Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chosen words

Last year, I noted that New Zealand retailers had no “war on Christmas”, like the one the rightwingers in America imagined for that country. I noted this year that “Christmas” was pretty much the universal word used by retailers.

More recently, one of the NZ folks I follow on Twitter posted that one of the advantages of living in a secular country like New Zealand is that it’s possible to forget that Christmas has any religious connotations, and he liked that fact. Actually, I do, too.

Naturally, the minority among us who are religious want the rest of us to see things as they do, or to at least respect their beliefs. New Zealanders, being a fair-minded people, do the latter, but the former? It’s a pretty big ask.

One women’s clothing store chain has always run expressly religious TV commercials at Christmas. I referred to it obliquely in last year’s post, and I’m not going to name them now, either, because there are two chains with very similar names and I don’t want to confuse them. And, in any case, the particular store isn’t the issue, it’s the words they chose.

This year their ads proclaimed, “it couldn’t be Christmas without CHRIST.” That’s a rough approximation because I saw the ad only once, but the last word was all capital letters; the wording may have been slightly different, but you get the idea.

Obviously, I don’t have an objection to them saying that in their ad if they want to, but I wonder how wise it was. Smart alecks like me are likely to point out that many people—the vast majority of New Zealanders, in fact—manage to have Christmas without Christ or any other religious figure. And I don’t just mean atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc., but also the majority of Kiwi Christians who are not overtly religious. Big, national retailers don’t run religious advertising pretty much for this very reason (the same reason they don’t embrace any contentious viewpoint, actually).

In this case, I’d bet that the majority of New Zealanders didn’t see the ad (it has a very short run at a busy time of year), but even if they did, at worst they’d roll their eyes and carry on as before. I doubt that the chain will lose many customers over it, though it may lose a few who may not feel welcome in a business that sells stuff using its TV ads to proselytise. For such customers, their reaction may be along the lines of, “if this is what they say publicly, what are the attitudes that they don’t express?” That would probably be what would cross my mind.

But I would see it that way: I’m a politically progressive totally non-religious person. I’m the sort of person who sees a “Jesus is the reason for the season” slogan and thinks to myself, “no, axial tilt is the reason for the season.”

I’d love to know what the reason for the religious advertising is, why they turned it up a notch this year, and whether it affects their sales at all. But I’m not likely to ever know the answer to any of those questions. Like most New Zealanders, I just don’t care enough to find out.

Update 15 August 2011: I normally wouldn't add to an old blog post, but today I re-read this one while looking for something else, and got curious. It turns out the commercial I was talking about is on YouTube, so I've posted it above. It also turns out that I was wrong about the word "christ" being in all caps; my impression was a trick of the font, together with having seen it only once. Again, I reiterate that I have nothing against them professing their religion, I just wonder why they'd take that risk. Maybe secular New Zealand, which doesn't care about religion, also wouldn't care about overt religious promotion in a TV ad. One thing is certain: Their Christmas ads are totally unique.

1 comment:

seawall said...

I don't remember seeing this ad at all down here in Wellington. I wouldn't care to shop there either, being agnostic for the most part. I appreciate NZ for its general secularism as well.