Unleash the Christmas Madness

Light the Gingerbread Cookie Yankee Candle, guzzle a Venti Peppermint Mocha Starbucks Latte, crank up Deck the Halls and for the love of all that is good, press play so I can watch Will Ferrell adorn yellow tights and frolic in all of his Elf glory- IT’S CHRISTMAS PEOPLE! Well it’s actually November 14, 2013 but just as newly elected New Jersey Governor is as good as the President elect, (shouts, “Christie 2016!”) it might as well be December 24th, complete with Maya Rudolph reading us a Best Buy bedtime story.

For quite some time I have unsuccessfully hid a deep dark secret of mine, but here I am to proclaim it to the Internet. My name is Susan B. Johnson and I do not like Christmas- oh the shame. As much as all of this obsessive holiday hoopla makes me want to scream, I am vowing to give it somewhat of a rest this holiday season. I will let my heart grow a size or two but definitely not three.

A few of my favorite Communication scholars will help me express how I plan for us all to live in Christmas harmony:

Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher and literary critic in the 1900s. His theory of Carnivalesque suggests that holidays such as Carnival, are isolated events in which the dominant culture allows for subversives to behave radically in a “safe environment.” People are given a few days a year to be boisterous, drunk, nude, over indulgent, and riotous, to ensure that for the rest of the year they act according to social rules and regulations. These few days a year are a release to keep people from feeling oppressed enough to incite an uprising. Bakhtin, however, saw a power that he believed the dominant culture neglected. He viewed holidays as catalysts for change. From these infrequent days of ignoring social norms and responsibilities, by acting out on the one day without consequences, he thought people might start to question why there are consequences at all and who they benefit. People might be able to see the social hierarchy more clearly by extending the holiday’s power into the rest of the year.

Antonio Gramsci, an Italian revolutionary thinker of the 1900s, founded the idea of incorporation, in which the dominant culture incorporates a counter-culture movement into order to strip it of its power. A common example of this is the grunge culture. Grunge encouraged its supporters to reject consumerism, to buy used clothes rather than buying new from multinational corporations. Therefore, worn, ripped, baggy, and faded became the trend. Fearing the counterculture’s power to affect sales, the same multinational corporations that grungies hated, welcomed grunge with open arms. They ripped and bleached and wore their new clothes to look used and sold the trend in a safe way. They made it easy for people to appear as though they joined the movement without making sacrifices that the movement depended upon, thus taking away the counterculture power.

I’ll make all of you Christmas lovers a deal- I will recognize Bakhtin’s theory that holidays, Christmas included, have power and therefore are beneficial to a progressing culture, if you recognize that, in Gramsci’s words, Christmas has been incorporated.

Christmas is powerful, I truly believe that. It spreads messages of peace, generosity, selflessness, and family. It asks all of us to slow down and reflect on what is important to us, asks us to be thankful for what we have, and to spread our wealth to those who have less than us. We put our professional aspirations on hold and focus on others, an indulgence that is dangerous to the dominant culture should it spread outside of the Christmas season.

Christmas has also been incorporated. We are encouraged to show our generosity, our selflessness, our love for our family through material gifts. We buy gifts and make care packages to send overseas to the less fortunate. In doing this, we buy gifts from a corporation, and ignore the possibility that this same corporation could be the ones exploiting our less-fortunate gift recipients for their cheap labor. Instead of questioning the system and seeking to transform it, we buy things. Incorporation provides a “safe” way to fulfill our desire to be compassionate. Instead of asking the dangerous question of why, for example, there are people in our communities who work full time and still cannot feed their families, we can buy them a box of instant mashed potatoes and some cranberry sauce and feel just as satisfied.

Now, if you want to enjoy material holiday pleasantries, like your house falsely smelling of freshly baked cookies or drinking sugary drinks, be my guest, I will not chastise you for it. But do me a solid in return, please? Add a moment of reflection in there too. Why do you like these things? Why do they mean so much to you? How do these small pleasures affect other people? Are you using them to ignore the bigger picture?

While you slurp down your Peppermint Mocha Latte and every latte after that, give the Colombian coffee farmer a second thought. 

Do not allow your Christmas contribution to the food bank to be a justification to support Welfare cuts or hate of the inconvenience of healthcare reform.

Do not allow Christmas to be an excuse for the one time a year you make time for your family.

Do not compensate the lack of time you spend with your aging grandparents or brother who lives across the country with an espresso machine.

Do not calculate your love for your children based on the number of presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

Embrace the power of Christmas as a catalyst for change.

