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The Future of Cracker Barrel

The Future of Cracker Barrel

馃嵆 What's driving change at Cracker Barrel 路聽Shrinking council 路聽Taser debate 路 Review of Coma 路聽Much more!

Good afternoon, everyone.

One theory I see people casually throw around during Pride Month is that Occupy Wall Street got too close to implicating those with real power, so the heads of Corporate America鈥攊n cahoots with the Big Banks鈥攇ot together and devised a distraction: gay marriage, LBGTQ rights, and structural racism. From this vantage, these shibboleths effectively distracted the population from the string-pullers and refocused their attention on each other, immiserating them in an urban cultural turf war.

I鈥檓 not going to litigate why this all happened today. I only mention this theory to point out that typically we鈥檝e grappled with the why even when we鈥檙e asking the how. We鈥檙e always wondering about the motive. It鈥檚 all about the motive.

鈥淭hey鈥檙e spreading gender ideology to destroy the family.鈥 鈥淭hey鈥檙e anti-Christian.鈥 鈥淭he world is run by a global cabal of flesh-eating pedophiles.鈥 Etc. The why here obscures the how, and in this way, effectively diverts our attention from the actual mechanisms that apply the pressure necessary to perpetuate such movements.

At a fundamental level, the how of Pride Month and its sudden adoption by the corporate world can be explained quite simply. Today, we鈥檒l examine this dynamic through the lens of a Middle Tennessee company we鈥檙e all familiar with: Cracker Barrel.

Onward.

In 1991, in response to customer complaints, Lebanon-based Cracker Barrel distributed a memo ordering restaurant managers to fire anyone whose 鈥渟exual preferences [failed] to demonstrate normal heterosexual values.鈥 Primarily targeted at effeminate men and masculine women who worked as servers, the order resulted in nine employees being fired. Caught in the crossfire was Cheryl Summerville, a 32-year-old lesbian cook from Douglasville, Georgia. There was no internet then, but news of the firings didn鈥檛 take long to spread.

As word of the memo circulated, Summerville reluctantly became the face of the controversy, appearing on 20/20, Larry King Live, and even Oprah. Meanwhile, a number of activist organizations, such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Queer Nation, organized protests at Cracker Barrels throughout the Southeast. In Nashville, the NGLTF conducted a sit-in during the normally bustling Sunday brunch, ordering the minimum cup of coffee or soda and occupying 97 percent of the tables as they ground business to a halt.

鈥淐racker Barrel presumed they could get away with this policy because they thought we were just a bunch of 鈥榝ags鈥 and 鈥榙ykes鈥 and nobody would care,鈥 said the NGLTF鈥檚 Ivy Young at the Nashville rally. 鈥淭hey got a huge shock when they discovered that lesbians, gays and people of good conscience around the country are speaking out and protesting their bigotry.鈥

At the time, there was nothing illegal about the policy. Nonetheless, the protests and negative media attention had their desired effect: Cracker Barrel rescinded the policy just a month after firing Summerville. Protests continued even after the company's official announcement, but beyond the activist community and the media who willingly amplified their message, the incident barely registered.

Customers did not seem bothered, revenues did not slump, and the stock price on the NYSE didn鈥檛 show any signs of disruption. In fact, over the next year, the stock price more than doubled. 鈥淟et鈥檚 face it,鈥 said Summerville, reflecting on the incident in 2014. 鈥淲e didn鈥檛 have a great deal of support from the customer base. It really took their shareholders to make a difference to bring them into the 20th century.鈥

Fast forward to 2024. Cracker Barrel has purportedly put its bigoted past behind it, signing on as one of the sponsors to Nashville Pride and engaging with several other LGBTQ organizations such as Out & Equal. Save last year鈥檚 rainbow-rocking chair gaffe (which has notably not been repeated this year), most of the chains' support for such organizations happens out of view of customers. You will not see Pride-themed merchandise or even rainbow flags flying at Cracker Barrel. Instead, the traditional American flag bunting continues to adorn the iconic front porches of locations across the country.

So, how did Cracker Barrel, a company that built its entire reputation on serving traditional Southern fare in a family-friendly, down-home setting, end up sponsoring Nashville Pride in 2024? That story begins in 2002 with the world鈥檚 largest LGBTQ advocacy group: the Human Rights Campaign.




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Nashville

馃攧 Will They Shrink The Council? A month ago, a three-judge panel heard arguments for the lawsuit challenging the new state law set to shrink Metro Council. The council currently consists of 35 districted members, who represent around 15,000 to 17,000 residents each, and five at-large  members, who are representative of the entire county. Though the law, which caps all Tennessee Metropolitan councils at 20 members, went into effect in March of last year, the court granted to stay its implementation, and Nashville was able to hold council elections as usual.

