Monday, December 28, 2009

Garrison Keillor

Haven't been around too much lately, and that's going to get worse for a while. But for now, here's my take on a controvery that probably won't get the attention it deserves. Christmas was interesting, being a child of mixed heritage: in some places, quite enjoyable; in other places, suffocating. Kudos to Google for a genuinely inclusive "happy holidays" message, with snowmen and such. Jeers for Fox which put up "Seasons Greetings" in red and green with mistletoe during football games. If you're going to write in red and green with mistletoe, you might as well just say "Merry Christmas."

I have really liked Garrison Keillor. But his article bemoaning the secularized Christmas is horribly wrong. Perhaps Keillor thought that the most offensive part of his article -where he complains about Jews writing Christmas songs- was just joking, but in the main thrust of the article he really does wish for a less secularized Christmas. For all that he recognizes the impossibility of the dream and even the advantages of change, he's still a small-town romantic pining for a real Lake Wobegon. He can be inclusive and cosmopolitan at times, but his schtick is all about the authenticity of small town living.

Jerry Haber (via) is on the right track, though a little tone deaf. What Keillor misses is that Christmas holds a dominant place in American society. Or, in the words of Happy Joel, Christmas "makes other holidays its bitches." Demanding purity for Christmas is demanding that a major part of the public sphere in America exculde minorities. An article at Huffington Post (found while googling for updates) misses this, too:
What seems to offend is a brief and benign swipe at Jewish songwriters who appropriated Christmas for commercial purposes with shallow, meaningless songs about Rudolph, etc.
That word, appropriated, so heavy in the anti-colonialist literature from which it's gained political weight, suggests something pretty awkward about the relative power of Jews and Christians in American society. Here, I'll draw a convenient but artifically sharp line in the dictionary between the-powerful-appropriating-that-owned-by-the-weak and the-weak-co-opting-that-of-the-powerful. Jews could never really appropriate anything. We just don't have the power to do so. For anything to we've co-opted to take root in society, it must be because Christians have re-appropriated our work. In fact, a different way of looking at "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is to wonder why a Jew would feel the need to write such a song and realize it has something to do with the power of Christians in this society where Jews feel a need to assimilate.

Keillor can keep his pure Christmas in his own home, but telling Jews:
And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you’re not in the club, then buzz off.
Keillor needs to say more than just that it was a joke, or he can just buzz off.

And, btw, it's kind of shocking no one at this Crooked Timber post brings up that the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was written by a Jew.

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