Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Saving" St. Nick

A number of years ago, when proposed anti-flag burning legislation was grabbing the news cycle TV fictional POTUS Jeb Bartlett asked his staff this question: Is there a sudden epidemic of flag burning incidents that I'm not aware of (or something to that effect)? His point was that the public, through a mob mentality, was getting whipped up into an emotional lather over a non-issue, a non-existent threat, distracting the legislature from more relevant an meaningful work. The issues change, but the intent and effect are always the same: divide the people over emotional ideological issues. Get them so worked up, so polarized that constructive discourse can never take place on that issue, and turn attention away from the real issues we face so politicians are not forced to deal with them and are not held accountable. Ed Schultz's Guns, God and Gays theory.

The latest trigger to be pulled is this business about "saving Christmas" or defending against the "war on Christmas". The psychology is always the same: Identify a clear enemy (more difficult in this case, we can't directly blame Osama or Saddam, so progressives as a group will have to do. We know they are all sodomizing atheists), clearly & simply identify how they are actively attacking you (anti-America, pro-Saddam, weak on national defense or crime, anti-religion), use incendiary language to describe it ("war on ___", "anti-war", "anti-family values"), and shout down any nuanced, balanced discussion on said topic. The battle lines have to be very clear; you are either 150% with us, or you are 150% against us. This cultural/sociological trend disturbs me on several levels.

First, I believe that the rightie talking heads who dominate cable TV opinion shows foment this anger and hate are intentionally trying to start this angry landslide, not to resolve any issue, educate, or cause constructive change. The Bill O'Reillys of the world don't believe half of what they espouse on the air, but (like Howard Stern knows the success of doing outrageous things) they know the more they can trigger anger and destructive emotion the better their ratings will get, the more money they're paid and the more books they'll sell. Of course the initial trigger is always some black and white code word or phrase, like "secular", "naysayers", "cowards", "weak-kneed", and the all purpose and popular "liberals".

Second, these folks make a few assumptions which they never bother to critically explore for validity. The first is that there really is a sinister and diabolical enemy out there actively working to erase Christmas from everyone's life. We love protagonists in fiction (Look at Scrooge and the Grinch) so we willingly believe they exist in every case in real life. The second is that anyone not actively bemoaning this war on Christmas is mortally offended by the words Merry Christmas. I don't know very many people who actually are offended. And this notion that this unseen demon is trying to take "Christ" out of "Christmas"? Ah, newsflash! This happened long ago. Christmas is THE single most commercialized holiday of the year. Even those who actively celebrate it as Christ's birthday do so only one or two days. The rest of the time its food, drink, parties, decorations, and of course shop, shop, shop. Don't like Target's "Happy Holidays" theme? Don't shop there. But don't turn their inclusiveness into exclusiveness or irresponsibly label it "Christmas Under Seige" for crying out loud.

Third, I'm unaware of any actual instance where an individual has been told they can't celebrate Christmas any way they want, put it in their cards, write it in letters 10 ft. tall across the front of their house, say it to everybody they pass on the street, celebrate it at the church of their choice. Like the gay marriage thing, this is about them wanting everyone else to think and act the way they do to validate their beliefs. Sure, there's the occasional story about a parent suing a school district over a nativity display. If its not your kid's school, why are you stressing over it? If it is, then let your voice be heard as well. But don't scream about a mountain where only a molehill exists. The term "Happy Holidays" has existed for at least the last 60 years, its nothing new. The season starts in November and ends January 2nd. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas are not mutually exclusive, they can coexist, even within the same person! I have always taken either greeting as a friendly and well meaning gesture that made me feel good, I was not aware until this year that I need to be offended by one or the other.

Fourth, it is yet one more occasion where we should be coming together and celebrating our similarities, our differences, our strengths, and trying to help with our weaknesses. Instead we are now attempting to do with the holiday season what we let the Fox folks do with other occasions: turn it into an opportunity for destructive, divisive polarization, groundless paranoia and conspiracy theories, and bitter name calling.

And that is the true, tragic war on Christmas.

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