Tuesday, December 4, 2012

War on Christmas--It's real, and it's not what it appears


There is a real war on Christmas, and contrary to popular belief, it is not being waged by atheists or secular groups against Christians, and neither is it being fought by Christians who seem embarrassingly misinformed about the origins of their winter holiday. Instead, the real war on Christmas comes entirely from the command centers of the right-wing media empire, most visibly including FOX News, and it is little more than a political tool. Like all agendas of its kind, the war on Christmas is just another piece in the propagandist puzzle used to keep the right-wing voting base highly manipulable and highly motivated.

People take their religions very seriously, of course, and this fact is well-known and easily manipulated. When a perception of a threat is presented to values like religious ones, values at the cores of people's belief systems, there is a strong desire to defend those values. Tools like these are a political propagandist's dreams. In the case of FOX News's “War on Christmas,” now that the initial shock has worn down after several years of repeated onslaught, this cowpile-scented manufactured controversy has worn itself thin enough to see it for exactly what it is. It is a successful attempt to keep socially conservative Christians in the right-wing base on edge. The tool here is the perception of an attempt to undermine all of their core values. The purpose is to keep the Religious Right motivated to fight with ideological fervor against the "liberals and atheists" who are painted as trying to ruin Christmas.

Christmas is a perfect target for this sort of “manufactroversy” too. The Christmas holiday season is already arguably painfully protracted, as it absolutely dominates the winter calendar in its gaping stretch from sometime before Thanksgiving (or even Halloween) all the way through the first weeks of January. This provides ample opportunity to work the propaganda repeatedly and make its effects feel dire. Christmas is also powerfully iconic, by far the most important and sentimental holiday to a majority of Westerners. Additionally, it possesses obvious and tight ties to religion, even if Christianity co-opted it to that purpose from earlier Pagan festivals, so any threat to it is a threat to core values.

The religious connection is particularly easy to play upon since Christians are likely to have felt a growing sense that Christmas is under siege. Commercialization of the holiday has been taken so far as to make it hard be able to identify the Christ in it at all, particularly for the public eye. This effect was amplified by a growing multicultural awareness and sensitivity in recent decades--something the Religious Right has never approved of--particularly since savvy businesses were quick to pay  attention to it. It is, after all, in business's best interests to be as inclusive as possible to potential customers. For political opportunists on the far right, then, it could hardly have seemed a lower and slower pitch across the center of the plate when organizations like American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation started to push for the secular goal of removing Christian (and all) religious iconography from state-owned property, primarily including Christian nativity scenes.

This useful nugget was perhaps most clearly revealed only a few days ago when David Silverman, director of American Atheists, went on live television with Bill O'Reilly on his show The O'Reilly Factor. Among other gaffes and breaches of both etiquette and facts, Bill O'Reilly highlighted the political propagandist undertones of the War on Christmas when he referred to Silverman and other atheists as a “merry band of fascists.” Silverman was rightfully at a loss against this misuse of the term “fascist,” though he asserted himself well as a “patriot” seeking to defend the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause. Of course, there is no meaningful connection between an atheist representing secularism in a Western democracy and actual fascism.

O'Reilly's word-choice can be explained, however, by seeing it as a use of some common tools in propagandizing, ones the right-wing of American politics has become increasingly well-known for in recent years: projectionism and othering. I would suggest that Bill O'Reilly accurately understands the terms “fascist” and “atheist,” though perhaps he doesn't. In either case, connecting those terms works incredibly effectively with his audience and the base of the party that makes up their bulk. The goal there is to make atheists into “others,” people with starkly different fundamental values, and then project the notion of fascism onto them. 

This is not far-fetched seeing as it is almost beyond controversy at this point to recognize the corporatist agenda in the current Republican Party and of its corporate media outlets like FOX. Both agencies, in appealing to a base that will not benefit from corporatism at all, have a vested interest in disguising this agenda from them. By creating atheists as the “others” and then branding them a “merry band of fascists,” a skilled campaign should be able to deflect accurate accusations of fascism—and thus corporatism—away from the real corporatists. They, the atheists, are the fascists, after all, so how can we, the Christians, be fascists if they have such radically different values than we do?

In reality, there is no more a war by secularists to “take the Christ out of Christmas” on Christians than there is a war by Protestants to “take the Mass out of Christmas” on Catholics. There is, however, a real war on Christmas, and the right-wing media outlets are the standard bearers and whips driving the battle. Everyone else is a victim, even those motivated to fight their bogus war for them, since we all lose some of our abilities to enjoy our most festive and cherished holiday season of the year. The cheer behind that holiday is being slaughtered before our eyes in order to mobilize a hard-right political agenda. It's up to us to put the happy back in the holidays—or if you prefer, the merry in the Christmas—and we can start by recognizing this manufactured “war” for what it is and pushing it to the blustering margins of our culture.

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