 Though the ordinance applies to the entire state, Metro Legal maintains that the law targeted Nashville, violating the Tennessee Constitution's "home rule amendment." Rep. Lamberth begs to differ. During the bill鈥檚 final reading in the House last year, the majority leader cited the Dillon Rule in defense of the legislation: 鈥淭his body creates both cities and Metro governments. That is part of our responsibility. . . The Tennessee Constitution provides that 鈥榯he General Assembly shall, by general law, provide the exclusive method of which municipalities may be created, merged, consolidated, and dissolved and by which municipal boundaries may be changed鈥 is our responsibility.鈥

The state wasn鈥檛 the first to try and shrink Nashville鈥檚 uniquely large Metro council. Backed by a people鈥檚 petition in 2015, an amendment to reduce the body from 40 to 27 members appeared on the ballot; the initiative, said supporters at the time, was an effort to consolidate the power of the council in order to hold a stronger check against the mayor's office. The amendment failed, and Metro Council remains the third-largest city council in the country鈥 for now. MEGAN PODSIEDLIK

鉁   鉁   鉁

鈿★笍 Taser Updates Spark Debate On Tuesday, the council passed a resolution to enter into a new agreement to extend and increase the value of Metro鈥檚 contract with Axon Enterprise鈥 a move that would also update MNPD tasers. As you may recall, the council鈥檚 been wrestling with this change for months: just as the shot clock was about to run out on last year鈥檚 budget, the council pulled the trigger on the legislation鈥 but not without the usual melodrama.

While Sponsor Delishia Porterfield motioned to defer the resolution in order to postpone its enactment, Councilmember Courtney Johnston warned the council that delaying would be wasteful. 鈥淭his is the last meeting of this fiscal year,鈥 she told her colleagues. 鈥淎nd so I think there's about a million dollars that's on this contract that will be spent on [the old taser model] sevens unless we approve this resolution to spend that money on [the updated taser model] tens.鈥 

It wasn鈥檛 long before Ginny Welsch jumped in. 鈥淭asers are not de-escalation tools,鈥 the councilwoman argued. 鈥淭hey are weapons.鈥 Earlier in the meeting, Welsch鈥檚 defund-the-police approach to budgeting went ignored, but that didn鈥檛 stop her from hammering it home during the taser discussion. 鈥淢NPD is sitting on a lot of money. They can use their own money if they鈥檇 like to do this.鈥

Councilmember Olivia Hill refuted her claims. 鈥....If I understand it,鈥 she said, 鈥渢hey're only asking our permission to spend their money.鈥 This assertion was confirmed by Metro Finance Assistant Director Mary Jo Wiggins, deflating Welsch鈥檚 earlier claims. In the end, the council voted to 鈥渁rm鈥 Nashville鈥檚 force with new tasers and passed the resolution with 29 votes in favor, 9 against, and one abstaining. MEGAN PODSIEDLIK

DEVELOPMENT

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Off the Cuff

鉁 REVIEW: COMA (2022)

(2022 鈥 1h 22m 鈥 6.2/10) Directed by Bertrand Bonello

The most disheartening aspect of life in Pandemica was the unified compliance of the arts community鈥-Rage Against the Machine requiring fans to wear masks and hand over their vaxx cards so they could scream along to, 鈥淔uck you! I won鈥檛 do what you tell me,鈥 as the story goes. But, if Bertrand Bonello鈥檚 2022 film Coma is any indication, the contrarian views and subversive instincts that have kept France the center of the cinematic world made it through intact. Shot in his home and employing every loophole in the COVID restriction handbook, Bonello has crafted a revealing study of the adolescent psyche in a time of utter state control.

What separates Coma from the wave of intolerable lockdown romances and melodramas released during the last three years is Bonello鈥檚 dedication to isolating the totalitarian strains in society that made the whole thing possible. Coma never mentions COVID. It鈥檚 far more concerned with capturing a form of stagnancy that predated 2020. 

As 鈥淭he Adolescent,鈥 Louise Lab猫que lounges around her room in self-isolation from her parents. She gabs with the girls about her favorite serial killers. She makes a stop-motion sitcom with her Barbies that allows her to flirt with adult taboos like sex and Trumpian politics. She dreams about a misty forest straight from the original Brothers Grimm. Most importantly, she pledges fealty to Patricia Coma (Julia Faure), a celebrity influencer who demonstrates high-end blenders, sells decision-maker toys that resemble the Simon, and makes government mandates go down easily no matter how authoritarian in nature. 

For Bonello, the true pandemic is one of detachment and desensitization that鈥檚 been in the making for decades. Virus or not, The Adolescent never really had a future鈥搊ne of the reasons she revels so much in violence via social media. 

When Bonello鈥檚 masterful new film The Beast opened in April, it proved the ultimate treatise on free will in the age of A.I. But there鈥檚 a reason it took Coma two years to find a release: it claims we鈥檝e been the beasts all along鈥搘illfully refusing to hold ourselves accountable for the public and private worlds our compliance has unraveled. JEROD HOLLYFIELD

Coma screens today at The Belcourt.

Entertainment

THINGS TO DO

View our calendar for the week here and our weekly film rundown here.

馃搮 Visit our On The Radar list to find upcoming events around Nashville.

馃帶 On Spotify: Pamphleteer's Picks, a playlist of our favorite bands in town this week.

馃懆馃徎鈥嶐煂 Check out our Nashville farmer's market guide and yearly festival guide.

TONIGHT

馃獣 Steep Canyon Rangers @ Ryman Auditorium, 7:30p, $38+, Info

馃幐 Rui Gabriel @ DRKMTTR, 8p, $10, Info

馃幓 Smokey Robinson with the Nashville Symphony @ Schermerhorn Symphony Center, 7:30p, $78+, Info

馃幐 Adam Meisterhans Trio @ Vinyl Tap, 7p, Free, Info

馃崁 Live Irish Music @ McNamara鈥檚 Irish Pub, 6p, Free, Info

馃幐 Kelly鈥檚 Heroes @ Robert鈥檚 Western World, 6:30p, Free, Info

馃幐 Open Mic @ Fox & Locke, 6:30p, Free, Info
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