A while back some commercials ran on television that included the little jingle, “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” My answer to the question was just about anything that was not illegal, immoral, or unethical. Those things are great.
This week’s question might be “Whom would you kiss for a Snickers Bar?” There’s been a lot of hullabaloo over a Snickers commercial that debuted during last Sunday’s Super Bowl telecast. For those of you who have been vacationing on Pluto, I’ll summarize the plot. Two guys—think Cooter from the old Dukes of Hazzard TV show—are working on the engine of a car. One of them pulls a Snickers bar from his shirt pocket, unwraps it and sticks it in his mouth. The other one, attracted by the candy bar, begins to eat the bar from the other end. So they are both chewing on the Snickers bar from opposite ends—think Lady and the Tramp eating spaghetti. They meet—literally—in the middle. Realizing their predicament, they jump back from each other and, feeling the need to do something manly, they each rip off some chest hair. Ouch.
Some folks were upset about the commercial because they felt that it made fun of homosexuality or perpetuated homophobic attitudes. I can see that, I guess. Of course, straight men could also complain that it made fun of stereotypical “manliness.” Mechanics could claim that the ad perpetuated stereotypes about them. Chocoholics might complain that their illness was made light of. And so on.
The Mars Company has pulled the offending ad. So far as I know, GM is still running an advertisement for which they are getting flak; it shows an assembly line robot that has lost its job becoming so despondent that it jumps off a bridge. It turns out to be a dream sequence (a robot dreaming?) but some folks have complained that the ad makes light of suicide. I think that John Stewart had it right on the Daily Show when he said that if GM is going to apologize to anybody for anything maybe they should apologize to the thousands of human workers who have been laid off.
In both cases, people have been offended by visual images. In other cases, people are offended by words. A few days ago, Sen. Joseph Biden, in an apparent effort to compliment Sen. Barak Obama, used some phrasing that could be regarded as offensive to African Americans. I don’t think that anybody believes that he meant to be offensive, but that’s the way his words were perceived. Such words as those grab the headlines and they will likely dog Biden for months as he pursues the Democratic nomination for President. I wonder how well we are served by a media that gives such words so much attention but that, unless we are willing to go beyond the usual print and television sources, gives so little attention to substantial words about policies and potential solutions to problems. I mean, maybe it tells us something about Biden when he can’t be more articulate than he was in trying to talk about Obama, but surely it doesn’t tell us everything we need to know as we try to evaluate his presidential potential.
I believe that images and words do matter. Christians should work hard not to perpetuate stereotypes about anybody. The love of Christ should be so present in our lives that we want only to build up and to help and never to tear down and to hurt. The Bible teaches that our words are very important. The ancient Hebrews would never have bought into a “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” mentality. They knew the power of blessings and curses. Jesus taught us that the words that come out of our mouths reflect the contents of our hearts. If we say hateful things about people then we must be harboring hate in our hearts. That’s no way for a Christian to live.
We Christians should exercise much caution in how we use our words. As the little song we sang in the children’s Sunday School Assembly at Midway Baptist Church put it, “Oh be careful little mouth what you speak; for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little mouth what you speak.” We should be especially careful about what we say to someone or about someone.
But on the other hand—I do get the sense that folks in American society need to lighten up a little bit. Maybe some of us do take ourselves a little too seriously. Now I want to be cautious here because I may be treading somewhere that I have no right to go. I belong to no group that can lay any legitimate claim to persecution. I do not share in the belief that Christians are a persecuted segment of the American population. We probably should be, if we were being what we are supposed to be, but I don’t think that’s happening. Still, I think there’s much about folks like me that could provide fodder for comedians and essayists and even advertisers.
So…when I see something that makes fun of middle-aged, European-American, heterosexual, hairline-challenged, Southern, nearsighted, skinny-legged, paunchy, middle-class, Christian evangelical Baptist, small-footed, boney-kneed, married with two children, mechanically disinclined, bookwormish, and nerdy male ministers, I’ll try to remember my own advice and not take it too personally.
But please…if you just have to say something, at least be Christian about it!