Pity poor Hallmark. Seeking to avoid being perceived as a company marketing a Christmas ornament that might be offensive to some, the greeting cards giant instead offended almost everyone.
In late October Hallmark rolled out a Christmas ornament patterned after the gaudy, multicolored holiday sweaters that revelers unabashedly wear in the month of December. Great idea!
Except that the company made one slight change in the lyrics of a line from the carol “Deck the Halls” that appear on the ornament. Rather than “Don we now our gay apparel,” the ornament text reads “Don we now our fun apparel.”
Perhaps Hallmark thought the change would go unnoticed. But it took only a few days for gay activists and Christmas traditionalists alike to spot the substitution – and to take Hallmark to task for it. Activists claimed that Hallmark was being rather ho-ho-homophobic. Traditionalists wanted “gay” restored because … well … dag nab it, ya just don’t monkey with Christmas. Let’s see if a quick glance through Hallmark’s 2013 “Dream Book of Christmas Ornaments” supports that view.
In the Dream Book you’ll find the “Toga Toga Toga” ornament, depicting the late John Belushi as Bluto Blutarksy from the movie “Animal House.” You’ll recall that “Animal House” helps to preserve the old wassailing tradition of drunken debauchery. There’s an ornament titled “A Couple of Cupcakes,” which consists of a pair of snowpersons, one dressed in blue, one in pink. Of course everyone knows that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Everyone except those pesky gays, that is. And “cupcake” has long been a term used to deride male homosexuals. If Hallmark is so concerned with appearances, why not “A Couple of Small Iced Pastries?”
In the Dream Book you’ll also find that jolly old Christmas elf, The Joker, as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.” Here’s Hallmark’s description of the ornament:
“With a frighteningly malevolent appearance and a twisted twinkle in his eyes, The Joker dealt a hand of evil to the citizens of Gotham City – and to their protector – Batman. Despite his trademark grin, the taunts and tricks this madman has up his sleeve are definitely no laughing matter.”
Gotham in flames at Christmas – heartwarming!
Although Hallmark finally admitted it had erred in changing the lyrics, it hadn’t helped itself by initially issuing the kind of pseudo-apology that has become commonplace from those caught with foot in mouth:
“When the lyrics to ‘Deck the Halls’ were translated from Gaelic and published in English back in the 1800s,” the company said in a statement, “the word ‘gay’ meant festive or merry. Today it has multiple meanings, which we thought could leave our intent open to misinterpretation.”
Open to misinterpretation in the same way as selling greeting cards aimed at same-sex couples? Because Hallmark does that.
I’m not for tailoring language to avoid perceived offense. In today’s world, there’s a better than even chance that anything you say will offend someone. Proof of that exists in a statement, made by Peter LaBarbera of the Chicago-based Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, in response to Hallmark’s lyric-tampering.
“Who could blame Hallmark for changing the Christmas carol … because homosexual activists stole the word ‘gay,’” LaBarbera said. “It used to mean ‘happy’ and ‘joyful’ – and now it means, basically, identifying a sexual perversion: homosexuality.”
As The Joker himself might have said, “Why so serious, Peter?”
Homosexuals haven’t stolen a thing, much less co-opted the word “gay.” “The Gay Nineties” needn’t now be called “The Fun Nineties.” The 1934 musical comedy “The Gay Divorcee” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers has no hidden alternate lifestyle agenda.
Like it or not, English allows words to carry more than one connotation. It’s up to us to decide which one that is.
And that’s the straight dope.