This Election Year isn’t Chicken in an Airplane. It’s an Abusive Relationship.
When Bernie dropped out of the race, I knew what was coming. Today it came — the endorsement of Joe Biden, someone whose main selling points are, apparently, “he was willing to be second to Obama” and “he’s not Trump”. Both are more about his relationship to someone else than about him, specifically. But the pressure has been high to suck it up and vote for Biden anyway, because, well, Trump is going to gleefully destroy the planet and most marginalized people if he’s given a chance, and Biden will, at the very least, not do that with verve or joy.
One metaphor that’s gone viral is this one, by David Sedaris via the New Yorker:
To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. ‘Can I interest you in the chicken?’ she asks. ‘Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?’
To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.
Now, what’s interesting, and what I haven’t seen discussed, is that this was published in 2008.
It was sort of about the choice on the table at the time, a choice between Obama and McCain — yeah, remember when McCain was the shit with glass choice? What starry eyed idealists we were back then, how carefree! But it was also about undecided voters, and the author’s experience as an 11 year old whose mother let him flick the switch in the voting booth, as she couldn’t make up her mind. The choice then was “Humphries” and “Nixon”, neither of which meant anything to an 11 year old Sedaris. He went with Nixon, because someone at his church had the same last name. Honestly, the story is one that I think is useful to read in full at this time, so please do!
More to the point, this snippet of the airplane meal metaphor has been going around as a way to explain why we should vote for Biden now. Trump, clearly, is the shit and broken glass. Chicken when compared to that seems awfully obvious, right?
Except I’ve eaten the subpar chicken for years, being told that next time, I’ll get something I like better.
More options, better options. Spoiler alert — it’s always chicken. And increasingly, that chicken is factory farmed, pumped full of hormones and saline, questionably fresh and cooked til its dry… or might give you salmonella. A choice between salmonella and shit… well, you might choose not to eat at all, and it’s not an unreasonable choice to make.
I also feel like people have worked really hard to acknowledge that there’s lots of people who can’t eat chicken, or don’t want to, and we’re told now to just suck it up, and that if we don’t eat chicken we’ll have the plate of shit shoved in our faces.
Maybe this is a terrible system?
Why is it so out there to say that if the airline industry is going to force you to eat one of two awful options, then use pressure to insist on better/more options? Why is it wrong to refuse to fly and instead, start driving (focus on state government) or cycling (focus on local government)? And we keep putting all our energy (and money, frankly) into a system stacked against us. We run ourselves ragged and feel grateful for running in place. I’d rather direct my resources elsewhere.
But here’s the thing. Here’s where the chicken argument falls apart for me. I don’t think it’s as benign as that.
I feel like my relationship to the Democratic party is more like an abusive relationship.
Sure, it doesn’t gleefully beat me all the time, like the Republicans do, but I’m real sick of hearing “baby, this time it’s different” before getting smacked again a week later. I feel like when I say “but this party has been super abusive to me”, I get told that at least I get flowers after so I should stay put and be grateful.
Eventually, people who feel like I do are gonna leave, if they feel they can. And sure, life is gonna be tougher when they do make that move, for a while, but it’s with the hope it’s gonna be so much better. Is it worth it? Hard to say, really, and totally an individual choice. I understand why people decide to save their money and hedge their bets that this time it will, in fact, be different. I get it. You may not have had the same experience I have! And leaving an abusive relationship is fucking terrifying too, especially when that relationship feels like your entire universe and inescapable.
Leaving is a gamble, yes. So is staying. I get why people make either choice.
You know what I don’t want to hear? Gaslighting, bullying, and justifications for the past abuse I am (sensibly!) wary of. I’ve lived through abusive relationships. I’ve been hit before. I remember people telling me “but he seems so nice” and “how bad can it be”. Sure, it can be worse. But can’t it also be better?
That’s why I hate the airplane food metaphor being cherry-picked in this way. It’s not a choice between chicken and shit. It’s a choice between probable salmonella and shit. And it’s giving people the self-righteousness to bludgeon their friends into agreement, smugly saying “a vote for anyone but Biden is a vote for Trump”.
Shoving my face into the plate and demanding I eat is not democracy.
Sedaris concludes his piece with this:
I wonder if, in the end, the undecideds aren’t the biggest pessimists of all. Here they could order the airline chicken, but, then again, hmm. “Isn’t that adding an extra step?” they ask themselves. “If it’s all going to be chewed up and swallowed, why not cut to the chase, and go with the platter of shit?”
Ah, though, that’s where the broken glass comes in.
In summary, I wish people would stop trying to demand others do this or that. Show why this or that is a good idea, while letting people have agency to make their own decisions. Otherwise, why even bother pretending it’s about choice? It’s about coercion and abuse, and we deserve better.
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