As I mentioned the other day, I am — through no fault of my own — appearing in a live “radio play” version of It’s a Wonderful Life: 11 actors, 74 characters, 1 huge fucking headache. At the same time, I’ve been getting the occasional email from conservative outrage merchants touting their new line of War on Christmas wares — although the sales pitch seems a bit muted this year; perhaps in poor economic times the question of whether a retail clerk wishes you “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is secondary to whether you can afford to purchase gifts at all. Nevertheless, many of the offense-taking, donation-cadging generals of the right wing seem unaware of the Yuletide truce developing in the trenches, and have gone blithely on fighting last year’s war, among them that perennial Christmas carbuncle, American Family Association, which is calling for a boycott of The Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic:
Last year, Gap issued this politically-correct statement to Christmas shoppers: “Gap recognizes that many traditions are celebrated throughout this season and we feel it is important to display holiday signage that is inclusive to everyone.”
Christmas is special because of Jesus. It’s not just a “winter holiday.” For millions of Americans the giving and receiving of gifts is in honor of the One who gave Himself. For the Gap to pretend that isn’t the foundation of the Christmas season is political correctness at best and religious bigotry at worst.
Not to be needlessly combative, but Christmas is special because of Santa Claus. No kid expects the Messiah to shinny down the chimney with a sackful of crap from Hasbro, and it’s unlikely your adult son believes the long-sleeved pique polo shirt and new pair of cargo shorts he found under the tree were hand-delivered by a Magus, unless your son is Jonah Goldberg. And if the only thing families did on Christmas morning was to get up and worship Jesus, maybe sing “Happy Birthday,” I guarantee you, more grown-ups would be allowed to sleep in. Besides, the “foundation of the Christmas season” is disputed by more reputable historians than you’re likely to find on the payroll of the AFA. Or The Gap. Is December 25th the actual birthday of Jesus? Probably not, assuming he even existed. Is it an old Roman feast operating under new management? A plagiarized Pagan festival? Or just a chance for self-appointed prophets to get shirty with the marketing department?
But there remains the issue of whether leaving Christ the Lord out of your pre-holiday hoodie sale represents “religious bigotry.” If that’s the case, then I suppose George Washington’s Yuletide sneak attack — against German troops, the most enthusiastic observers of the holiday — constitutes a hate crime.
The Gap is censoring the word Christmas, pure and simple. Yet the company wants all the people who celebrate Christmas to do their shopping at its stores? Until Gap proves it recognizes Christmas by using it in their newspaper, radio, television advertising or in-store signage, the boycott will be promoted.
There are certain dangers in making an ancient murder victim a paid spokesmodel for your chain of moderately priced clothing stores. Suppose Dan Brown was right, and it turns out that Jesus was fooling around with Mary Magdalene? Then you’ve got that whole Tiger Woods situation, except when his endorsement contracts were canceled, nobody accused the sponsors of religious bigotry. Plus, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ revolutionized filmed depictions of the Savior, so nowadays the only good Jesus is a bloody, beaten-to-a-pulp Jesus, and I’m not sure that having a bunch of hipsters swing dancing around a corpse on a stick is going to move a whole lot of relaxed fit heathered slacks and French rib crewnecks.
It’s pretty clear there are two Christmases — the religious observance, with its creches, devotional music, and midnight mass, and the secular holiday, with its cheerful commercialism, classic films and TV specials, leftover pagan rites, and iconography lifted from Dickens, Thomas Nast, and mid-50s Coca-Cola advertisements. So perhaps the best solution is the one the American Family Association and its ideological brethren propose for marriage equality: separate but unequal. Just as gays should be satisfied with civil unions and stay out of the sacred institution of marriage, Christians who object to worldly motivations profaning their sacred birthday bash should retire to their churches and stay out of the malls from Black Friday through January 1st. I mean, if evangelicals want to get back to the foundations of Christmas, what better way to do so than by reliving those days when Christianity was an outlaw cult, best practiced behind closed doors?
Speaking of seasonal classics, over at Big Hollywood, the Artist Formerly Known as Dirty Harry (John Nolte) is making a list of the 25 greatest Christmas movies. Number 12? One Magic Christmas. Given Nolte’s habit of searching every film for reactionary Easter eggs, I’m not surprised he fell for a picture which, in his words, offers “a gritty life-affirming story set in a world where God exists and cares for us enough to practice some mighty tough-love.” What does astonish me is his contention that it’s 88 minutes long. Uh, no. Sorry. Light-minutes, maybe. Or perhaps there’s some special relativity mechanism where time seems to slow down the closer you get to the end of One Magic Christmas. The point is, any film in which the souls of the recently departed are forced to work in Santa’s sweat shop, and Kris Kringle himself commands an army of supernatural hobos, is yet another excuse to over-spike the eggnog, and I’ve already got plenty of those this year, thanks. (One commenter at Big Hollywood remarked, “I remember when this first aired on TV there were all kinds of warnings given to little children about not trusting strangers who said they were angels.” ‘Nuff said, but for those who may have missed it, we offered a Better Living Through Bad Movies treatment of One Magic Christmas as our special holiday presentation back in 2007.)
But one thing I will say for It’s a Wonderful Life, its angels may be voyeurs, but at least they’re not pedophiles. And for a film which climaxes with a Christmas miracle, it’s remarkably Jesus-free. George Bailey is saved by divine intervention, but he isn’t a church-going man, or even a Christian, judging by the on-screen evidence. He never attends worship services, his wedding appears to be a civil ceremony, and even when he’s on the verge of suicide, George doesn’t consult a priest or a minister, but does his praying in a bar. And his prayer is answered.
So all in all, I think I prefer a film in which the angels use their divine powers to show the protagonist how the world is a better place for his having lived, rather than enslaving the dead, snuffing the heroine’s spouse, and traumatizing her children because she was a little grumpy around the holidays. Even if the FBI did think It’s a Wonderful Life was bolshevik propaganda.*
*I suspect the [redacted] party who went complaining to the G-Men was director Sam Wood, head of the ultra right wing Motion Picture Association, which fatally weakened the movie industry’s united front against HUAC and opened the door to the Blacklist. We got a good look at his career as a pioneering Hollywood snitch here, when another conservative cinephile, Ben-Peter Terpstra, wrote a love letter to Sam the like of which has not been seen since the John Hinckley-Jodie Foster correspondence.