Offensive or Not?

Cidu Bill on Dec 20th 2011



And does it help that the first one is actually a billboard put up by a church, or that the ad agency responsible for the second one is run by a Jewish man?

Filed in Bill Bickel, Chanukah, Christmas, advertising, religion | 41 responses so far

41 Responses to “Offensive or Not?”

  1. Kit Dec 20th 2011 at 02:21 pm 1

    Both are LOLs for me, but I can see how someone would be offended.

  2. Lost in A**2 Dec 20th 2011 at 02:21 pm 2

    Well, it took me a minute to realise what the Madonna was holding. I don’t really understand what the second is saying. Still, I don’t find either offensive.

    I think it was today’s “Morning Edition” which commented on the number of Christmas songs written by Jews.

    I’ve not yet followed the link; is the first an anti-abortion message?

  3. DPWally Dec 20th 2011 at 02:26 pm 3

    Who paid for the ads is only a minor issue. Most likely that church isn’t anti-christian and that ad agency owner isn’t anti-semitic. But that doesn’t tell us whether the ads have anti-… messages.

    I think the second is far worse. It promotes a negative stereotype of a group of people, one which has been used in the past to support hatred and violence. The first one expresses doubt about a story fundamental to the christian religion and humanizes someone most christians don’t want to view as merely human. While I can see some people considering that offensive, it doesn’t promote stereotypes and doesn’t have any potential to encourage antisocial behavior.

    (Unless “what the f** did that say?” followed by driving off the road counts as antisocial. Are there any guidelines about billboards that are too distracting to be displayed to drivers?)

  4. Cidu Bill Dec 20th 2011 at 02:37 pm 4

    I’m Jewish, and I thought the second one was very funny, and I thought it was funny before I knew who was responsible; but in this case, I think place is important as well: the billboard appeared in Manhattan, in the heart of Hymietown, so everybody’s likely to accept this as humor (or at least an attempt thereof). If the billboard was designed and displayed in the middle of the Bible Belt, I’d probably suspect it was anti-Semitic (or at least mean-spirited)

  5. Pirk Dec 20th 2011 at 02:44 pm 5

    Regarding the Vodka billboard:
    Please correct me if I’m wrong,
    Since Hanukkah takes place over seven nights, if one were to spend the same amount on gifts as one did for Christmas, each gift would cost 1/7th as much. And this is the logic behind the joke.

    So, if that’s the case, it isn’t saying anything negative or offensive about Jewish people at all. Just that a hanukkah gift would, pragmatically, be cheaper than a christmas gift.

  6. Jesse Dec 20th 2011 at 02:58 pm 6

    I like Pirk’s reaction, but the stereotype is that Jews are cheap. (I heard “jew” as a synonymous verb for “haggle/bargain” while I lived in Alabama.)

    And the stereotypical Chanukah gift does cost less than a Christmas gift, which are (stereotypically) far more extravagant.

  7. James Pollock Dec 20th 2011 at 02:59 pm 7

    I think the second one lampoons the stereotype rather than re-inforcing it. But, as I am not in the affected group, it isn’t my opinion that matters, it’s theirs. One can craft an insensitive message without any malice intended.

  8. Jesse Dec 20th 2011 at 03:01 pm 8

    I’d say both are part of the great vein of self-effacement humor that allows members of a group to laugh at themselves — but turns to offense when an outsider tries to join in.

  9. schleifnet Dec 20th 2011 at 03:09 pm 9

    the vodka one was taken down by the company (owned by Jews by the way)

    Pirk, the holiday is 8 nights

    It was the location of the second that made it worse, bc more of the ethic group in one place meant it was more likely, not less, that some would be offended. Also, once the story went national it became a huge deal (my rabbi was part of a large group in new orleans that was pissed at the stereotype)

  10. Elyrest Dec 20th 2011 at 03:12 pm 10

    I’m not offended, but then again I don’t consider myself either Christian or Jewish. Mary finding herself pregnant doesn’t take anything away from the source of the pregnancy, but quite a few religious-oriented people don’t have a sense of humor when it comes to their own religion.

