WAL-MART: 'SEX, LIES & RUDOLPH!'
I'm not big on inventing fictitious awards, but every year around this time I like to recognize one t.v. ad that best exemplifies the spirit of rampant, soul-destroying holiday commercialism. It's tougher than you might think, picking just one holiday hard-case. Corporate America stoops lower every year in an effort to get everyone moist and ready for this months-long winter retail orgy, and the 1998 field was packed. However, after weeks of careful consideration involving hot, spiced rum-drinks and a universal remote, I have settled upon a winner. And the lucky contestant is: Wal Mart, for what I've dubbed its "Rape of Rudolph" Christmas commercial!
For those who haven't yet seen it, I'll give you the short version. A little girl walks into an old-timey barn filled with a diffuse golden light. She quickly discovers that hidden in this barn are none other than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa's Christmas sleigh. At the peak of her wonderment and delight, we are presented with the Wal Mart logo and their official holiday slogan: "Peace and Joy to Everyone (except all those who are or will be filing class-action lawsuits against our company)."
What makes me call this Wal Mart Christmas commercial the "Rape of Rudolph," you ask? The fact that they have brutally sodomized a cherished American holiday myth, that's what. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Robert L. May, 1939) is a song about an underdog who proves his bravery and worth, ultimately teaching his friends the perils of prejudice and the value of forgiveness. Wal Mart, in contrast, is a huge discount retail conglomo-chain known for terrorizing employees, defiling sacred burial grounds, vaporizing small-town economies and exploiting foreign labor. Hell-lo...can you say Right vs. Wrong? Good vs. Evil? Christmas Eve vs. Armageddon? There's absolutely no common ground here, and yet Wal Mart is trying to prove the equation 'Rudolph = Wal Mart = Christmas' on primetime holiday television. I wouldn't be surprised if next year's release of the popular song goes more like this:
"...Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Actually, the Wal Mart "Rape of Rudolph" commercial is so foul, it gave me nightmares the first time I saw it. I dreamed I was in the barn, but Rudolph, the sleigh and the little girl were gone. I walked outside to look for them...and there, smack-dab at the very tip of the North Pole, with Santa collecting shopping carts by the door, was the biggest Wal Mart store I've ever seen. The dream was so real and so disturbing, I called my cousin Bill, a real estate lawyer at Wal Mart's home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, the next morning. He calmed me down by saying, and I quote, "Wal Mart has no immediate plans for opening a store at the North Pole in the foreseeable future. The potential customer base is thin, and the shifting ice in the area makes it difficult to build those really huge parking lots we love so much. Besides, that old bastard Santa won't sell, and if you think WE have nasty lawyers..."
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is one of the few worthwhile contributions we Americans have made to Christmas, and I'd hate to see it be permanently co-opted by the likes of Wal Mart. I know they sell affordable stuff, but if you can, stay away this year; then maybe their Christmas ad campaign will be deemed a failure, and 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' and 'Wal Mart' will never be uttered in the same breath again. Amen.
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