Thursday, November 26, 2009

And who is the author of confusion?

Stuart Shepard continues to take advertisers, marketers and retailers to task in his latest Stoplight video, for wishing us Happy Unspecified Holidays at this time of year. It's considerably edgier than the one I mentioned in my posting a couple of days ago, and looks at how confused marketers must be, trying to pitch a holiday without actually discussing it.

Living in a city as wonderfully diverse and multi-cultural as Vancouver is, I can imagine another area of confusion: for the non-Christian immigrant, trying to decipher what the fuss is about.

Supposing, for example, you were to move to a country where many -- if not the majority -- of the people practise Foonism. Once a year, there's a big ol' festival called "Foonaria" and Foonites go to great lengths to celebrate it. Wouldn't you be curious to know about Foonism and why they're doing this?

But in my home and native land, we have a major holiday celebration, which occupies about 2-1/2 months -- from the runup to Hallowe'en to THE GIGANTIC BOXING WEEK EXTRAVAGANZA -- but if you look at the signage, there's no real indication as to what the holiday is and why it's being celebrated.

Imagine the immigrant, trying to get some answers.

"Excuse me? What is this holiday that people are talking about?"
"Oh! It's the most wonderful time of the year! It's a time when people get together and give each other presents and have a huge dinner and give a little something to the poor and families re-connect -- or try to -- and all the lights and colors and prezzies make you feel warm inside."
"Why? I mean, what's there to celebrate?"
"Well, because it's the holidays!"
"What holiday? I mean, doesn't 'holiday' mean 'holy day'? What's holy about it?"
"Well ... if you must know ... it's called Christmas ... and, uh, there's a particular religion that celebrates it."
"So why don't you call it that?"
"Because we're afraid 'Christmas' might offend some people."
"How can you offend someone with something that you're celebrating? What does this religion believe that's so offensive?"
"Well ... they believe that the way to peace is to get right with God."
"And that's offensive?"
"Well ... they figure that there's only one way to do that, and that's through the Son of God."
"And the Son of God is really bad, is He? What did He teach?"
"Well ... He said that we have to love God above everything else -- even ourselves."
"I'm waiting to be offended ..."
"And we have to love everybody else more than ourselves."
"Still waiting ..."
"Yeah, but the Son of God also said that we have to deal with the things we did wrong in our lives."
"Oh! Wow ... I've done a lot of things wrong. So I guess He went around and killed all the bad people, did He?"
"Heck, no! This religion says He never did anything wrong and then let Himself die to be the punishment for our wrongs. Even the bad people could turn to Him, and it would be like they'd never done those bad things."
"Why keep this a secret? Why not tell everyone you can?"
"Because people might get offended."
"Well ... you know ... people from other countries ... other religions."
"Look: in my religion, we say 'peace to you and your household'. Would you be offended if I said that to you?"
"Well ... no."
"Then why would I be offended if you said to me, 'Merry Christmas'?"
"Not following."


"Is there some high priest I can talk to, to find out more?"
"Not necessarily. There's a book called the Bible and that tells you the whole story so you can find out for yourself. Some people say it's like God speaking directly to you."
"Has this been on Oprah?"
"Don't be silly. That might hurt her ratings."
"Because people might be offended."

At which point, our immigrant friend either runs off, strumming his lower lip and making a noise like Lou Costello, trying to figure out who's on first, or races out to the nearest bookstore to try to find the book this local person was talking about.

"Where are you going? Don't you want to hear about Boxing Week?"

My office is adjacent to one of the biggest enclosed shopping malls in Western Canada. I see people of all different ethnicities, wading through the mall with children in tow. Happy-sounding music tells us Santa will be comin' down the chimney down and then tells the story of a reindeer nobody liked until he turned out to be useful for something. Children are often bawling their eyes out because they can't have something -- even though they know they're supposed to be excited about the Day Of The Great Gift-Getting while the parents have this bewildered look at what appears to be a tradition in this new country they've come to live in, but which doesn't appear to have a name or a purpose.

Confusion? Well, we know who the author of that is.

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