Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorials and Elevens

Everyone knows about the Fourth of July. That day of flags, fireworks, barbecues, and unchained patriotism is practically synonymous with many depictions of the United States outside its own borders. Aside from that, though, there are a lot of American holidays I really don't know much about - like today, Memorial Day. It was actually the earlier American holiday commemorating war dead - Veterans Day is the American version of Remembrance Day, and Memorial Day had already been in existence for decades when the First World War ended. Given the experiences of the Civil War, which provided the original impetus for what became Memorial Day, and the First World War, it's understandable why the United States has two separate holidays recognizing the armed services, much like Australia and New Zealand recognize Anzac Day.

What I have a bit more difficulty understanding is what Memorial Day seems to have become. The other day I noticed that Perfect World Entertainment, operator of free MMOs like Star Trek Online and Champions Online, is "in honor of Memorial Day" having a sale on their electronic scrip, the in-game currency you buy with real-world currency. It's hardly an isolated phenomenon - "memorial day sale" turns up about a hundred and thirty-one million hits on Google. I've never been in the United States at this time of year, so I'm not really sure what it's like on the ground - but from what I'm seeing over here, the idea of taking a holiday meant to honor war dead and using it to push 50% off merchandise out the door strikes me as distinctly skeevy.

Run, don't walk, to our fabulous Remembrance Day Sale! 11% off everything in the store until the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month!

Of course, like I said, I don't know exactly what Memorial Day is like; I'm viewing it through the lens of Remembrance Day, which was always a somber, reflective occasion. When I was still in school, every year on November 11th we'd all file into the gym or auditorium, the principal would have some remarks, one of the teachers would recite "In Flanders Fields," and we'd have our moment of silence. Even here in British Columbia, where unlike Ontario the day is a statutory holiday, it's not an excuse for rampant commercialism - Metropolis at Metrotown, the largest mall in the province, remains closed until after the ceremonies on that day. There are no Remembrance Day sales. As far as I'm concerned, that's exactly as it should be.

Honestly, the idea feels sacrilegious. There's a time and a place for everything, and I can't help but wonder whether the commercialization of Memorial Day goes to show how much American culture really does care about its fallen.

No comments:

Post a Comment