Business as Usual Ever since the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott Disney for breaking its trust with the American family by promoting gay days

When it comes to an assault on family values, Southern Baptists teach us that one can never be too paranoid.

Or too foolish. Although less than two weeks old, this boycott already smells like a failure. At Disney's TV network, where Ellen provided the only good news of the last season, they're much more worried about lousy demos than offending the Almighty. Next to two years of abysmal ratings, the curse of the Baptists is a trifle. True, advertisers are notorious cowards, so nervous about their messages appearing in controversial environments that they want advance notice of a magazine's editorial. But ABC's problem is that their customers are yawning at the lineup-not that they're afraid of being associated with it.

These Baptists only have their own hubris (as Disney summer screen hero Hercules might put it) to thank for the nonplussed reaction that greeted their call to shun the satanic sodomites. If they were serious about punishing Disney, they should have stuck to their original plan: Boycott the theme parks and retail stores. A strategy of defining literal lines for pious Baptists not to cross could have been acted on and enforced. Remember, there are nearly 16 million of them out there.

But the denomination lost any chance it had to do its enemy material damage when it went for the Big Symbolic Gesture instead. They demanded that the whole empire, from Home Improvement to Celebration, Fla., pay for extending.

employee benefits to gay couples. Yet the weakness of symbolic politics, be it a morally self-righteous boycott or a morally self-righteous summit on volunteerism, is that such politics are purely symbolic. Reality is unmoved by them.

Disney, in its megaconglomerate immensity, is not a head of lettuce. It is not just a product-make that hundreds of products-on a shelf. It is an environment we live in: not just Disneyland, but Disney Land. The media megalith is so ubiquitous, and so internally contradictory, it would take a Talmudic scholar to decipher what qualifies as boycott compliance and what doesn't.

Can a boycotter bring her family to McDonald's, which has a 10-year co-promotion deal with Disney and where kiddie tchotchkes generate more business than 55 cent Big Macs? Either a boycott is total or it's not.

Yet it's not just strategic problems that plague this ill-fated idea. It's doomed because the 1,200 Southern Baptists who voted for it are out of the mainstream. The evidence of the marketplace is that Americans are more tolerant of "others" than we once were.

This is not to say we are in any way less homophobic or less racist than we used to be. But we are, more than ever, believers in the one true faith: our consumer belief in everyone's unalienable right to be him- or herself-up to and including his right to be herself. This is the message preached to us from every marketplace pulpit. "Let the gays have their day at Disneyland," figures today's average tolerant homophobe, "as long as it's not the day I'm there." This attitude may fall short of Christian charity, but where that's lacking, the Olympian disinterest in the marketplace will have to do.

It is deliciously ironic that an empire built on family entertainment turns out to be the force that will expose the family-values police for the straw men they really are.

But a contest between ideologues and the marketplace is no contest. In its confrontation with Southern Baptists over the soul of the nation, Disney has already won.