A movement ripe for a corporate takeover

Rainbow capitalism: Smirnoff’s float at the 2019 New York City Pride March (Getty)

The most jarring fact about New York’s Pride March this year was how perfectly it blended into the surrounding ambience and structures of a hyper-commercialised American megalopolis. There were plenty of freaky sights, to be sure. But from my vantage point – I parked myself at the swanky bar of the Roger Hotel at the corner of Madison and 31st to observe the festivities – the march appeared remarkably… domesticated.

This is a painful reality to the most woke among the LGBTQ activists, who detest corporate-friendly “rainbow capitalism”. But I’m afraid the more corporate-friendly side of the movement has the better part of this argument. Pride’s demands for radical sexual autonomy are perfectly attuned to the cultural aims of large corporations and the liberal-technocratic order.

Yes, there were the young men roller-skating about in mankinis that left little to the imagination; the Latin drag queens waving regally at their subjects from the backs of convertibles; the young woman dressed as a kind of blasphemous anti-pope, with a plunging neckline on her “cassock” and the word “ABORTION” on her mitre; and so on.

But it was all brought to you by … Johnson & Johnson.

The medical devices giant supplied a DJ, who spun the latest house tunes from the back of a thoroughly branded pickup truck. Every industrial conglomerate, financial services company, airline and giant retailer under the sun sponsored floats.

Nor did the garish rainbow palette clash in any way with the wider cityscape. It would be one thing if the rest of Manhattan were buttoned-up and rainbow-unfriendly. But if the whole city is draped in rainbows, as indeed it was, if every posh hotel screams its “allyship” with the queer community, as indeed they all did, then all the rebelliousness and Judith Butler-ian subversion gets drained out of the Pride March. The sexual rebels and the corporate titans march hand-in-hand; indeed, they are one and the same.

The 45,000 or so anti-capitalist demonstrators of the Queer Liberation March protested too much (literally). They dubbed their smaller gathering a “people’s political march” and claimed the “true” legacy of the 1969 Stonewall riots. The corporations, they insisted, have usurped the spirit of that uprising.

Martha Shelley, a 75-year-old lesbian activist who took part in Stonewall, told Democracy Now: “The spirit that we had then” was “anti-corporate, anti-war, for liberation for all people. And the most important thing for us at that time was the right to control your own body, the right to have sex with the people of your choice, the right to ingest the drugs of your choice without being thrown in prison.”

But in the half-century since, it has become clear that corporations are perfectly happy to accommodate – nay, to encourage and even mandate – “the right to control your own body” and all the rest.

In the United States, some 200 corporate CEOs recently took out an ad in the New York Times to voice their displeasure with restrictive new abortion laws in Georgia and Alabama. In Ireland, meanwhile, managers reportedly pressure female pilots who get pregnant to abort their babies lest their careers get aborted. Corporate America has also been the most potent enemy of religious freedom laws and efforts to protect the sexual binary (bathrooms laws).

And this should come as no surprise. After all, many of the men and women who occupy today’s C-suites and corner offices were themselves 1968ers and rebel boomers. As the Italian Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce powerfully argued, the ’68ers (and Stonewallers) rejected the conformism and soullessness of the immediate post-war period, and rightly so, but they misunderstood the source of that soullessness.

Taking their cues from the likes of Herbert Marcuse, the ’68ers concluded that “the metaphysical and theological negations” of materialism “can no longer be called into question”, per Del Noce. Therefore, tradition was out of the window. There was no absolute ideal or authority, Judaeo-Christian or otherwise, against which to judge daily life. Marxism was out, too, by then already discredited in the East Bloc.

So what was left to do? Liberate the sexual appetites.

Sexual liberation, it turned out, was easy to commodify and control. The ideal corporate subject is, indeed, childless, unattached, ever chasing sexual novelties: the young bankers in mankinis, the hedge fund waving the rainbow flag. Welcome to Pride.

Sohrab Ahmari is the op-ed editor of the New York Post and a contributing editor of the Catholic Herald. He is at work on a book exploring 12 questions our culture doesn’t ask