Even I admit, Christmas has power, but it’s not in the Santa Clauses or the metallic bows or 8 foot Douglas furs. It is in the chance for self reflection. Instead of trampling each other to get our sons the PS4 on Black Friday, why don’t we say, “I love you son, let’s spend time together.” Instead saying “Merry Christmas” when we work at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve, let’s say, “I will fight for you,” and let’s keep saying it into the New Year, the summer and back around to the start of the Christmas season again, November 14th.

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Outsourcing Opinion Production: Leave the thinking to the political experts

A primary principle of capitalistic economic theory suggests that efficiency and specialization directly correlate. It gives way to the import and export system- one country, region, area, sector, whatever it may be specializes in the production of a specific good or idea and then becomes an expert. This person or group of people is then able to analyze information or create a good at a faster rate than someone who is not an expert. Therefore, more goods can be produced or ideas thought in less time. I have qualms with this theory, many of which have to do with the definition of efficiency and how much you are willing to accept it as a guise for corruption, but alas that is for another day and another post.

The largest problem that I have with this economic principle is that it is viewed as universal. We took one idea that allowed bananas to be distributed worldwide at all times of the year, in mass quantities and have applied it to our distribution of information and formulation of opinions. We have allowed and even encouraged the rise of information gatekeepers. They specialize in investigating information and relaying it to the public at large. They are “experts” and they have an exorbitant amount of power in dictating what types of issues are discussed or deemed important enough to think about. We all remember the 24 hour looped recaps and rushed conclusions spewed on countless networks after the Boston bombings or the countdown clocks to the governmental shutdown that have risen in popularity over the past few days.

However, not only do we have gatekeepers of information but of opinions too. Not only are we too busy to seek out information for ourselves but to even think about the information that we are given and formulate our own opinion is a hassle. We are constantly bombarded and influenced by buzzwords and convince ourselves that because an opinion gatekeeper is an “expert,” their opinions are the most informed and thus we should adopt them as our own.

People are too busy for politics. It is not their field, their area of expertise, and so they elect someone who they deem to be enough like them to make all of the decisions for them. ALL OF THE DECISIONS. That is really what we do? We watch interviews and debates during election season, hear a slew of vague answers, and decide to vote for the person who is the perfect mix of Ivy League prestige and hometown charm. We elect someone based off of personality and charisma and expect them to represent us equally in all issues that government touches, which are all issues, the environment, gun control, banking, agriculture, healthcare, the list goes on. One person, an expert in all of that? That is ridiculous. And because many people’s political participation stops at elections, they view that fact that Congress is composed of a bunch of goons who think “shutting down the government” ie- refusing to fulfill their largest responsibility of passing a budget, is the voters’ fault. If only we had elected a different person this would not have happened. No. If only one person was not given so much trust and power and blind faith to represent thousands of people for future issues that cannot be foreseen at election time, then we might have different outcomes. They do it without even the threat of getting slapped on the wrist by their employers ie- their constituents. Even though Congress’s approval rate is laughably low their incumbency rate remains high. And we ask- how can this exist?

The answer lies in the opinion gatekeepers, we may see politicians as dirty scoundrels but the Hannitys, O’Reillys, and even the Stewarts (I hate to lump you with them Jon, I’m sorry, I still love you.) are relatable, looking out for the little man and “explaining” the rhetoric and legislative language that politicians use to confuse us. Yet they attempt to find clarity with even thicker rhetoric and incredibly simplistic representations of issues as a means to persuade us to adopt the opinions that they present.

It is insulting. The stereotypical ignorant American is not a naturally frequent phenomenon or at least it does not speak to their inability to comprehend issues but rather their choice not to. People have the intellectual capacity to think logically about areas more complex than what is debated on Crossfire, to see through the asinine blame game of a two-party political system but because it is not their area of expertise, they choose not to. Generally, they are consumed and exhausted by their field- their 9-5 followed by soccer practice carpool- to find the drive to analyze more information. There is a vested interest in making it convenient for these citizens to not have to think and to regurgitate predigested answers to political questions instead. There is a vested interest in keeping people engulfed in whatever area of which they are an expert and to leave the thinking and opinion forming to someone else.

Politics is not an area of expertise, not something you can pass off as a subject matter that you do not wish to understand. It cannot be ignored and left to someone else to digest. Political participation in this country is not just a right but a duty, one that many have been neglecting while simultaneously asking- how did we get into this mess? The dysfunctionality of the political system stems from the apathy of those who control it, the citizens. As long as we remain content with forfeiting our opinions to gatekeepers rather investigating the situation ourselves, we cannot expect anyone to be held responsible. We are just as guilty of irresponsibility. It is time that we stop outsourcing the mass production of opinions. It is time that we resume thinking for ourselves.