F.L., with which it advertises, specifically criticizing the league commissioner for allowing the player protests during the national anthem to continue. “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” he said. Seizing this bit of news, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi Web site, declared Papa John’s the “official pizza of the alt-right.” Alarmed, the company quickly issued a statement distancing itself from “racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it.” In the span of about forty-eight hours, Papa John’s went from being a bland but tolerated fact of common American experience to being something that many people suddenly actively disliked, if for a variety of different reasons. Pizza snobs pointed out that they’d always hated Papa John’s, just as coffee snobs have spent the past few days mocking anyone who would own a Keurig machine in the first place.
There is something grotesque, demoralizing, and entirely fitting, in the Trump era, about seeing Americans act out political grievances through the quotidian and joyless consumer products that populate our lives, of seeing quick coffee and takeout pizza become the emblems by which we are left to define ourselves and the hills on which we die for our imagined ideals. And it is fitting, too, that Keurig brand battle has been cheered on and magnified by Russia-affiliated Twitter bots, another example of how the agents of propaganda recognize how moored our notions of civic engagement have become to our sense of ourselves as consumers, and how easy that fact is to aggravate and exploit.
Trump, meanwhile, that brazen purveyor of American crapola—of mail-order steaks and lousy wine and bullshit diplomas—has recognized this as well, managing the Presidency as an extension of the Trump brand, in which all attention is good attention, and rallying his supporters to demonstrate their affection for him by patronizing certain companies, and their disdain for his detractors by boycotting Starbucks, or boycotting Nordstrom, or boycotting the N.F.L. In his Keurig video, Snoop Bailey is selling something, too.Before he busts up his coffeemaker, he touts the qualities of the golf club he’s using, and then later instructs his viewers to buy a competing brand of coffee, one that’s owned by military veterans. What looks at first like a strange act of suburban rage is really just another commercial.