Merry what-mas

Politically correct.

Recently I launched a marketing campaign for online retailers to market themselves properly this Christmas. It should help them better understand how consumers search online ahead of the Year-End holidays, and address those needs. This in itself would be worth an article as consumer behaviours are extremely versatile at this time of year, with unique patterns surfacing through the search engines. As John Battelle once coined it, search engines are data bases of intents, and as such a very good proxy to what people think, feel and do.

I might come back to this in a later article, but what I wanted to expose today was the reaction of some of my colleagues on the other side of the pond. Reviewing my work, some reached out to me, almost panicking... "Are you sure? I mean isn't that campaign offensive?". "Offensive"??? I double-checked all my assets, obviously no porn, no dodgy play-on-word, no sexism... Really compared to some of the communications out there my emails and website looked like children books. Plain and safe. I was really puzzled by what triggered the doubt from my North American colleagues.

And then one of them explained to me: "over here we are not referring to Christmas, to respect the different religious opinion and beliefs. We refer to that period of the year as 'the holiday season'."

Really? Christmas would be offensive, disrespectful? Certainly not on the Old Continent. Christmas is now so ingrained in our history and culture that it has lost for many any religious connotation. Historically, December 25th is the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth and the presents delivered by the fireplace are evocations of the Three Kings' presents to Joseph, Mary and their newborn. Yet nowadays, Christmas is for the great majority a family reunion, a time during which the members of nuclear family congregate to celebrate a moment together. The word Christmas is all over: on cards, on shopping windows, in magazines, even on invoices...

Play it by the book.

However I appreciate the intention behind the US trend of political correctness (PC). You want to respect cultural differences by suppressing any overt references to one or another social group.

But this calls out three questions for my foreign and certainly uneducated brain.

First the US has been for long the country of the melting pot. Is this type of behaviour nothing else but the acknowledgement that the historical blending does not happen any more (has it ever worked one may ask)? In fact, this is a probably a cliche as this statement is really obvious, yet you could wonder if PC attitude does not ironically exacerbate the differences by indirectly pointing out what is out of the norm, instead of normalising them.

The second question for me relates to this PC trend and its integrity. If you genuinely want to apply such a philosophy, you must respect it to and fro. I am therefore wondering why the US motto remains "In God we trust" with a capital G at God, and not "In a god we trust" which would respect the different religions or even "In a god that may or may not exist we trust" which would also respect atheists.

An upcoming American holiday is Thanksgiving which according to Wikipedia is:
A harvest festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Thanksgiving was a holiday to express thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation to God, family and friends for which all have been blessed of material possessions and relationships.
Here again you could wonder why the Christmas rule does not apply. I appreciate Thanksgiving is no literally a religious celebration, but the connection clearly exists historically...

Finally, why are American citizens and even the President taking an oath by placing their hand on a Bible? After all if you are not a Christian, this book has got no value to you. It would be like swearing by the Yellow Pages, the second most wide-spread book. Since the US seem to be keen on change, maybe one day we may see a Muslim leading the country. Would that elected representative of the entire nation take the oath with a Bible? After all the religious codicil is not a legal requirement.

My two-cent assumption is "probably", because in that specific case, the Bible has a different vocation: it is no longer the embodiment of a dogma, the material sign of a religion... It is a cultural reference. A totem, if you want, that refers back to centuries of political legacy. You could argue that they should pledge allegiance to their country through a more representative and inclusive artifact, like the constitution, the charter of the human rights...

This is a broad, and certainly bigger conversation than this simple blog. The implications are sociological, ethical, etc. And I have no ambition to provide even the beginning of an answer to the correlated questions. I was just amazed, and in fact probably amused, by the schizophrenic stance of my colleagues. On the one hand really adamant , and on the other hand utterly self-contradictory. But that is probably the reason why I enjoy engaging with North American... They are multifacetted, even if they are not always aware it.

To read further:

1 comment:

  1. Maxime From Nice7:40 am

    C'est clair, tu viens de me faire réaliser à quel point nos voisins Nord-Américains ont des comportements et des interprétations si contradictoires. As-tu déjà envisagé d'explorer le sujet plus en profondeur avec tes collègues? Même au risque de passer pour le français arrogant qui ne voit dans les autres systèmes que les failles (je me doute bien que ce n'est pas ton cas mais tu sais, les raccourcis...). Cela pourrait être intéressant. Im sorry for the english readers that I wrote my comment in french but I'm actually at work and it would take too much time to translate my comment into english. Take care!