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Talking Points: The misguided Stoli vodka boycott, ‘airlane’ humour, Jeopardy! heart-breaker

From left to right, Michael Niemeyer, Matthew Ervin, Alfredo Diaz, Richard Grossi, Rodney Scott and council member John Duran empty Russian vodka bottles into a gutter during a news conference on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif. Bar owners joined with West Hollywood city officials to announce a boycott of Russian vodkas as part of a protest that has stretched across the county in opposition to anti-gay laws recently signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

Welcome to Talking Points, a daily roundup of digital miscellany


Emanciptation Proclamation

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Twelve-year-old Thomas Hurley was one letter away from correctly answering his final Jeopardy! question, about Abraham Lincoln's 1863 order that led to the abolition of slavery, during the show's "kids week." The dejected, hangdog look on Thomas's face after committing the typo prompted syndicated-television viewers to rise from their dinner tables and flood the show's Facebook page with complaints, rather than simply yelling at Alex Trebek through the TV.


By now, the sewers of gay villages around North America are overrun with litres of Stolichnaya vodka. This after gay-rights activist and writer Dan Savage used his considerable pull in the community to orchestrate a "dump Stoli" boycott in reaction to severe anti-gay laws that Russia has recently enacted. The images from the campaign – gay bartenders standing on the sidewalk in Los Angeles, for instance, with upside-down Stoli bottles held over the street – are dramatic and have certainly raised some awareness of the growing intolerance in Russia. But the backlash may be doing more to actually harm the cause: The company behind the vodka has gone to lengths to inform media outlets that it is produced in Latvia, contributes to various LGBT initiatives in the world and is actually embroiled in a prolonged legal battle with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Stoli brand. Then there are the activists in Russia who told Gay Star News that the boycott is a "symbolic gesture doomed to failure." That's not to mention the Latvian activists interviewed by the Atlantic Wire who fear any adverse effect on the country's economy will have "unintended negative consequences for the extremely fragile LGBT community." Lost in the sea of he said/he said debate on the symbolic provenance of a single brand of alcohol is that a vodka boycott also implies a tired stereotype that all Russians are vodka-swilling homophobes – stereotypes being a problem the LGBT community is all too familiar with. Which is all to say that protesting in the digital age, when not dealing in revolutions, can too often fall flat. A slogan, a meme or a viral video done right will rack up eyeballs on the Internet, but just as pressing Like on a Facebook page doesn't really enact any change, pouring out vodka isn't impressing anyone to further explore the complexities of Russian society that have led to the unbecoming legislation.


"I take strong offense to these harsh accusations. United Airlanes strives to make your travel time depressing and prolonged."

@unitedairlanes. In their haste to publicly sound their air rage, some disgruntled United Airlines passengers inadvertently tweeted their complaints at a parody account, instead of the real @united. If the purposeful one-letter misspelling of "airlines" and the tag-line – "airplanes are just magic we don't understand yet. (Parody)" – didn't send up red flags that something was amiss, then the snarky replies will surely clue everyone in.

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Assistant Toronto Editor

Cliff More


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