  11. Paperboy Dec 20th 2011 at 03:12 pm 11

    I’m with James Pollock#7; I truly feel that these days of snark and irony, advertisers feel cool about using stereotypes in a humorous way, knowing that people view at as laughing at those prejudices.

  12. Woodrowfan Dec 20th 2011 at 03:37 pm 12

    I agree, location is crucial for the 2d one. In a Jewish area of New York City it’s kind of funny. In small town Midwest where they still say someone trying to get a better price is trying to “Jew you down” then the 2d one would be offensive.

  13. Mark M Dec 20th 2011 at 03:53 pm 13

    I’m not offended, but as the lady in the linked story suggests, Mary knew she was going to be pregnant and had accepted it according to every Christmas story I’ve heard. I’m not sure what the church responsible for the ad is trying to accomplish - apparently it’s “Come to our church. We have fun.”.

    The use of dogs to advertise vodka is a little odd too, but that’s another matter…

  14. Woodrowfan Dec 20th 2011 at 03:57 pm 14

    or as Joseph said, “you’re what?”

  15. mitch4 Dec 20th 2011 at 04:21 pm 15

    Are the dogs meant to be individually associated with the two holidays? Either by their headgear or the nationality associated with their breeds?

  16. Cidu Bill Dec 20th 2011 at 04:29 pm 16

    I don’t know.. but the “jewish dog” definitely suggested peyos…


  17. ja Dec 20th 2011 at 04:29 pm 17

    As a Christian, I would question whether the Mary billboard gives appropriate respect to scripture. It’s one thing to try to recast the story in a modern setting, but this just strikes me a being provocative for the sake of being provocative, and– as Mark M indicated– is not true to the gospel account. I’m not offended by it, but I do question its appropriateness. And I will say that vicar better have some pretty good sermons to reconcile that billboard with an appropriate reverence to the gospel.

    Obviously, I’m not Jewish (although I will be making latkes tomorrow!). While it helps– a little– that the vodka billboard is from a company run by a Jewish man, I still think it is in poor taste. I get the whole “if you make fun of the stereotype, it has no power over you” thing, but I cannot help but believe that some people will find it offensive. So why go there?

    Being snarky, edgy, and ironic isn’t original when everybody does it. All it is is desensitizng. Whatever happened to kindness and respect?

  18. George P Dec 20th 2011 at 04:47 pm 18

    In the Gospel of Luke Mary is warned that she will become pregnant, but in Matthew it is just noted that she was found to be pregnant by the Holy Ghost while still engaged to Joseph.

    Neither of the other Gospels mention conception (or at least not near the beginning; I’m not going to read the whole thing now).

    I think the second ad is at best questionable because it’s making a statement about a group of people. The first one is a joke based on the folklore of the religion, not the people who believe it.

  19. JC Dec 20th 2011 at 04:57 pm 19

    I went to a very Marian girls’ high school and the first ad could fit right in with the pro-life propaganda we had around. I haven’t read about the intention behind the billboard, but if it were a poster on the wall in eleventh-grade catechism, it would have said “You’re not alone” or something along those lines. I don’t think the humanization is an issue - despite the hyperdulia owed Mary according to catechism, not even the most Marian Catholic believes that Mary was anything more than human. Her humanness and emotion are what make her attractive, there are dozens of songs that ask what she really thought when she found out whom she was pregnant with. Personally, I kind of like the billboard. It’s stylish.

  20. Mark in Boston Dec 20th 2011 at 05:19 pm 20

    It’s a wonder that most Christmas advertising is not deemed offensive. Christmas celebrates the birth of the one who drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Would Jesus approve how we celebrate it now?

    “Would you do that if Jesus were watching you? Well, he is.” — from a pamphlet I had back when I was a little Catholic.

