Welcome to Swiftopia

If real change requires critical mass, pop star Taylor Swift has that on lockdown.

The youth of America has always been, in part, raised by its idols. We mark the passage of time with songs and films. In our restless years we’re more inclined to heed the words of our favorite artists than those of our parents. Today, there is no one more influential in shaping the collective social consciousness than the biggest star in the world: Taylor Swift.

Dismiss her at your own peril because, over the course of her career, Swift has redefined the job description of pop star into committed philanthropist with a progressive social agenda. She represents not only the most effective and sustainable business model in music, but the new archetype of superstardom, one in which speaking out and giving back will become the expectation instead of the exception.

You’d be forgiven for not taking Swift’s ascent to power seriously because we’re only just now being trained to see its effects. It used to be that our most galvanizing activist entertainers whipped up the masses through protest songs, massively organized demonstrations, and divisive public acts. We identify our demi-saints and firebrands by the grandeur of their activism or the number of powerful people they manage to piss off. Nina Simone sang out about racial inequality. Bob Dylan was the poet of the anti-war movement. Madonna sexually liberated popular culture. And Bono—well, Bono has been trying, almost single-handedly, to save the world for years.

But rather than sponsor a Live Aid concert or spearhead a charity anthem featuring a cohort of British musical legends, the 26-year-old Swift has executed a slow-burn campaign of social awakening, a kind of conscientiousness by inception, defined by almost compulsive beneficence and a narrative of female empowerment embedded in everything she does and says. And while her music is apolitical and often desexualized, her entire ethos is an inherently political act. She doesn’t just take the stage, she strides forward, owning her art and enjoying her success every single time she accepts a new award—which is often. That behavior has the potential for lasting impact on her young female fans. She may not have her own version of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or an incendiary “Like a Virgin” MTV moment, but Swift celebrates all that she has amassed for herself by sharing that success with others.

She has been’s most charitable celebrity in the world for four straight years. In 2013, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened its Taylor Swift Education Center after she signed over a $4 million endowment. In addition to supporting many organized causes like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Swift also writes a lot of personal checks, like the $50,000 she gave to a leukemia patient’s GoFundMe page or the $250,000 she delivered to industry colleague Kesha to help with legal bills. And then there’s Swiftmas, when she roots out superfans on social media so she can send them elaborate, personalized Christmas packages.

The way Swift utilizes Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram to affect change is a compelling indicator that good-doing is shifting away from the old, Bono-style version of extravaganza activism. With a cross-platform social media following in the hundreds of millions, Swift can infiltrate the conversations of her fans on a one-to-one level while exerting the kind of power that extends into the real world. She used her Tumblr account, for instance, to censure Apple for shortchanging artists on its music streaming service, spurring the company to publicly apologize and change its operating policy. And now, one year after Swift issued her Tumblr spanking, she’s become a promotional centerpiece for Apple Music—the very platform she threatened to boycott if Cupertino didn’t pay songwriters their fair share. Yes-please-thank-you, Ms. Swift.

But here’s the really good news: This tactic of living the message is becoming standard practice beyond Swift. Real change requires critical mass, and the community of high-profile models, writers, and performers that have sprung up around Swift reinforces the fact that to be relevant and responsible in the social media-fueled ouroboros of fans and idols, you must also stand for something bigger than yourself. As Swift’s fanbase grows with her, they will mature into the next set of power brokers in business, politics, human rights activism, environmental policy, and so on, and they will have done so with a sorority of cultural tastemakers telling them that standing for something isn’t just what’s right. It’s what’s expected.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

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Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

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The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


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The Planet
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

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via Twitter / Bye,Bye Harley Davidson

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