Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Scottsdale Gun Club, Gordon Murray
Nothing gets me into the Christmas spirit like seeing photos of people posing with Santa while holding their favorite assault rifle. It’s a perfect coupling, like eggnog and a full-on drunk, now we’ve got guns and Santa.
Like pumpkin pie and whipped cream, snow on Christmas morning, Jingle Bells and hot cocoa—it was inevitable that someone would find a way to combine a long-treasured holiday icon with a weapon that has a muzzle velocity of 715 meters per second.
Of course, this photo will start a trend. Soon, we’ll see cheery folks posing at Santa’s gun shop at the North Pole, surrounded by elves dressed in camouflage. The Elf Force will keep very busy making AK-47s for the millions of children who’ll stamp their little feet and shriek the heck with the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle! Santa’s eight tiny reindeer are transformed into armor-clad Humvees. Glad tidings will be sent to all through the firing of a round of ammo.
And to all a good night.
Sooner or later, someone who places commerce or political ideology above tradition will co-opt a beloved symbol and turn it into something ugly. Santa isn’t a jolly old elf; he’s an NRA member who loves chicks with guns.
This practice, shown in the photo, is all the more despicable because it wrenches an icon out of the hands of children and adults who celebrate this time of year as something innocent and good. People with a less than savory agenda believe that icons and symbols are up for grabs—to be distorted and twisted into an idea or belief that serves some other master. Sometimes that master is the agenda of the NRA: put guns into the hands of anyone who wants them and place no restrictions on their portability.
But the master can be anything, as long as it sells an idea or a product.
Look familiar? Perhaps not. They’re cigarette advertisements from long ago. Yet, still, to this day, tobacco companies continue to steal icons and symbols to further their agenda, which is to find a constant stream of replacement customers, because their current ones are dying off or getting very ill.
Lots of people think this is okay—that companies and organizations ought to be able to do anything they want with our cherished symbols, icons and messages. After all, in the U.S., we believe in free speech! But, here’s the rub: We act like nothing happens between the moment we see the distortion of a symbol and the message that gets implanted in our brains.
But something does happen and it’s insidious and pernicious. The NRA marketing staff know, because they’ve seen it done before, that co-opting a friendly icon, which has a long history of association with only positive things, and pairing it with a message that is far less than positive, will create a transformation in our minds—and in the minds of children and youth. This stuff works. The tobacco industry marketing staff were geniuses at this symbol-mind transformation. They used cartoon characters to show that smoking is fun and youthful; they used babies to convince moms that smoking helps relieve the stress of motherhood; they used Santa, too, to show that smoking is a festive, cheerful thing to do.
This practice, honed by decades of well-funded and thoroughly conducted research, is called, “friendly familiarity.” It’s the Trojan horse of advertising. Before you know it, the agenda, the product, is in your back yard and it just doesn’t seem that bad or harmful. After all, Santa is there, smoking a cigarette and hanging on to his AK47.
It’s deplorable that the NRA or a gun club would further its goals of getting a gun into everyone’s hands by using Santa to sell its agenda. Children grow up too fast already in the U.S. Can’t we leave them with one untarnished icon that has always been a symbol of innocence and joy?