Friday, October 11, 2013

Kuma's Corner: At the Corner of Ignorance and Profits

(Edit: 10/13/2013--currently, I'm working on a follow-up to clarify and/or revise some of my points. Also, I hope to make it shorter and more reflective)

Now that nearly a week has passed and my generally angry response to what happened has subsided, I thought I would share my thoughts on this sorry-yet-expected story about Kuma's Corner, a "gourmet burger" place in Chicago, where at this restaurant they made a burger in honor of the Swedish metal band Ghost by garnishing the burger with a wafer (that looks like a communion wafer) and red wine sauce.

Sadly, even in my writing this I realize that I give them more publicity and run the risk of being a sensationalist myself. Make no mistake, unlike Kuma's which has used a symbol held sacred by Catholics (and many Christians) in order to turn a profit, I do not write this for my own popularity or for profit.

This restaurant, a metal bar-grill, has bands or some movie playing on its TVs and images all over its walls. It has a sort of pub look to it, with a sort of wood and metal interior typical of small businesses. It's as busy at 1pm as it is 1am, typically, and the wait to get in can sometime be 1-2 hours. It's well known and well liked, catering to people who like metal and/or burgers. This is why, to me, it's curious that such a successful business would resort to this sort of publicity stunt yet, all the same, the "F the man" mentality makes one wonder why this isn't done more often by establishments like it.

Those who listen to metal and have a strong devotion to it are on the emotional side since that's what the music is about. It's a sort of music that wants to elicit some sort of visceral reaction or primal response. Those who live in such a world often have a hard time finding a filter for their thoughts in certain situations. When they're confronted about what they've done they're more likely to swear at or insult you before confronting the problem. The next level of response is either along the lines of "You just don't understand" or "I don't care." Other people be damned, am I right?


This is why the response by Kuma's is so amusing (if that's the right word). With my interpretation following each quote, I'll show it to you:

(1) Kuma’s Corner is aware that in some cases, people have unfortunately found reason to find offense at our recent special menu addition the Ghost. We make hamburgers for a living. We are a small nine table restaurant in [...]  Chicago. And we love heavy metal. There is a band doing music that we enjoy particularly called Ghost. They are from Sweden. As with all of our burgers, the Ghost was created to pay homage to the music they’ve created. We work very hard on coming up with creative combinations for our food just as a band would work very hard to be creative with their music and we think it shows in their regard so we found it appropriate that with them being on tour this month, and this month being October, we honor them in this way.
Interpretation:

We are sorry that we're not sorry, since some people were offended by our recent menu choice. We'd like to remind everyone that we are a "small business" and thus barely get by every day, which is why we like to be edgy. Why is everyone angry at the underdog?

We could honestly think of no other way to pay homage to Ghost. Their music is so mediocre that only their imagery, one meant to offend anyhow, was the only proper way to act. We worked very hard to look 5 seconds at them, see how they imitate and deface clerical and ecclesial imagery and say, 'How can we imitate and deface it?' Honestly, it took a lot of hard work.

(2) That said, we appreciate the kind words of support from the vast majority of people who understand that we, in no way, created this as a commentary on religion or as an attack on anyones personal beliefs. In the past we have done a number of burgers dealing with this same exact topic to very little fanfare. Never in the spirit of offending anyone, and always in mindset of praising a band for the work that they do.
Interpretation:

But so many of our customers who don't seriously practice religion found reason to praise us. We were shocked by the positive response, personally. We never meant to offend anyone, but if we do, isn't that your fault?

(3) However, in the haze of the past few days, we would like to express the following. We support the rights of every person in the United States as given to them by the Constitution, to do and say what they feel. 
Interpretation:

But let's get to the real issue here.

(4) We are fortunate to live in a place where we are granted particular freedoms not available to most people in most locales and we feel it is our obligation to not stand down in the face of threats but instead to stand up for something we hold to be much nobler; the First Amendment. If you are not familiar with it, let us provide the text for you:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Interpretation:

Let's appeal to something greater than personal beliefs: our personal belief in what the Constitution means and allows for. So many other countries are oppressive, stupid, and cruel. That's why it's our patriotic duty to wave Old Glory around in the form of a burger. It is our obligation and, yes, our pride to say and do whatever we feel because in doing so we honor the Constitution and those who died to protect our freedom. I dare say that those who gave their lives across the ages would shed a tear of joy at knowing our restaurant put a wafer and red wine-reduction sauce all in the name of freedom ["Red Wine Reduction (the blood of Christ) with Communion Wafer garnish (the body of Christ). Come pay your respects!"].

We've copied a portion of the text that helps justify our position.

