The Christmas season is upon us, which means it's that special time of year for the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to make sure no wayward city council will allow a whiff of frankincense on government property. They must send out direct-mail fundraising letters asking "Help Us Crush a Creche at Christmas!"
The Christmas season is also that time of year when the business world implores us to consider the material as more important than the spiritual, all in the spirit of "the holidays." So we celebrate the arrival on Christmas Day of iPods and DVDs.
This year, there's a new twist. The nativity scene has become commercialized -- but in a way you would never imagine.
Reuters reports that an angry Italian priest persuaded the makers of the energy drink Red Bull to withdraw an animated advertisement on Italian television that has a fourth Wise Man arriving at the scene of the nativity to add a case of Red Bull to the frankincense, gold and myrrh. Father Marco Damanti, from Sicily, denounced their cartoon as "a blasphemous act" and said he had received a prompt reply promising to discontinue it.
"The image of the sacred family has been represented in a sacrilegious way," Father Damanti told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. "Whatever the ironic intentions of Red Bull, the advert pokes fun at the nativity and at Christian sensitivity." The priest also objected to the company's regular slogan, "Red Bull gives you wings," illustrated at the commercial's end by flying angels singing Hallelujah.
You can find the ad on YouTube, and while the Fourth Wise Man shtick is vulgar huckstering, the angels singing at the end is sort of sweet, if you overlook the fact that they're singing glory to God for the manufacturing of Red Bull. But then, it's hard to judge the ad in its entirety without an Italian translator. For all I know, it's possible that when the Virgin Mary speaks in the ad, she's saying, "I'm going to need an energy drink after those twice-a-night feedings."
It's interesting that Red Bull would run the ad in Italy and not in the United States, which suggests they can sense which markets are more amenable to the "ironic intentions" of advertising. It would not be wrong to state that many Europeans view Christianity like a faded old painting -- it looks nice and induces nostalgia, but it doesn't have much modern relevance.