  21. Paperboy Dec 20th 2011 at 05:23 pm 21

    Jesus drove the money-changers out, but isn’t he cool with merchants?
    And, don’t forget, he got a lot of expensive gifts on Christmas.

  22. Judge Mental Dec 20th 2011 at 05:25 pm 22

    I have read all the comments and I still don’t even understand the second one at all. I understand where there might be some question regarding the appropriateness of the “Hannukah pricing” phrase, but the the rest of it leaves me clueless. What in the world does “Christmas quality” mean? Is “Christmas vodka” better than “regular vodka”, or just better than “Hannukah vodka”. Is anything Christmas deemed better then its Hannukah counterpart, even by Jewish people? What relevance are the dogs? Were dogs chosen for being particularly religious, decidedly festive, or for their propensity for drinking vodka? For those that found it funny, what is the joke that I am not getting?

  23. George P Dec 20th 2011 at 05:32 pm 23

    Exchanging gifts on December 23rd was the way Saturnalia ended. The early church had to keep it to successfully take over the holiday.

  24. Cidu Bill Dec 20th 2011 at 06:12 pm 24

    Judge, it’s good enough for Christmas, but inexpensive enough that even Jews won’t complain about the price.

    Though I’m pretty sure my uncle knows somebody who can get it for me wholesale.

  25. Ian Osmond Dec 20th 2011 at 07:48 pm 25

    I found the second one funny, too, and am Jewish — but I think Woodrowfan’s comment about the context given by the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood in which it is shown is a highly pertinent one.

  26. R2T Dec 20th 2011 at 09:07 pm 26

    I found neither offensive.But I can see how some would take it the wrong way. Intent does count for something.If someone from the targeted group makes it and is using it as a silly slightly self deprecating way then its different then say tea party people holding up signs of Obama as a witch doctor for example.

  27. Christine Dec 20th 2011 at 09:19 pm 27

    The news reports I read about the first one quoted someone from the church being the ones who said that the purpose of that billboard (and the other related ones) was just to get people talking. It’s using a current cultural shorthand. It’s certainly no less relevant than what you might hear during the homily on a normal week.

  28. The Bad Seed Dec 20th 2011 at 09:27 pm 28

    It’s a free country, and whether someone else treats my religion in a way I consider respectful - particularly in an attempt at humor, however feeble - doesn’t affect how I feel about my religion. I’m secure in my beliefs, and I don’t feel obligated to explain or justify them to you, nor do I care whether you agree with me. I do find certain politicians and/or preachers who preach intolerance in regard to other people’s religion and/or sexual orientation to be *highly* offensive, but bad jokes don’t bother me.

  29. Usual John Dec 20th 2011 at 09:49 pm 29

    Addressing only the first one: I thought it was clever and provocative in a good way. But I thought the same church’s 2009 billboard,, was over the line. That one had Joseph and Mary in bed together, with a hangdog look on Joseph and Mary looking up toward heaven, and the caption, “Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow.”

  30. Frank the curmudgeon Dec 21st 2011 at 02:04 am 30

    You have the right to insult my religion, values or ethnicity but don’t be surprised if try to make it cost you.

  31. The Bad Seed Dec 21st 2011 at 08:18 am 31

    So, Bill, how do you feel about Conan O’Brien lighting a Human Centipede Menorah this week? (I’m not posting a link to it, it’s easy enough to find.) I’m not Jewish - and I did watch the movie, albeit squinting through my fingers and on fast-fast-forward the whole time - but I’m pretty sure that’s way over the line, no matter what religion he is.

  32. Kathleen Dec 21st 2011 at 09:05 am 32

    I am offended by the top one. It seems crass to think that she questioned and was surprised by her pregnancy since she was told in advance by an angel that she was to become pregnant and she felt blessed by that.

    I am not offended, but don’t like the second one. I think it enforces a stereotype that may or may not be true. It just seems strange to me to say those things.

