The hyper-commercialization of the Christmas season is nothing new. Fifty-two years ago satirist Stan Freberg produced “Green Chri$tma$,” a memorable indictment of the profit-above-all mindset that seeks to transform the celebration of the Incarnation into an endorsement of everything from soft drinks to soap.
“All my life I had been disturbed by advertising’s increasingly blatant intrusion into Christmas,” Freberg recounted in his his 1998 book, It Only Hurts When I Laugh (Crown Publishing).
[H]aving been raised as a Christian, in a minister’s home, was mostly responsible for my feelings about it, but once I began working as a professional advertising person around people in agencies and clients, I suddenly realized that the overcommercialization simply didn’t have to be….
If a company wanted to tie some product into Christmas that just didn’t fit or that was grossly out of place, it was the job of its advertising agency to talk them out of it. If the agency was the one who had dreamed up ways of lashing some extraneous product into the holiday… it’s the client’s job to talk the agency out of it. Client and agency should save each other from themselves.
Why? Because it is the ethical thing to do.
“Green Chri$tma$” was greeted with controversy even before its release, Freberg recalled in his book.
[After we made the recording,] I was in New York when a call came in from a man named Lloyd Dunn. He was the new president of Capitol…. He…did not share my sense of moral outrage that Christmas had deteriorated into a sell-a-thon. He was calling now to tell me that on the advice of legal and many other people at Capitol he was pulling “Green Chri$tma$” off release…
“This is a very offensive recording[," he said].
“Who is it offensive to?” I asked.
“Everybody in the world of business!” he said. “You’ll offend everybody in advertising!”
“Not everybody,” I said. “Just the ones who should be offended.”
When Stan Freberg threatened to leave Capitol over the company’s refusal to release “Green Chri$tma$,” Dunn relented, but he demanded that Freberg “take out any mention of whose birthday we’re celebrating,” according to the account in It Only Hurts When I Laugh. Freberg refused.
Nonetheless, the recording gained attention — including plenty of negative attention from advertisers and those businesses (i.e., newspapers and broadcasting stations) supported by advertising.
A Christmas Day (1958) editorial in the Los Angeles Times accused Freberg of attacking the spirit of giving. In a rejoinder, published in the paper three weeks later, Freberg wrote that Times had misidentified the object of his satire.
["Green Chri$tma$"] is an attack on one thing and one thing only: advertisers who…decide to take a crack at tying their extraneous products into Christmas with Alka-Seltzer, soap, hair tonic and whiskey ads (to name a few), implying that it is indeed the Christian thing to be alkalized, clean, dandruff-free and loaded for Christmas.
Somehow this is a little sickening and a far cry from the gift giving that took place in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
In a interview decades later, Freberg noted that despite a few dated elements, the satirical point of “Green Chri$tma$” remained remarkably sharp. “I’m amazed that it holds up all these years,” he said.
Stan Freberg donated the proceeds from “Green Chri$tma$” to the Hemophilia Foundation.
To listen to “Green Chri$tma$” (4:30), use the audio player below. (This version, with some of the more-dated elements removed, is about two minutes shorter than the original production. The full version is available for purchase — as an mp3 download — here.)
Stan Freberg grew up in Pasadena, Calif., the son of a Baptist minister. He began providing voices for cartoons while still a teenager, then broke into network radio. After making series of popular satirical recordings in the 1950s, he concentrated his career on advertising and became known (in the words of Advertising Age magazine) as “the father of the funny commercial.”
In 1995, Stan Freberg was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
Related articles and information
|•||Let’s run it up the fir tree | TIME (Dec. 15, 1958)|
|•||Transcript of “Green Chri$tma$” | MyMerryChristmas.com|
|•||For the sake of the record (letter to the editor) | Stan Freberg, Los Angeles Times (Jan. 14, 1959)|
|•||Green Chri$tma$—fifty year$: An appreciation | A Christmas Yuleblog (Nov. 21, 2008)|
|•||Maestro of the mike | TIME (Oct. 18, 1999)|
|•||Commercials for God | TIME (July 12, 1963)
(NOTE: In 1963, Stan Freberg wrote and produced a series of commercials for the United Presbyterian Church, a denomination that was later part of the merger that formed the Presbyterian Church (USA) — tagline for the spots: “The blessings you lose may be your own.” In the 1970s, he wrote and produced several audio essays for the Southern Baptist Convention.)
|•||Stan, the man | TIME (July 29, 1957)|