Taking offence, the new religion, featuring Greggs Bakery and Christmas

Once again the world is scandalized and offended and shames a business that was having a light-hearted advertising campaign to sell its products. Greggs said in a statement: “We’re really sorry to have caused any offense, this was never our intention.” The whole story is here reported in the Independent from the UK.

What caused all the rage? A photo of a nativity scene, with the baby Jesus, and three wise men. Very typical of Christmas stories, calendars, and this season of the year in the UK. So what's the problem? Seems the baker replaced the baby Jesus with a pork sausage roll. Oy, gevalt! What were they (not) thinking?

The offending photograph was one of a number of publicity photos for the calendar, including a Santa with flakes of pastry in his beard, a Greggs shop in a snow globe and a woman puckering up to kiss what appears to be a chicken slice under the mistletoe.

I'm Jewish. I get it. Using a pig product to replace the Jewish Jesus... seems totally inappropriate. Someone at Greggs should have caught that unintentional blunder. But they didn't. And now the synagogues of London and Manchester are up-at-arms in opposition. An easy target, to be sure. 

But it's not only Jews who are offended this year about advertising and Christmas. Grocery giant Tesco has copped it a couple times for two different ads. One, only 16-seconds long, says, "However you do Christmas, everyone's welcome at Tesco." That's as free-market as you can get. But some are offended because the grocer is making a mockery of the Christian faith. Really? Wow. I thought they were just making money and showing their inclusivity. 

But wait, there's more. The longer advert from Tesco featuring all kinds of families and gatherings eating turkey, or at least preparing the big bird for dinner, has a Muslim family in it (among other stereotypes). Outrage. Boycott threats by Muslims... 'how dare they...' etc. I'm shaking my head. All this reported everywhere, but this one from the Guardian features all this info. Read here.

I remember the bad-taste production by Zara of two particular products in their clothing line. A purse featuring four swastikas released about 10 years ago, and then three years ago, a child's poncho with stripes and a yellow Jewish star which duplicated Nazi-mandated clothing for Holocaust wear in concentration camps. Horrible misses by someone in the proofreading department at the Spanish retailer, Zara. Here's Fortune magazine's take on those episodes. Offense taken then was right. Zara was dead wrong. 

But having Muslims eating turkey at a family home, or people mentioning other things besides the birth of the Saviour... come on, folks, that's not offensive at all. When offence becomes the standard, the lightning rod, then buckle your seat belt, I think we are in big trouble. 

Here's what I mean. The use of bullying terminology, calling people by names, designed to diminish their value and worth, mocking their religion, all forms of ridicule-- that's all out of bounds. I get that. And hopefully when I mention a person of Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Christian faith... I do so with respect for their person and their right to believe whatever they wish. This is 2017 after all. Respecting them as people doesn't necessarily mean that I agree with their conclusions. I find Scientology a nonsense religious expression and a delusional con game of major proportion. I can say that with full conviction, and yet when I meet a Scientologist, I have no right to mock him or her personally. I could not make a commercial demeaning any person who attends such a 'church'. Fair enough. But respect for the person is not the same as respect for the cult or the religion. 

Hop Sing, the Chinese servant in the 1960s television series Bonanza, was a caricature that would never be allowed in today's world. Even if that accurately depicted life on a real Ponderosa.

Good fun in parody is understandable in comedy, albeit an even finer line to walk. When is stereotyping a Jewish tailor or rabbi 'fun' and when is it 'crossing the line?' That's one for the ages...and we won't settle it today. Think of Monty Python's Life of Brian, or the irreverence of Jewish comedian Mel Brooks in his song "The Inquisition" in "History of the World, Part 1." Brooks walks the same tightrope in his "The Producers" with Jewish entrepeneur Bialostok taking unsuspecting people's money most happily. It borders on the anti-semitic Shylock of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice."

All this to say... just because someone sees an image of themselves, or of their religion in a movie or book or an advert on television, and the scene doesn't treat the religion with the same respect they might afford it personally... take a minute. Evaluate. What is the person really saying? What is the long-ranged result of either the advert or the threatened boycott? Will we win place if we protest? Or are we going to see a backlash against our very campaign?

The obvious observation from all this is that Offense is the New Religion of today. All that has to happen for the commercial world to stop production of some clothes or foods is that offense gets taken, a Tweet gets picked up by a national agency, and the death knell is felt. Will there be a TV or movie warning label: offense may happen. 

And finally, come on Greggs. How did you miss that one? Pork sausage roll? Replacing the Jewish Jesus? What's next? Ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread during a Passover seder featuring DaVinci's Last Supper? Some things are obvious. At least ... to some of us.


Pippi said…
....... Poor,sad,pathetic little creatures.....I shall pray for them......is that all they've GOT? That's not a sword...........HiSWORD.. is THE SWORD.........poor pathetic sad mishapen little creatures....

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