Monday, December 25, 2006

Ideologies of Christmas

As Fosco attempts to come to terms with his threefold Christmas disappointment (1. no well-hung boyfriend from Santa, 2. only one more Percocet, and 3. ONLY ONE MORE PERCOCET, DID YOU HEAR ME? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! MY RIBS, MY RIBS!), he turns his thoughts to the meaning of Christmas.

Alas, Christmas is entirely meaningless. The word has become what Slavoj Žižek calls a "master signifier": a word like "God" or "nation" or "democracy" that no longer means anything. Rather, these are the terms that everyone tries to make mean something--words that we all attempt to fix in support of our projects and desires. Or, more sinisterly, this is where ideology gets quilted into language.

Today, as a good Victorianist, I thought I might want to read Dickens's A Christmas Carol, something I'm not sure I've ever actually done. Of course I know the story--after all, like all good ironists, I've been mocking it for years. And, when you think about it, it is actually maybe a bit impressive that the story has managed to survive all of the creative violence that has been done to it over the years, from Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol: The Musical to Duran Duran's John Taylor as the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A Diva's Christmas Carol".

But I'm not going to use this post to tell you that you should read the Dickens original (although you should--it's much better than you think). Rather, I was struck by a line from Scrooge's nephew in the book, when he tries to describe Christmas to his uncle. He says:

I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Of course, it is pretty easy to make fun of this speech (and a thirteen-year-old should have all of the ironic tools to do so) and not much harder to tease out the problematic ideologies in it (both implicit and explicit). But, the more I think about this ideology of solidarity, the less I find it worth the time to object to. As ideologies go, this one is maybe one of the better ones--certainly better than anything Pope Gremlinus the Magnificent had to offer us today (N.B., Don't get the Pope wet! Don't feed him after midnight!)

So, even if Christmas doesn't actually mean anything, I would like to persuade you to make it mean something--and to make that something gentle and life-affirming. I hope that any of you who celebrated Christmas today did so in a way that made life seems a little more pleasant--both for you and for anyone else in your life. And because this whole post may just be the last Percocet talking, please forgive Fosco his brief foray into sentimentality. The cynical Fosco will be back tomorrow and will probably be in some serious rib pain, which should make for some great blogging.

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