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I don’t want my flat white served with a hot take on the Middle East crisis

Consumption habits have become tools to signal factionalism. It is not enough to maintain a private sense of morality over world events. It has to be on display: where you buy your coffee, what music you listen to

“As the fighting in Gaza continues, we call for all parties to protect civilians, especially women and children, and to forcefully condemn anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, in the US and around the globe.” That seems like a reasonable statement. Not a whole lot to argue with. But who do you think issued it? Go on, guess! The United Nations perhaps? The Biden administration? Fine Gael, even? Wrong! It was Planned Parenthood. The non-profit that provides reproductive and sexual healthcare in the United States.

Weird, right? What exactly – you might reasonably ask – has a sexual healthcare institution got to offer on a ceaselessly complex, ancestral geopolitical war? This was the point made by journalist Jessie Singal in his article headlinedJust Stop Issuing Statements About Everything All The Time. That organisations like this feel a need to wade into fights that are, frankly, not their own is a big enough problem. But I think we can go a little further: there is something sick in our political culture the moment we expect organisations, celebrities, influencers and businesses to nail their colours to the mast and declare their allegiances amid tragic conflict. And yet, since October 7th it has become abundantly clear that we do.

It is likely that you don’t spend a whole bunch of your time closely analysing the factional warfare among Taylor Swift fans. Why would you! But I can tell you one thing: the Israel-Palestine conflict has revealed a fault line in their ranks. Some suggest she must be implicitly pro the Netanyahu government. Others read the runes in a different way: she’s signalling her affinity with the Palestinian plight. There is almost no evidence for either case. But most of all, the unifying charge against Swift is her silence. Where is her statement? How dare she not wield her genuinely profound influence, exploit her leverage, for politics?

Bifurcating this conflict into two teams – Israel vs Palestine – as though it is a community college boxing match is obviously absurd. But expecting Swift to offer a statement, to be a beacon of clarity, sense and moral rigour is particularly dim. Swift’s enterprise is to be a pop star, to write songs about female adolescence and sell albums and perform in stadiums. Not one iota of her job description suggests that she needs to stake her claims in a bloody war, let alone that she would ever be qualified to do so. But nonetheless, we expect it of her anyway. “Taylor Swift’s political silence on Palestine diminishes her legacy” reads a headline in a populist Scottish newspaper. Does it? Really?


It is not just Swift. This mode of posturing isn’t even limited to humans. Gail’s – a bourgeois coffee chain that hails from North London – is subject to a boycott owing to its proprietors’ politics and its alleged association with Israel. Recently, the branch near me was beset with some languid “free Palestine” protesters. I am not sure about you, but I don’t really need my expensive sourdough and semi-skimmed flat white to come with a morally credible argument about the geopolitics of the Middle East. I certainly consider it low on the rankings of things that matter to me when assessing the quality of a cafe. But now offering your patronage to the chain signifies – to some – the wrong kind of politics, ethically corrupt thinking.

There is something very wrong here. Of all the tragedies of the war in Israel and Palestine, this is not major. But the conflict has revealed something stark: we are fast to co-opt politics as a social tool. It is not enough to maintain a private sense of morality over the events of the world. It has to be on display: where you choose to buy your coffee, what pop stars you listen to, who you read, watch and associate with. Nothing is value-neutral any more. Consumption habits have become tools to signal factionalism. This, perhaps, has long been the case: the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement is not new. But that was a process once reserved for the hyper-engaged activist. Now it is general.

Away from Israel-Palestine, there is still huge pressure on the celebrity-industrial-complex to display so-called Good Politics. “Jay-Z and Beyoncé crossing a picket line to a party shows how shallow celebrity activism really is,” said a Guardian article when the A-list couple ignored a strike at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. The headline kind of gets the point: celebrity activism is shallow and pointless. But it misses the bigger story: that doesn’t matter! Jay-Z and Beyoncé live a life so rarefied that it is kind of out of the realm of comprehension. Whatever they think or do when it comes to solidarity with the unions is entirely, totally, and utterly meaningless. What they do on stage and in the recording studio is what matters. And it really does matter – they are cultural vanguards, responsible for fashioning our tastes and consumption. That’s an important job.

The world is seeking moral guidance in the wrong places. Gail’s, Beyoncé, Planned Parenthood. It seems there has been a signal failure in traditional politics – if people feel unmoored and disenfranchised from those who they elect then perhaps it is inevitable they look to Swift for a steer on Israel-Palestine. This, of course, does not make it right or sensible.