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Christmas 2002


You can get a $12 push-up bra for Christmas.

I know because the billboards all over Boston tell me so. They feature a well-endowed model with her breasts hoisted up to just below her chin. But they don’t say who’s supposed to shop for the gift. Does the lover go browsing amongst the bras for this gravity-defying lingerie that performs what sounds like an almost athletic event? Push ‘em up, push ‘em up, waaaay up! Or does the bra-wearer shop for the item, transforming her breasts themselves into a sort of an offering — a Christmas gift, lifted up and off of the body, thrust out to the world as if on a platter?

You can buy “Wonder. By the cup” this season, too.

It’s available at Starbucks via their “Christmas Blend.” Boasting a blend of beans harvested from countries torn by U.S.-supported war, tortured by U.S.-sponsored dictators, and now impoverished by U.S. enforced free trade agreements, Starbucks claims to have invented a Christmas tradition similar to mistletoe and figgy pudding. Instant nostalgia in a cup. Forget that it comes to you from coffee groves in Indonesia and Latin America — areas marked by massacres and mass graves. Forget about “persistent dilemmas,” another Starbucks ad recommends, such as “Who puts the snow in snow globes?” and focus instead on the simple pleasures. Forget wonder, even. Why bother? Starbucks is spending millions of dollars to convince us it comes in a cup.

For that special child in your life, you can put a “World Peace Keepers Battle Station” under the tree.

Just in case the kids are feeling confused this year about how acting as an aggressive superpower bully helps preserve world peace, you can help them sort it all out with this accessory set that “includes everything needed to stage a battle.” Poseable action figures and cannons (with working lights and sound) use up the kids’ creative playtime to reinforce the notion the peace is best preserved by blowing lots of people up. Available from J.C. Penney for only $24.99.

In case the kids are short on imagination — what would this peaceful world look like, after all? — JJ J.C. Penney offers the “Forward Command Post,” featuring a “pre-destroyed home” complete with a soldier and an American flag. All that’s missing are the dead civilians, also known as collateral damage, guilty of having the audacity to live their lives right in the path of the oncoming world peace keepers.

And where are these cheap plastic toys made? I don’t know for sure, but most likely an East Asian country, where U.S. corporations subcontract toy manufacturers who offer factory workers low wages and terrible conditions to churn out leisure-time lessons for our little boys about what it means to run the world. Perhaps these toys were made in Vietnam — where Mattel subcontracts out much of its manufacturing. Who knows? Maybe it adds a touch of realism to have Vietnamese workers assemble and fully accessorize doll-sized bombed-out homes. They are the ones, after all, who lost more than a million of their compatriots and had their country virtually destroyed by a military whose purported mission was to “save” them.

Tired of all the gore? Anxious to put “Christ” back in Xmas?

Then try the newly popular Christian video game alternatives, such as “Saints of Virtue” or “Spiritual Warfare.” Now you can fight evil forces “out there” as well as blast the demons lurking in your own heart with spiritual weapons, all the while keeping yourself safe by wearing the full armor of God. The tools of destruction are different, but the model is the same. We win by obliterating evil as well as whatever stray human beings get in our way. And it doesn’t hurt to collect wealth along the way. “Conquer the Cannanites, Amorites and Hittites,” says the promotional blurb about one game, “as you collect silver and gold, race through deadly mazes, and defeat the enemies of God!” (Sounds awfully like jihad, doesn’t it? Make it an Islamic video game, and you’ve got terrorist training materials.)

You could bypass the conquering theme, this season, and instead “give the gift of an opened mind.”

You might do this, suggests an ad in the New York Times Book Review, by ordering a book from DK publishers. Such a gift is only possible, of course, for those on your Christmas list who have the already conquered minds of NYT Book Review readers. Who else would be convinced that a copy of “Antiques Price Guide 2003″ or “Disney: The Ultimate Visual Guide” or “Elvis: A Celebration” even approach the issues of the day — the ones that really require an open, thinking, reasoning mind.

But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? The ads and their offerings are all about slamming the mind shut. Or I should say almost shut. Advertisers work very hard to leave one very small channel open, and through this channel they try to squeeze all inputs (i.e., marketing ploys) and all outputs (i.e., shopping sprees). There’s no feeling or insight or set of experiences that can’t somehow be narrowed and defined by this channel, and thus put in service of the local mall.

Take the push-up bra, for example. Besides objectifying women’s bodies and setting up impossible standards of female beauty, consider what an ad like that does to all of us who are just trying to live in our skin. It’s a beautiful thing, after all, this skin, and so temporary. Not without its imperfections certainly, but it’s our physical home, and a source of intimacy and potential pleasure. It shows our age; the marks on it tell our stories; maybe we adorn it and share it with others. Maybe even, on occasion, we stuff our breasts into push-up bras. Why not? I make no judgement on how people arrange themselves. But the ads take all of this — all the rich and complex ways we experience our bodies — and turn it into something you can relate to through a purchase.

The world peace keepers, it turns out, are not just out there in third world countries bombing people in order to bring them peace, they are also setting up forward command posts in our minds. They’re staking out territory, and trying to run their tanks over all that is beautiful, various, and complex about our energies, impulses, and endeavors.

The amazing thing, though, is they’re losing. Or at least they’re not winning. You can tell from the billions of dollars they spend to convince us that wonder comes in a cup, that war is peace, or that you need Mickey Mouse to open your mind. They have to spend a lot of money on these campaigns because what they propose is essentially ludicrous. And everyone knows it. Everyone knows that a cup of coffee is just that, that we can’t kill our way to a just world, and that Disney is highly commercialized pabulum for children.

People think. And, unlike Starbucks, we have a sense of what the “persistent dilemmas” really are. That’s unfortunate news for the big corporations and the government that looks out for them, and that’s why they have to work so hard to keep that one channel nice and narrow. Despite all their hard work, however, people still think. The construction worker ahead of me in line at the donut shop today had patriotic and pro-war paraphernalia all over his hard hat. I could have taken that as a sign that he’s bought Bush’s war plan hook, line, and sinker, but I decided to ask. Turns out he’s against invading Iraq. He thinks too many innocent people will get killed, and that maybe the Iraqi people ought to be the ones to figure out how to get rid of Hussein. Turns out he thinks the invasion of Afghanistan taught us that you can drop a lot of bombs and kill a lot of people and still not get the guy you’re after. Turns out he thinks maybe we need to re-think some of Bush’s war plans.

The even more unfortunate news for the big corporations and the government that looks out for them is that people are active. Not enough, at this point, it’s true. But when we organize, it works. As of December 17th, 2002, the Forward Command Post was removed from the J.C. Penney web site, thanks to the avalanche of complaints they received. (Read the story on Indymedia and check out a picture of the bombed-out doll house — you’ve got to see it to believe it! — at: http://arizona.indymedia.org/news/2002/12/5731.php.)

It doesn’t seem like much, I know — one guy in a donut shop and one disgusting toy off the shelves. But let it serve as a reminder this Christmas of what’s underneath all the commercialism of the season. That is: real people in non-bill-board skin puzzling out what’s right and wrong, and acting on it.

Merry Christmas.

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