Best Buy’s “Game-on Santa” makes shopping a competitive sport and the be-all and end-all of existence

I imagine that virtually no OpEdge reader could beat Kobe Bryant at one-on-one basketball. And none of you could outrun Usain Bolt, current world record holder in the 100 meter dash. You couldn’t sneak a fast ball by Alex Rodriguez. Women’s golf champ Yanni Tseng would give you 5 strokes and still beat you. Hikaru Nakamura, currently the best U.S. chess player, would give you a pawn and demolish you in 30 moves or less. You’d be eating a tennis ball on every serve from Raphael Nadal.

But there is one world-renowned titan who you can beat at his own game. And all it takes is money or a credit card that hasn’t reached its limit.

The game is shopping and the titan is Santa Claus.

Or at least that’s what Best Buy is proposing in its Christmas-shopping television commercials this year, unified by the theme line, “Game on, Santa.”

All three of the Best Buy Christmas shopping spots I have seen pose a competition between you, the viewer, and Santa Claus. Whether it’s a giving competition or a shopping competition is moot, since the commercial seems to equate the two. The three scenarios I have seen just about complete the stations of Santa’s mythical annual visit (not to be confused with Christ’s Stations of the Cross):

  1. A mother stops Santa on the roof at the chimney and warns him that she’s been to Best Buy.
  2. A mother shows Santa the new widescreen TV she got for the family, making Santa gulp down his cookie with an expression that says that the news has shocked him as a “Hail Mary” pass that wins a football game might.
  3. A mother is at the hung stockings, which are stuffed to the cuffs, taunting Santa with the fact that there is no room for what he has brought.

Note that in all three commercials the house is upscale and the competitive shopper is an attractive, but not beautiful, white woman who looks to be in her late 30s. 

The commercial is as packed with unspoken ideological imperatives as the stockings are stuffed with junk in the one Best Buy spot. The most obvious ideological subtext is the reduction of all emotions or emotional manifestations to the act of buying something. A history of this centerpiece of 21st century American ideology would begin with the commercialization of Christmas and the gradual replacement of the custom of making gifts with the new custom of shopping for them.

Like the advertisements for and media coverage of Black Friday, the “Game On, Santa” commercials take a subtle post-modern step in the evolution of the consumerist ideology because what is being hyped is shopping in and of itself, and not as a way to celebrate a holiday. One characteristic of post-modern art is for the art to be about the process of making art, and not about something else. 

The commercial sinks a deeper ideological hook into viewers, though, and that is the premise that competition is good. The act of arranging Christmas according to the modern traditions has become a game which produces winners and losers. Instead of the more obvious choice of a loser—that snooty next-door neighbor, the sister who always wins, that obnoxious shopper who wants to grab the last Xbox or the mother-in-law, the upscale mom is beating Santa, which means she’s winning big-time.   

We know that the consumerist ideology connects every emotion to the act of buying.  The Best Buy “Game On, Santa” commercials also connect the act of buying to winning and losing, that is, competition, and by implication, to market competition. The free market ideology says an unencumbered market in which everyone pursues his or her own best interests will result in the greatest good for everyone. The hidden message is that the free market in which people are allowed to compete is a good thing. A twist to the message is that by buying things, you can be a winner in the free market. The “Game On, Santa” theme proposes that the greatest good in our mythical free market world is to shop.

The irony of the Best Buy series is that Santa Claus, like the advantages of the free market, is a mythical figure, a folk hero about whom we create stories for small children. Someone competing with Santa Claus is really competing with him/herself.  It’s the ultimate potlatch, but instead of showing your neighbors how much you’re worth by destroying piles of your own possessions, you demonstrate your worth to yourself by being the smartest buyer of gifts, the “Sultan of Shopping” (“Sultan of Swat” was one of Babe Ruth’s many nicknames). 

How does the self win against the self, that is, transcend the self and become a better self, a winning self? Is it through prayer, chant, right living, death, ritual, acts of kindness, study or group action, as a multitude of philosophers and religious figures have proposed through the ages?

No, in the American ideology, the redemption that “winning against the self” brings comes from being the best shopper you can be.

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