  33. Mark H. Dec 21st 2011 at 09:25 am 33

    As a Christian myself, I am not offended by the first one in itself - in fact it pokes a hole in the ideas that Mary’s pregnancy was not like that of other women (parallel to that Christmas carol line “…but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” Really?)
    As a Protestant, I believe in the virgin conception, but believe that from there the pregnancy and birth happened as they happen to any other woman. So Mary was probably morning-sick.

  34. Morris Keesan Dec 21st 2011 at 10:14 am 34

    Offensive or not, the first one made me laugh out loud, the instant I figured out who’s in the picture and
    what’s happening there.

    pirk #5 and schleifnet #8, Chanukah is eight days, even though most of our observance
    of it is in the evening.

    And Usual John #28, “requested page not found”.

  35. Morris Keesan Dec 21st 2011 at 10:23 am 35

    Here’s a working link to the 2009 church billboard. It’s an Anglican church in New Zealand.

  36. Elyrest Dec 21st 2011 at 11:02 am 36

    Some people seem to be dismayed by Mary looking at a pregnancy test. It is all in how you interpret it. She could be dismayed that it isn’t showing positive yet; she could be in awe of modern technology; she could feel blessed to be chosen by God, but still scared at being pregnant. It was a Christian church who put up this billboard and thet wanted to make people think. It seems to have accomplished it’s purpose.

    I thought the 2009 billboard was funny, but then again I’m a lapsed Catholic.

  37. Keera Dec 21st 2011 at 12:42 pm 37

    I find most jokes that make fun of the gospel funny, but I was raised in a Christian culture* so I get why it’s funny. As a non-Jew, familiar only with some stereotypes** but not Jewish culture or habits, it is easier for me to see the vodka billboard as promoting a negative stereotype.

    *) “The Life of Brian” broke some blasphemy law in Norway and got banned when it first came out, in spite of the fact that the movie makes fun of the religious (and school and fractioned left-wing protest groups), not Jesus himself.
    **) An example: In Norway, the Swedes are known as the Germans of the north and the Danes the Jews because the former like order and the latter are mercenary.

  38. The Ploughman Dec 21st 2011 at 04:17 pm 38

    There’s something that feels taboo about inserting modern items into sacred stories of the past (even if there’s no fundamental change in the story). Picture Baby Jesus laying in a modern metal feeding trough ( That’s, I suppose, the connotation people had hearing the story back in the year 0 (or thereabouts - please refrain from correcting my historical timeline, filling in dates of publication for the Gospels, etc).

    Judge Mental (22) and I are on the same page for the second one. Given some of the crap handed around as gifts (fruitcake, anyone?) I’m not sure “Christmas Quality” is something to brag about.

  39. James Pollock Dec 21st 2011 at 11:15 pm 39

    When I look at that first one, the thought I would put in Mary’s invisible thought bubble is “I’m supposed to do WHAT with this?!?”

  40. JM Dec 22nd 2011 at 06:50 pm 40

    When I see the vodka add, I think it is clearly focusing on the whole “Cheap Jew”, “I can get it for you wholesale”, “Let’s overcharge poor people in a Spike Lee movie”, stereotypes. There are Jewish comedians like Jerry Seinfeld who tell these same jokes in their acts. So is it offensive? Not on the surface. But when people tell me in complete seriousness, “Oh you know those people, they’ll rip you off. They’re so tight with a nickel they’ll make George Washington sufficate!” then yes, it does become obnoxious and offensive.

  41. FeelinOld Dec 24th 2011 at 04:59 am 41

    Sorry, but I Agree with Elrest @36, it’s all in the interpretation, I saw it as “wow it’s all true, I’m not losing my mind” I mean if your going to push it to modern times wouldn’t a similar claim result in such ridicule?

    But then I figure I’ve topped the hit list for the local purveyors of religion (It’s always fun to get them going and then slowly work them around to where they either say oh… or turn away in a huff. Don’t get me wrong, I generally like the people and the greater concepts, but too much horror in the world has been justified by religion. (ALL Religions)

    Faith should NEVER be blind…

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