Thursday, March 14, 2013

Patronizing or Celebrating?

We've been in the full swing of Lent for a few weeks now, St. Patrick's Day is coming soon, it's Women's History Month, and Black History Month was last month.  Are these things being celebrated in our culture or patronized by companies trying to sell us stuff?

Since Lent began last month, everywhere you turn someone is offering a special on some sort of fish: McDonald's has new McFish Bites (REALLY not inclined to try them), Wendy's and Hardee's (and I'm sure others) are promoting their Alaskan Cod sandwiches, among other fish specials at other places.  Plus, there's the Shamrock Shake that McDonald's offers every year.  As far as I know, I'm not Irish so I can't speak from personal feelings on this, but I always cringe a bit whenever I see these shakes and wonder if people who are Irish hate these, love these, or don't really think about it.

It's now March, and since St. Patrick's day is coming soon, everywhere you turn, stores are selling things related to St. Patrick's Day, Ireland, and Irish culture in every permutation.  Irish Oatmeal (which is essentially steel cut oats that you can buy year round anywhere, but they get special placement during March), "kiss me, I'm Irish" clothing and paraphernalia, things with clovers, and every permutation of green one can dream of.  Is this celebration of culture or patronization and commercialization?
Images of women are always everywhere in society, so there isn't really something to repurpose and repackage as a "woman's thing," but I'd imagine there are all sorts of things assumed to be affiliated with women (spa days, mani-pedi specials, shoe sales, etc.) that places are offering--if they even bother to pay attention to the fact that it's Women's History Month.  We get news reports and C-Span has an awesome series they are airing on the First Ladies of the U.S.  So, at least for this special thing, the celebrations seem to be educational unless my assumption about specials on gender stereotyped things is correct.

And then last month, most places you turned were offering something as it relates to Black History Month (BHM) and selling us all sorts of things in the name of celebrating the month.  If you drove by schools with announcement signs, I'm sure there was some sort of Black history program, channels aired specials of black culture, and every year there's always some damn store somewhere in the country that offers a chicken special for February and then claims they didn't mean any offense by it.  

Seriously, we're still on the chicken stereotype?  HUMANS (who eat meat) like chicken; race doesn't matter.  I digress...

I read an article last month in Clutch Magazine Online about how blacks don't really celebrate BHM as they should, but that the bigger issue is that we're being sold our own history back to us from companies and corporations who only want to make money off of the history and contributions.

In comparison, is a similar thing happening to faith, Irish culture, or women's history or any other fill-in-the-blank group during an important commemorative time?  While it may not be true that other groups (of whatever kind) aren't really celebrating their special date(s) as the article claims blacks are during BHM, I present the idea that there is some truth to companies simply wanting to make a buck off of a special date to a particular group.

However, on the flip side, would we be encouraged to explore other cultures, groups, dates of significance of groups not our own if those things were mass marketed to us?  
It's become painfully clear that most students' experience and lessons of history and other cultures is not fully encompassing (although some are).  Studying history and other cultures have been relegated to non-required breeze courses that students can easily opt out of.  

For those students who aren't exposed to historical and cultural contributions, would they ever be inclined to explore these things if these things weren't in our faces via marketing and consumerism?  

Should we be thankful that these things are in our face so that people who wouldn't otherwise notice them might pay a little more attention? 

Or should we be pissed that these things are only "celebrated" so that they can make someone else money?  Because in reality, "celebrating" something by buying green items or fish instead of other meat is really only celebrating our consumeristic culture rather than the real meaning behind these things to begin with.

About two years ago, I became really annoyed with the over-commercialization of holidays, and set out on a quest to research the true meanings and/or history behind things we celebrate.  I did this because I love knowledge, history, and learning about other cultures and customs.  How many people don't give a damn and simply go along with what's being sold and packaged to them during any given time of the year?

I guess in the end, this topic raises more questions than offers answers, but I don't profess to have all the answers on anything.  I ask the questions I have and encourage others to do the same and seek the answers for those burning questions they have.  I suppose I've just reached a point where I need more meaning behind why we do what we do and how we celebrate as we do other than celebrating by buying more stuff or simply because tradition suggests it should be done that way.

We're a tossed salad of a nation--complete with millions of cultures, backgrounds, histories, stories, etc. We come together in a salad bowl to make this nation, but each individual piece still is its own.  We should promote celebrating who we are, where we come from as well as who we are now that makes this nation who and what we are here.  We should not buy crap to claim to celebrate whatever the current flavor is.  

Support St. Patrick's Day and study and celebrate Irish culture year 'round because you think it's a beautiful land with awesome people and culture, who've weathered a hell of a storm of life to still stand tall and proud not because you want to blend in on March 17th.  
Buy fish because you want a friggin' fish sandwich any time of the year.  
Celebrate Lent (or not) your way.  
Study the history of people of color (all people of color) year 'round because you seek that knowledge not because it's February.  
Promote an understanding of the hellish experiences and amazing triumphs of women in March and the other 11 months because you want to.  
Reject the thought that you need something to be repackaged and sold back to you in order for you to remember its awesomeness.

Celebrate, explore, and question because you're led to from within not because some crafty marketing suggested you should.

Keep seeking knowledge.

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