Ho Ho… WTF?

So, lots of folks seem to be buzzing about the new Gap commercial that mentions Solstice in the same breath as Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa. The general trend that I see breaks down like this:

  • Pagans – “Ooh, cool! We’ve arrived!”
  • Most other commentators – “It’s the end of civilization!”

Setting aside the fact that the ad is really… freakin’… annoying, I don’t see anything even faintly holiday-oriented about it, despite the “you’re-all-customers-to-us” cross-cultural name-checking. The basic message is “screw everything, just come give us your money”; I’m actually not all that stoked about getting mainstreamed in this context. It puts me in mind of Annyikha’s frightening vision of a commercialized Anthesteria (link is a bit… freewheeling and possibly NSFW, so be warned).

I’m also kind of peeved that, based on the commentary I’m seeing, this is feeding in to the common MSM trope of Pagans as a bunch of hedonistic hippies who don’t believe in anything. Plus, did I mention it’s annoying? :p And Adam Sandler-esque (“Do whatever you wannakah”).


16 thoughts on “Ho Ho… WTF?

  1. Deborah

    “Solstice” isn’t exactly Pagan. I mean, if they said “Yule,” that might be different. But “Solstice” is also used by New Agers and by atheists who aren’t necessarily Seinfeld fans.

  2. executivepagan Post author

    Some of the fulminators do mention atheists, but the majority of the negative commentary I sampled explicitly referenced Wicca/Pagans/witches… and most of the positive commentary seems to be coming from Pagans of one stripe or another. As a sample, I offer the text of the email my very conservative Christian father-in-law forwarded that alerted us to the existence of this ad (I’d missed it, since we don’t really watch TV) –
    “Did you notice it? Gap compares Christmas to the pagan holiday called ‘Solstice.’ Solstice is celebrated by Wiccans who practice witchcraft!”

  3. Pitch313

    I don’t see much “acceptance” involved in the mention of (Winter) Solstice in a GAP ad.

    Does entanglement in a corporation’s advertising somehow confer legitimacy and spread general tolerance for small-scale spiritualities?

    GAP said “Solstice,” so now I’m a socially valid Pagan? Now, when I shop at GAP, it’s to celebrate the Goddess & God, who like the cut of my khakis and the cut of my stretchy top.

    Seems awful consumerist to me…

  4. Sannion

    link is a bit… freewheeling and possibly NSFW, so be warned

    *grins* Well, it is from a Sannion post, so …

    But yeah, this is pretty horrifying. Honestly, though, that is how acceptance will come about. The dollar is the great liberator. Once they realize that your little niche group has the bucks they’ll do what they can to get them from you, even making you feel like part of the club. Of course, the interesting thing for me is the pagans who are just so super thrilled to finally be accepted. It’s like the nerd in high school who nearly creams his pants because the hot chick glanced his way. It’s a shame, really, but a lot of pagan social interaction seems to have been stunted back in high school and never moved on.

  5. executivepagan Post author

    Yep, that was my point. Sannion’s comment below about this, in fact, being one of the mechanisms of eventual acceptance is probably spot-on, but I think that’s more an indictment of our culture in general than anything else.

  6. executivepagan Post author

    Ah… yeah. There a number of reasons I haven’t made much of an effort to get cozy with my local Pagan scene – many of them theological – but, sadly, that is one of them.

  7. Ali

    Wow–that was annoying. Makes me glad I don’t watch television.

    Regarding Deborah’s point about Solstice vs. Yule, to me personally Solstice does seem more generically Pagan, since Yule is specifically Norse (isn’t it? or am I confused?), as well as being another word commonly used even by Christians for the Christmas season (growing up, I certainly remember Christmas cards wishing us “Yuletide cheer,” for instance).

    All that aside, I’m with you, Erik, and not overly thrilled to become just the next new marketing demographic. I can’t help but think back to my high school days and all those friends of mine so excited to shop at Hot Topic, the goth/alternative clothing store in the mall…. which is also owned by GAP. Part of Chomsky’s “illusion of choice” political theory: encouraging overwhelming diversity (in the marketplace as well as elsewhere, often to the point of distraction through inane little differences that have no real substance) to obscure the fact that the same few corporations/institutions own all the options and are making all the money.

    On the other hand, it does mean Pagans are becoming a noticeable cultural force. I’m also reminded of Gandhi’s quip, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” For the market, it might go something more like, “First they ignore you, then they indulge you, then they market to you, then they win.” I think we should be careful to remain a real and relevant cultural influence and not allow our uniqueness and energy to be distorted and redirected into the pocketbooks of the same people who are screwing over the environment and dumbing down the populace.

  8. executivepagan Post author

    Yes, “Yule” is Germanic in origin (quick/dirty etymology here); and I also remember Yuletide greetings, Yule logs, etc. from my very Lutheran childhood.

    As far as the corporate plutocracy goes, do you remember the (extremely short-lived) “We’re Beatrice” ads? The first and only time that a large parent corporation actually thought emphasizing their existence was a good idea. As I recall, they got soundly spanked in the marketplace for a little while after that… and now all those brands are owned by ConAgra, an even larger and more unpleasant corporation. :(

  9. Feral Boy

    “This is feeding in to the common MSM trope of Pagans as a bunch of hedonistic hippies who don’t believe in anything.”

    Sorry, that’s the UNITARIANS! :D

    (Takes one to know one!)

    — Feral Boy

  10. Heartsong

    Not sure why I would be offended by the crass commercialism of the ad. The holiday season is, above and beyond all the religious or non-religious attachment, crassly commercial. GAP has no reason to run ads except to increase sales. That said, I find the ad kind of fun, and since I don’t watch television enough to have seen it anywhere before I saw it here, it hasn’t had time to become annoying yet. The idea that “the holidays” – however one defines them – should be liberated from oppressive traditions speaks to me, including giving up the obligatory gift giving millstone. I feel fairly certain GAP didn’t have that particular form of liberation in mind when they ran the ad, but that’s the beauty of free will.

  11. executivepagan Post author

    I’m not actually offended by the ad, I just find it irritating and unhelpful. I don’t expect any ad to be other than commercial, that’s what they’re for… and since I don’t watch TV, thankfully, my exposure is extremely limited (and when I do come across an ad I actually like – this one, for instance – I can always find it online).

  12. Kay

    There have been a few GAP commercials that I’ve liked (an old one with Dwight Yokam comes to mind), but yeah, the one you posted I find extremely annoying.

    GAP was my favorite clothes retailer when I was in high school a gazillion years ago. Years after graduating I found out just how horrible the GAP/Old Navy/Banana Republic group really is. Makes me with I had never shopped there.

    On a side note: My family used “Happy Yule” a lot when I was growing up as just another way to wish “Merry Christmas” (and my childhood was mostly Mormon). After leaving Christianity I used Yule as a somewhat secular way of wishing blessings for the season.

  13. Kayleigh

    The advertisement annoys me for the cheerleading chants.

    Of course, I was not annoyed the first time I watched it because it was new … and then I saw the other annoying Gap ads that just made watching the commercials grating.

    I think that the “Go Solstice!” part was meant to cater to atheists, actually. Atheists and nonreligious people make up something like 16% of America right now. An ex-girlfriend sent me a card a year ago. She was raised in an atheistic home, and in the card she commented that he had started saying “Happy Solstice!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” to secularize the holiday. Apparently a lot of Atheists are doing this.

    Pagans and polytheists are a much smaller demographic, so the fact that the Gap caught our groups along with them is just an added bonus.

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