When coffee chain Dunkin' Donuts released coffee cups this week with pine needles surrounding the word "Joy," it made news. A dose of commercialized holiday Pablum should not be news, but media outlets interpreted it as a knock against Starbucks, despite the company saying it was not meant that way.
In case you missed it – and really, how could you? – Starbucks has made news for releasing holiday-themed red cups that some believed were not Christmassy enough. This is not a bit of marketing sport. Treating it as such – treating it as news at all – is pandering to the lowest common denominator.
None of the news reports on this supposed marketing scuffle have reliably measured just how widespread the initial social media backlash was. Starbucks' holiday cup designs have historically been more winter-themed than particularly Christmas-themed anyway.
Many people on social media noted that they saw far more posts by people angry at the suggestion that Starbucks was destroying Christmas than actual people who were angry at Starbucks. Some speculated that Starbucks may have intentionally made its red cups too plain as a publicity stunt. That seems unlikely. The bigger issue is why this is being discussed at all.
That Donald Trump jumped on the bandwagon, calling for a Starbucks boycott is not evidence of a legitimate movement, but indication the candidate is trying to again appeal to populist bigotry.
During last weekend's Saturday Night Live episode, which Trump hosted, comedian Michael Che rightly skewered positions like this by professing his discomfort whenever "white folks start bringing up the good old days." Mr. Che added: "After all those years of progress, Trump's going to really go with, 'No, I think we had it right the first time?'"
People who speak of a "war on Christmas" believe they are pining for the good old days. But that was a time before we acknowledged a need to embrace the fact that in a diverse society, not everyone's winter holidays include Christmas. That embrace never meant annihilating Christmas; it has manifested in the most benign ways possible. A few "happy holidays" cards and greetings. The trees and the lights and the fairy tales about Santa have all been left well intact.
To object to this is, at best, to desire total cultural hegemony. (Which is troubling.) At worst, it's an expression of distaste at having to live side by side with cultures that do not celebrate Christmas – which is bigotry.
The term "false balance" may apply here. These are not two sides of an even debate. If this tempest in a coffee pot has any impact on the Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks brands, it is only because a disproportionate amount of attention is being paid to people who mask their intolerance behind complaints of a non-existent war on a dominant culture.
There is no war on Christmas. If people should be upset at any marketer, let it be with Bloomingdale's. The retailer had to apologize this week after it ran an ad with a man looking at a woman who is looking away. The accompanying holiday party idea: "Spike your best friend's eggnog when they're not looking."
Now that is actually offensive.