I could scarcely believe the huge headline in the movie section of the December 7th New York Times. The full page ad screamed “12 DAYS TILL CHRIS-MOUSE.” Below it was the head of a little rat leaning over a dark wall on which was emblazoned the title of the movie — Mouse Hunt, now playing in theatres around the country.
Holding up the advertisement, with no further comment, I asked thirteen people in their Twenties and Thirties to each offer their comment or reaction at whatever level they chose. Each looked at the ad for a few seconds and most just shrugged as if to say — what’s there to say — just another ad playing off the Christmas season. “It’s sort of blah,” said one. “A bit corny,” said another. Most were puzzled enough to wonder why I was even asking them for a reaction.
Only one young man reacted almost immediately. “I don’t like it,” he said, indicating that it revolted him. At least he wasn’t so numbed by the omnipresent, hyper commercialization of a major religious celebration.
The business of Business has so normalized the secularization of Christmas that most people don’t notice the assault anymore. Little by little, year after year, their reactive frame of reference becomes that of the corporate hucksters. These are the same corporate hucksters who have taken over George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, turned Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day into mass saturation sales promotions. The same hucksters turn our respected historical figures like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson into salesmen for cars, banks or carpets.
Nothing seems off limits to these corporations. They are now in a frenzy to commercialize childhood to a point of conveying endless video featuring so much violence, sex and addiction to preteens that they can be characterized as electronic child-molesters.
The commercialists respond to criticism by invoking the free market and the First Amendment at the same time that they and the media barons restrict or censor regular access to that media by the critics. They evade the issue, which is not their constitutional right to speak but rather the sheer grossness of what they are saying in order to sell.
Dreamworks Pictures, headed by Steven Spielberg of the many famous, successful films, is the distributor of Mouse Hunt — a film genre known as “family entertainment.” Presumably he passed on the advertising campaign — he is known for his attention to detail — which means he saw nothing gross, nothing in terribly poor taste and offensiveness about CHRIS-MOUSE.
The juxtaposition of the name of Jesus Christ with a clever rodent is to him and hi copywriters just a funny, attention-getting phrase. Certainly, it was more eye-turning to the reader than that old standby Xmas — another old standby of insensitive sales mania. Replace Christ with an X and you’ve got the seasonal sales header, all right.
Perhaps Mr. Spielberg has been numbed like millions of other people to Christmas as just another occasion to sell the wares. But I suggest he should know better.
What other major religion is subjected to such overwhelming commercialization? Imagine, for a moment, any other major prophet of any other major religion being juxtaposed with the word “Mouse”, or any other object of commerce and think of the indignant reactions that would follow. It just is not done — not yet anyway. The social sanctions alone would be decisive.
For those who are prone to confuse the issue here, “Chris-Mouse” is not a question of literary or artistic freedom. It is simply an exceptionally distasteful advertisement, having nothing to do with the film other than to peddle it.
What is the response of DreamWorks Pictures? Will it be a shrug or a thoughtful reaction to lift the future level of good taste and decent boundaries?