Barbara Lippert’s Critique: The Gift Of Parody

T hese days, not too many Christmas spots begin with “It’s OK if you’re a Muslim.” So making fun of the idea of P.C. inclusiveness is obviously at the root of this “Chrismahanukwanzakah” miracle from Virgin Mobile. (And there’s a nice little tie-in to the strategy, as the gift of the Virgin phone is also inclusive, with no fees, contracts, commitments, etc.)

Sure, there are a lot of jokey holiday spots around—some good (Lexus dealers are finally making fun of the giant bow), some not so good (the Best Buy spot starring Kris Kringle’s less handy brother, Kevin). But I’ve never seen a campaign go to these lengths to provide a merry “special needs” Christmas, particularly if you’re a sexually ambiguous, lactose-intolerant Scientologist. (As the ragtag chorus in the spot assures us, “That’s kind of a religion.”)

Just shmooshing all the names together and topping it off with the added “kah” at the end is inspired. And with a make-shift set, low-rent rabbis with a menorah on the piano instead of a candelabra, and a Rudolf-like beaver with a light-up red nose (don’t even go there!), the spots also satirize the many ads that try to sanitize, or at least put a high gloss on, the season’s activities. The Santa in the mad turban puts his finger on the hypocrisy of the business of Christmas—and such holiday sales messages—when he sings, off-key and in heavily accented English, “What matters most is a camera phone for $20 less!”

The idea of sending up what’s politically correct seems to have lost some of its resonance these days: First, at this point in the world of Christmas commercials, the parodies probably outnumber the traditional two to one. Second, and more importantly, the sudden climate of anger and divisiveness has certainly put P.C. excess on the back burner.

But anyone who’s attended a grade school holiday assembly (at a non-religious, progressive school) can relate to the forced inclusion, sweet as it seems now. Moreover, the spots are getting huge buzz and are unforgettable—because of the specificity of the target, and the high level of writing and production. There are two spots, a :60 and a :30, each with a variation of the Chrismahanukwanzakah song, with lyrics by the creatives at Fallon New York and music by the band Ween.

Along with the infectiously slow, repetitive beat and unexpected lyrics (rhyming “goy” with “eggnog made from soy,” for example), the spots exude an unerring, deadpan, Waiting for Guffman sensibility that’s tricky to pull off. Plus, the resulting stiff and awkward tableau offers some new and hilarious detail with each viewing. There’s a Zen Buddhist bass-playing priest in an orange robe stuck in the back, next to the porn-star-ish angel on xylophone, and they wordlessly play along with the African guy on a horn; each spot ends with the touching use of the little cripple dressed in Tiny Tim’s 19th-century duds from A Christmas Carol, who hobbles forth on his crutches in the snow and goes right down—he takes a tumble into Santa’s strange menagerie of sleigh-pullers.

Ironically, by offending everyone at such a knowing level, the spots puncture the huffy self-importance of both the right and the left right now, and provide us all with a (much needed) unified yuletide chuckle.

Of course, if you want to get huffy, there’s the whole “Virgin” name thing (and a recent Newsweek poll of Americans who consider themselves Christian found that 79 percent believe in the virgin birth). But it’s not like Virgin is re-creating a Nativity scene—as was done at the wax museum in London, with Posh Spice as Mary and Hugh Grant as one of the wise men—or using lines like Larry David’s “I ate the baby Jesus” on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

More troubling, perhaps, is the association with Richard Branson’s ailing reality show in which he’s weirdly polite about firing people. Advantage to the Donald. But wasn’t the branding thing supposed to work the other way?

There’s also an animated version of the spot on the Web where Santa plays the sitar (www.chrismahanukwanzakah .com), along with billboards and e-cards. (If you’re rude enough to send an e-card, you might as well make it funny.) And I forgot to mention the pagan and the Neanderthal (who bears a striking resemblance to the Geico caveman) reminding us we’re all monkeys, and the elf with the creepy falsetto who goes both ways.

One slight cavil: there’s nothing in it for those with irritable bowel syndrome or acid reflux, but there’s always next Christmas.



Virgin Mobile

Agency

Fallon, New York

Executive creative director

Ari Merkin

Associate creative director

Wayne Best

Art directors

Wayne Best,

Marcus Woolcott

Copywriter

Adam Alshin

Agency producer

Zarina Mak

Director

Kuntz & Maguire/MJZ