(5) In standing with our policy of supporting charity and Chicago at large, we have made a $1500 dollar donation to the Catholic Charities of the Chicago Archdiocese as we understand that they share our mentality of serving anyone in need from any walk of life.
Interpretation:

In order to show we're good sports in all of this, we'll give money to their charity. Hey, $1,500 is enough to show it's no big deal, right?

==


Thankfully, Catholic Charities rejected Kuma's generous offer. The general hubris present in this is almost as sickening as the burger itself.

A good marketing strategy nowadays is "Hey, they like what I like!" or "Hey, they're offending who I hate!" Find a group that you know people are biased against, insult and offend them, and then watch your customers praise your bravery and support you all the way--even with their money.

The brave example of Kuma's certainly seems promising for their business. After all, what's bravery without some sort of reward? A look at their Facebook page reveals "pastors" singing their praises and generally being pretty hip about the whole situation. Resident Catholic theologians are giving a good defense of the faith with quotes like, "I'm not offended at all!" or "Any educated Catholic knows that if it's not blessed it's just a wafer. Lighten up people!"

Others figured this was a good opportunity to say, "There are bigger problems going on here" or "Why care about what some anti-gay, hateful organization has to say?" or "They get offended at burgers but not pedophiles?"

Yes, because no practicing Catholic at any level has a problem with child abuse. It's just so obvious.


Christ and his followers continue to be persecuted by those who hate Him and His Church. Likewise, some who follow Him throw off his yoke when pressured. Nothing new here.


Is it really "no big deal" and should Catholics, let along other Christians and religious groups get offended? Should social groups also find no offense in a harmless burger? The question has been made by some as to whether Kuma's would make a "Quran Burger" or something to offend the Jews. Not only would that be offensive, they say, but would they face stricter threats or danger? Jews and Christians in the United States have long been a fairly tolerant towards such actions--certainly not violent. Many Muslims in this country bear public humiliation daily, especially since 9/11.

Anyone persecuted for what they believe is a cause for tragedy for me, in many ways more for the person who persecutes than the one who is persecuted.

Many in America operate off of the morality of "do it as long as it doesn't offend anyone." Here's a good case study in, 'It offends someone' with the response of 'It's not a big deal.' America. Chick-Fil-A claims it's against gay marriage: run them out of town. Kuma's Corner takes religious symbolism in order to offend: they're standing up for the good ol' U S of A.


My question is: is religion really a difficult target or the way to flex one's 1st amendment rights? One could argue that Kuma's exercise of that right is no different than the Westborough Baptist church's exercise of it. Would Kuma make a [N****r] burger, or a rape-victim burger? Would they claim that both were done in good fun and they did so in honor of a band whose subject matter revolves around that? I wonder.

One friend pointed out to me in my anger at this, and rightly so, that we ought to pray for them. Not just that the burger be removed, but for a conversion of heart in the proprietors and patrons of Kuma's. We're all sinners. Any self-respecting Christian can look at himself and see his many faults and the ways that he defaces God through slander, gossip, or hatred.

All the same, the anger I and many feel is not a "holier than thou" feeling, it's an anger that stems from our love for Christ and reverence we pay to His Body and Blood, and the symbols of bread and wine used sentimentally. Indeed, for Catholics that which was once bread and wine is transformed by the priest into His very Body and Blood through the working of the Holy Spirit. That the host isn't blessed is not an issue. It's taking what is sacred symbolism and part of my life, ridiculing it by making it a garnish on a burger for a band that defames us. Secondly, it's done in the name of making a dollar.

Am I asking Kuma's to close its doors? No. I'm asking it to see reason--make burgers respecting whatever bands you please. Do so without offending what others hold dear. Will some be offended you like the band? Probably. But your enjoyment of a band is a private concern. Your marketing symbolism people take to be holy is a public one.

You might claim that our stance against gay marriage is hateful and public, but in turn we are not in the business of making money off of that publicity. In fact we lost plenty of people for speaking out against gay marriage. We receive far less publicity for how we minister to homosexuals and in what manner we talk about marriage and sexuality, anyhow.

I am reminded of the procession of martyrs, from the time of the Apostles to the present day who have given their very lives in the midst of tortures, defamation, humiliation, and even worse. Who will stand with true honor in the end, the one who bore the Constitution for his private whims or the one who bore the Word in humility and sacrifice? I know which one makes me more money, and I'm learning which one makes me rich.

Needless to say I won't be supporting Kuma's any longer. Those who were indifferent to Kuma's before may very well take my place, so it's not like they lost anything. But I'm willing to give up something I enjoy for the sake of my belief. For many of us, we must struggle as to whether we'd be giving up our very lives, public image, and personal honor for the sake of Christ. An overpriced burger isn't really a big price to pay.

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Some other articles worth reading:

John Cass, Chicago Tribune
Open Letter to Kuma's
Word on Fire