Christmas

Thank you, Digital Cinema Media

Popcorn

Digital Cinema Media, which manages advertising for Odeon, has refused to show an advertisement which was basically Christian proselytising, as people may find it offensive. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who features in it, says (as quoted in The Times) that its “about as offensive as a carol service on Christmas Day… I think people need to watch the film and come to their own conclusions as to whether it is offensive or upsetting.”

Thus demonstrating that the Archbishop of Canterbury has completely missed the point. What’s offensive is subjecting people who’ve paid good money to go and see Star Wars to religious proselytising. I don’t go to my local church and stand up at the front and say “OK guys, before you do all the god stuff, I’d just like to tell you a bit about atheism.” I respect religious people’s right to be religious on their own time and in their own chosen place. Religious people should do the same and respect my right not to have their beliefs shoved down my throat when all I want is a good lightsabre fight and some cool spaceships.

People do not need to watch an advertisement for a prayer website telling them how to pray, and then decide whether or not they were offended by having their viewing pleasure interrupted. They do not need to be subjected to proselytising without their consent, when it gives them a choice between sitting through it and walking out of the cinema.

I suppose one might think I’m getting rather exercised over what is, (in my opinion!) basically, someone wanting to talk about their imaginary friend. I suppose I should smile nicely, and say “Yes, dear, whatever you say, that’s lovely.” Or just doze through the whole thing, like any other boring advert for a product that I’m slightly less interested in than a penis enlargement. But since these people use their imaginary friend to get free seats in the House of Lords, and to force people with serious diseases to live in pain and misery, I’m slightly less sympathetic to them than to less dangerous people with imaginary friends.

Not for nothing are religion and politics no-go areas at polite dinner parties (or so I hear). What the Archbishop of Canterbury fails to realise is that there is a time and there is a place for proselytising. Any time that people have paid to experience something completely different, and any place where people can’t leave without abandoning what they’ve paid for, is not it.

Of course, on the other hand, maybe I should be glad that the Archbishop of Canterbury – in this time of falling congregation numbers – clearly doesn’t feel that voluntary recruiting is cutting the mustard, and he has to ambush a captive audience. What next, I wonder? Press gangs? Will Sundays become a time of danger as roving parties of deacons patrol the streets, bashing the unwary over the head and dragging them off to Evensong? Or getting people drunk and incapable, then locking them up until they wake up in a choir stall?

The Archbishop has made a fool of himself over this – twice: once in having the advert made at all, and once in not taking his rejection with good grace. Really, is that the impression he wants to give of the Church of England? An organisation that is not only so desperate for new blood that it ambushes filmgoers, but also is a bad loser?

If I were Anglican, it would be like that moment when your friend says something utterly, utterly stupid/racist/homophobic in public, and you just don’t know where to look (it happened; we’re not friends any more).

Good thing I’m not Anglican. I’m an atheist, and I can watch the whole train wreck from a distance. With popcorn.

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Christmas – bah, humbug

Number of Christmas cards I will be sending: 0
Number of Christmas presents I will be buying: 1

My one Christmas present purchase is a concession to workplace politics rather than any kind of festive feeling. It’s the annual Secret Santa, and in the name of diplomacy, I will purchase a present (£10! It used to be only £5. What is the government doing about this level of inflation, I should like to know? Next stop, Weimar Republic, and don’t come crying to me when you need a wheelbarrow to carry your wages home. Unless you’re a senior banker, naturally, since they already not only utilise a wheelbarrow for this purpose but also employ a man to push it). This present is for someone I don’t know, and whom I had to get someone else to identify for me.

And for £10, I need to identify what my assigned target most desires within that price range, purchase it, wrap it attractively, and place it in the box provided ides for the purpose.

What is the point of all this? It depends, I think, on the attitude with which it is approached. With a bit of effort, one could view the Secret Santa enterprise as a tool in intradepartmental bonding: you are assigned one person, and your task is to find out enough about them that you can buy a nice present that they will appreciate. And in return, someone will do the same for you. On opening your present, you get a nice warm feeling that there is at least one person in the entire department who has paid enough attention to you as a person, rather than as a work-unit, to discover that you have a secret passion for…well, whatever it is you have a secret passion for.

Unfortunately, this isn’t what usually happens. After working yourself up into a fever-pitch of anticipation at the thought that someone in the department actually cares, you open your present to find… Bubble bath. Or chocolate. The standard gifts that mean “I don’t know you, I don’t care about you, so here is a Gift For The Anonymous Female.” Or, potentially worse, the bad-taste present that is neither witty, nor useful, nor attractive.

And then there’s the problem of Christmas cards. A more pointless (and expensive) waste of money I cannot imagine. If you are going to see someone, you can tell them Happy Christmas; if you’re not going to see them, a Christmas card simply demonstrates that, having written “To Joe” and “Love From Me” on it, you consider your communicative duty complete. You don’t even have to make up your own greeting because it’s printed on the card for you. If you really cared, wouldn’t you ring them and have a chat? Or send a proper letter?

Of course, one thing cards are good for is a popularity contest. You set them up all around your living room and then invite your friends around so that they can see how many people liked you enough to send you a card, and compare their own total. It’s sort of like Facebook, only with cardboard. There are, however, certain tactics that will give you an edge in the competition: if you send out lots of cards, you might just be able to guilt a few people who wouldn’t normally send cards into sending a return card, just so they don’t seem churlish.

The problem, I think, is an emphasis on quantity over quality. This might well be appropriate if you’re Josef Stalin, but in personal interactions that don’t include tank warfare, quality should be the way to go. Who cares if you send out three hundred cards every year? When did you last speak to those people? Do you know anything about them beyond their name? Wouldn’t it be better, if you’re going to do the thing, to just concentrate on close friends – but make those friends feel valued?

It’s so easy to communicate with everybody now that it’s sometimes hard to remember why we do it: because it says I know you and I value you. My life is made richer by knowing you.

And here is a link to my very favourite Christmas carol. I think it captures the modern Christmas spirit perfectly.