Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Real War on Christmas is Our Corporate-Driven Material Culture

00 Art Young. Jesus wanted poster. He stirreth up the people. 1913

The First Century analogues of Fox News, the megachurchers, and Corporate America DEMANDED the death of Our Lord Christ on the cross… fancy that… it seems like the “religious” haven’t changed their spots over the centuries!


War is hell. Let’s face it, the battle for peace on earth and goodwill towards men isn’t for the faint of heart… or, apparently, for the faint of light. That’s the premise of ABC’s new, three-part special, The Great Christmas Light Fight. After all, how better to commemorate the birth of the Prince of Peace than with a fight? Moreover, with Christmas lights, no less! Forget goodwill towards men. Forget Charlie Brown’s dated, quaint paean to the spirit of Christmas using the allegory of a lonely, sparsely-decorated tree. Instead, the commando wing of Disney’s media army produced a climate-warming, suburban energy vampire version of duelling banjos. No, there’s no room at the inn for something as outdated as “goodwill” when families go head-to-head, matching wits and carbon-footprints in a contrived “reality” showdown. Furthermore, the winner gets money. Each episode ends with 50,000 USD (2.73 million Roubles. 310,000 Renminbi. 3.17 million INR. 58,000 CAD. 61,600 AUD. 41,000 Euros. 32,000 Pounds) awarded to the victorious family. C’mon… wielding your “Christmas spirit” to beat the other guy for a hefty chunk of change? What’s more “Christmas” than that? Onward, Christmas soldiers!

The only thing that matches ABC’s too-close-to-the-bone expression of a corporately-sponsored Christmas is America’s annual Black Friday demolition derby and the desperate consumerism that fuels it. Viral videos of the violent scrum have become a tradition, too. With each passing year, the kick-off to the profitable holiday season looks more and more like a kick-off to a football game, as retailers keep their stores open and their minds closed to anything other than squeezing a little more profit out of embattled consumers. Yes, Virginia, there’s a war on Christmas. However, it isn’t the misdirected and misanthropic battle ginned-up by self-interested media blatherati and crypto-crusaders. The implication of their version of the war on Christmas… sold by politically-minded religious “conservatives”, talk radio rabble-rousers, Bill O’Reilly and, it seems, the entirety of Fox News… is that they’re making a last stand at the Alamo of American Christianity against humanists, atheists, and a host of mealy-mouthed “liberals” bent on destroying the very foundation of the Republic itself.

There is a war, but these Christmas soldiers mass on the wrong front. Offended non-believers or the incessant meddling of politically-correct busybodies don’t wage the real attack… corporate profiteers wage the real war on the spirit and meaning of Christmas through a grinding campaign of multimedia marketing. Corporate Christmas isn’t a time of humble reflection, effusive charity, and financial modesty. It’s a market opportunity… and they do exploit it. It’s the last chance to change the year’s bottom line from red to black… thus, the term “Black Friday”. Corporate Christmas is a market-tested, pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped box full of emptiness; religious tradition is a mere by-product. The oddity is that this money-changing, profit-making, and strangely competitive version seems diametrically opposed to the “reason for the season”. Of course, that reason is the birth of one of history’s great champions of the poor, of the weak, and of turning your cheek away from a fight. Sorry, ABC. Could Jesus be any less of a fit with Corporate Christmas? According to the world-famous birthday boy, a camel has a better chance of passing through the eye of a needle than one of these rich corporate retailers has of joining him in heaven. Maybe, that’s why they spend so much effort and marketing money on wringing out the religious teachings and replacing it with consumer culture. The returns on that effort are mixed.

According to a new study from Pew Research, Americans’ least favourite part of Christmas is commercialism and materialism. A third of those polled don’t like the corporate version of Christmas. The emphasis on money also bothered 22 percent of those surveyed. One of the big numbers from the survey is 51 percent. Of the 91 percent of those who said they plan to celebrate Christmas, only 51 percent consider it “more of a religious holiday”. Moreover, someone should tell the folks at Fox that only 7 percent said they wouldn’t celebrate it at all, which isn’t much of a phalanx of anti-Christmas warriors. In fact, 80 percent of non-Christians will celebrate Christmas. Of course, they’d be more likely to view it as a cultural holiday, but (and this is a crucial number) only two-thirds of Christians view Christmas as more of a religious holiday than a cultural observance.

It’s true that a level of political correctness forced schools, cities, and states to agree to the demands of religious tolerance. However, isn’t it also possible that those efforts pale in comparison to the corrosive effects of maniacal materialism and corporate salesmanship? Doesn’t Corporate Christmas benefit directly from downplaying the religious, ethical, and anti-materialist themes associated with Jesus, His life, and His gospel? The most frustrating part of this war on Christmas scrum is the fact that those who profess a motivation to preserve tradition and to counter persecution… whether real, perceived, or simply manufactured… are often the very people who profit from the corporate rot undermining the traditions they seem so motivated to preserve. Their annual war on Christmas special generates outrage and, therefore, ratings. Those ratings, in turn, help them sell commercial time to the corporations that, of course, inundate viewers with a barrage of holiday sales, gift ideas, and plastic doo-dads made by wage-slaves in Asia. Perhaps, it’s this underlying tension and hypocrisy… linking the man who gave the Sermon on the Mount with a frantic feeding frenzy with a troubling, often violent, consumer competition… that has more and more people divorcing religion and ethics from the holiday.

Really, as the ethical and moral sentiments of Christmas fade, the holiday evolved into little more than a corporate-consumer battleground. Americans dutifully march unto the breach, hoping to declare victory (my shopping is done!) after harried forays into the crucible of conspicuous consumption. Besides, corporations do their best to offend no one, appeal to everyone, and launder all that holiday spending through their globalised system of production into their bulging bank accounts. Out of the hands of the many and into the hands of the few. It’s a haunting vision of Christmases yet to come. However, that ghost can’t compare to the politically correct bogeyman at the centre of the phony war on Christmas. Sadly, those crusaders are uncomfortable with Pope Francisco’s timely admonitions against hoarding wealth, worshipping Mammon and (on the eve of the holiday) America’s unique contribution to Christian theology… the Prosperity Gospel. Like the lonely light that led the wise men to the manger in the first place, he’s trying to lead people back to Jesus… sadly, his less-than-flashy effort has little chance of winning ABC’s Great Christmas Light Fight.

20 December 2013

J P Sottile

The Guardian



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