"Nissan's 2014 May the Fourth ad. A holiday made for fans seems insignificant next to the power of advertising"
There's a date in May that quickens the pulse of every true Star Wars fan. The very mention of the date recalls the excitement and unexpected joy of the franchise's 1977 beginnings; the moment an independent filmmaker confounded expectations with a movie that only 40 theater owners had shown any initial interest in screening. It was a day that shocked the world, and changed everything about the way we entertain ourselves.
I speak, of course, of May 25, Star Wars' birthday.
As for May the 4th? The day was a small underground event for fans, an excuse to get together and watch the movies — until 2013, when Lucasfilm and its new owners, Disney, officially embraced it. That made for a fun day of creative celebration. (Mashable got in on the act last year, along with Change.org and Lucasfilm, by holding a special screening for any Star Wars newbies we could find.)
But by 2014, it seems, just about every brand on the planet has seen an opportunity to link themselves with a universally popular franchise — creating a commercial cacophony, an orgy of opportunism unparalleled in the history of co-opted holidays.
At some point, we have to ask: has May 4th crossed over to the Dark Side?
The fact that we have Star Wars day on May 4th is due less to George Lucas than to Margaret Thatcher. The UK general election that swept her Conservative party to power was held on May 3 1979, and Thatcher entered 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister the following day — coincidentally enough, while the Empire Strikes Back was being filmed in the same city.
In what was intended as a throwaway line in his diary of the shoot, British publicist Alan Arnold noted that the Conservative party had taken out a full page ad in the now-defunctLondon Evening News. The ad read "May the 4th be with you, Maggie, congratulations." Those on the set of the movie had a good chuckle about it, and little more was mentioned until May 4th 1982, when, according to publicist John Philip Peecher, the crew of Return of the Jedi independently made the same pun.
The joke didn't crop up again until May 4 1995, when again it made an appearance in British politics. MP Harry Cohen brought it up in a debate on defense — but only to mention that the pun was so bad, it was almost a firing offense:
May the fourth is an appropriate date for a defence debate. My researcher, who is a bit of a wit, said that it should be called national Star Wars day. He was talking about the film "Star Wars" rather than President Reagan's defense fantasy, and he added, "May the fourth be with you." That is a very bad joke; he deserves the sack for making it, but he is a good researcher.
Over the next decade, May 25 emerged as the leading candidate to celebrate the franchise. Los Angeles City Council officially declared May 25 to be Star Wars day in 2007. The following year, May 25 was widely celebrated as "Geek Pride Day" — since it is also a significant date in the history of two other space/fantasy franchises, Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (fans of which call May 25 "Towel Day") and Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (in which a "glorious revolution" took place on May 25.)
But perhaps Geek Pride Day was a little too much like President's Day for Star Wars fans — a merger of commemorative occasions that should rightfully have stayed separate. May 4th parties and media coverage started to pick up around 2009, and the holiday really came into its own in 2012 and 2013. Not every fan is happy about that, however.
"I'd prefer to celebrate on May 25th," says Bryan Young, Star Wars podcaster and blogger at Starwars.com, among other places. "But
the pun is too catchy. Like the Dark Side, it's quicker, easier, more seductive ... it's no surprise it's been co-optedthe pun is too catchy. Like the Dark Side, it's quicker, easier, more seductive ... it's no surprise it's been co-opted."
Now here we are in 2014, a year when 50 Cent's line of Star Wars-themed "street" headphones are being promoted on May 4. Vans is tweeting pictures of skateboarding Wookiees. Brands contort themselves and Star Wars tropes to the point where they become meaningless. We may chuckle when we see Nissan place a white car next to a black one with the caption "Juke, I am your father." But when Starbucks gives us two beverages locking straws and writes "I am your frappucino," we have to ask: do you even Star Wars, bro?
So next year, young Jedi, you have a choice. You could continue to celebrate Star Wars on May 4, and give your tacit backing to this commercial extravaganza. Or you could hold your fire until May 25. You must choose your own path; no one can choose it for you.
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