It is quite easy to become indignant over the recent essay in The New Yorker, Chick-Fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City, but should we? The author, Dan Piepenbring, is clearly bothered by the chain’s invasion on the decent and upstanding citizens of New York as he should be. From the creepy Schadenfreude cows to its financial and moral support of traditional marriage, Chick-fil-A represents opposition to everything the polite and well kempt should be for. Its corporate logo has come to represent, for better or worse, the summit of southern grotesquery (and also tasty chicken sandwiches).
The fact that Piepenbring could see this “creepy infiltration” is worth commendation. Not everyone can look dead eye into the portfolio of a Fortune 500 restaurant and recognize the irrepressible movement of ideals that assails everything he holds most dear. The New Yorker is a polite magazine for the respectable cosmopolitan while Chick-fil-A amounts to a bad joke for the uncivilized. One who refuses to outfit themselves with sackcloth and ashes every lamentable time they imbibe delectable animal flesh. New York has worked too hard to build a nice progressive civilization to just sit back and watch the uncouth Southerner come and muck everything up with their macabre religion and tasteless humor regarding illiterate cows.
Cattle Are Not Respectable
Who, north of the Mason Dixon line, finds anything respectable about homicidal cattle? That the nation needs The New Yorker‘s sober witness in this time of chaos alone validates the tepid think pieces which warn of “creeping infiltration” from every corner of the Christ-haunted south. First, an innocent citizen is staring listlessly upon his child’s lunch bag with the—now infamous—cow hoisting an “Eat Mor Chikin” sign and then, rather suddenly he’s impolitely contemplating this messy, unsanitary existence thrust upon him. At one instance, he unfalteringly embraces all the good which polite society has to offer, and the next he is considering the paradoxical nature of redemptive suffering!
How Piepenbring singles out the cattle as the core problematic feature of the Chick-fil-A franchise proves his breadth of knowledge regarding American literature. Clearly, he recognizes in these bad-mannered mascots the image of another infamous bloodthirsty bovine. Of course, I am speaking of the antagonist in the short story Greenleaf by Flannery O’Connor. The story’s hero, Mrs. May represents the refined living of the citizens of New York. Her self-importance is only dwarfed by the severe way in which the hillbilly Greenleaf family takes her for granted. They live simple and meaningful lives, take religious belief seriously, and are indifferent to the respectable living that Mrs. May cherishes.
The Greenleaf Bull
The family owns the bull which runs amok all over Mrs. May’s nice farm. She is often jarred awake in the middle of the night to noises near her window of his seeming intent to antagonize her. The substantial silhouette of this adversarial creature looms menacingly outside of her home as if welcoming her to abandon her respectable life. O’Connor works hard to make a metaphorical connection between the antagonistic bull and Jesus Christ. He enters the first scene of the story bathed in moonlight with a “hedge wreath” caught in his horns, but Mrs. May musters every ounce of animus she can toward the creature demanding his blood sacrifice.
In a similar way, The New Yorker stands athwart of these creeping cattle. Piepenbring claims they are evangelists of the late Dan Cathy’s billion-dollar franchise. Like the Greenleaf family, Cathy’s values ran in opposition to the average reader of this near century old publication. Recently, The New Yorker has come to sympathize with Mrs. May as a beacon in the type of society that seems ready to abandon the progress which such fine institutions as it has worked so hard to achieve. In a way, even the citizens of Manhattan act thoughtlessly indifferent to what is at stake as the fourth Chick-fil-A franchise was recently constructed to meet their ravenous demands. And honestly, are these delicious chicken sandwiches worth it?
The Common Mission of Mrs. May and Manhattan
Throughout Greenleaf Mrs. May’s heart stays hard as stone. She is fully aware of her own importance, and she is also deeply troubled by the way the other characters in the story ungratefully treat her. She does Mr. Greenleaf a favor by keeping him employed, and all she wants in return is for him to kill his family’s bull. The story ends in an open pasture when the bull charges Mrs. May and plants one horn in her chest and the other wraps around her as if in an embrace. In a shocking moment of clarity, Mrs. May’s heart is opened and “she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.” As Thomas Joseph White explains, in the podcast Redemptive Love and Comic Mercy, Mrs. May reflects all of us in that we are deeply lacking something and Flannery O’Connor diagnoses it in the story as a radical type of grace which, often, violently takes hold and changes us.
This is why The New Yorker understands the “creeping infiltration” of the Christ haunted Southern culture, as embodied in the Chick-fil-A franchise, as a turn of events worthy of concern. As Saint Paul explains in First Corinthians, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Cor. 1:22-25).” The oft-maligned Gospel of Jesus Christ is radical, and it is scandalous to polite society. It laughs at death by building bone churches, collects blood and body parts of saints as relics, it holds martyrs of the faith in the highest esteem and demands of its followers sacrifice and spiritual poverty. The Christian faith mocks the delicate sensibilities of Progressive America just by existing, and so it only stands to reason its “pervasive traditionalism” must be resisted. Even so far as regarding a benign chicken sandwich.