"How can they possibly believe this shit?"
December 15, 2014 9:41 PM   Subscribe

 
Gimme a break. It's Christmas, not nuclear disarmament.

People write and critique as if all of small things that will measure and determine the fate of the world depend on a holiday.

It's like putting on a suit of armor to attack a hot fudge sundae.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 9:48 PM on December 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


I dunno man, I have seen some vicious hot fudge sundaes.

I would wear a helmet at least.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:59 PM on December 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


embourgeoisement

OK, I need a drink.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:08 PM on December 15, 2014 [27 favorites]


Metafilter: It's like putting on a suit of armor to attack a hot fudge sundae.
posted by The otter lady at 10:29 PM on December 15, 2014 [19 favorites]


The article descends into pompous self-parody here:

These tendencies all came together in the enormously influential Thorstein Veblen, who did more than any other American thinker to shape educated Americans’ understanding of their encounter with material things.
posted by Nevin at 10:32 PM on December 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


Santa brought me a bicycle and a Hot Wheels track with a loop de loop and an American Flyer sled once. Apparently there wasn't enough room in the sleigh or in the chimney to bring Jesus.

Santa seems to have defied physics this year and brought Jackson Lears a dark lump of self importance, referencing everything he can find, wrapped inside himself.
posted by vapidave at 10:33 PM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Thank you for the holiday gift of one more reason to NOT regret the current disintegration of The New Republic.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:36 PM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


embourgeoisement

I can't decide whether I'd prefer this as a sockpuppet or as a metafilter tagline.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:37 PM on December 15, 2014 [19 favorites]


The article descends into pompous self-parody when it hinges its thesis on how fucking Alexander Portnoy feels about Christmas and why. NO ONE CARES PORTNOY.


Also ctrl+f embourgeoisement 2 of 2

NO.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:38 PM on December 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Seriously there is no oxygen that far up in your navel and someone should probably rescue him.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:41 PM on December 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Granting some silliness, I guess I actually kind of liked this.
posted by brennen at 10:49 PM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


This seems like a good place to suggest Nissenbaum's The Battle For Christmas. Essential reading for an understanding of how the holiday came to be what we know today.
posted by J.W. at 10:57 PM on December 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yeah, that was some righteous bean plating. I learned a few things from it (embourgeoisment and Bakhtin's idea of carnival). Thanks for sharing it here!
posted by notyou at 11:32 PM on December 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


At some point in my childhood I started reading "Christmas" as "Christ Mass", in the secular meaning of that word, but it wasn't until I saw the ending of Akira that I had a mental image to go with it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:43 PM on December 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


I enjoyed that - thanks.
posted by modernnomad at 12:39 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


At some point in my childhood I started reading "Christmas" as "Christ Mass"

And that's how we know there is still Christmas in outer space. There's just no Christweight.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:19 AM on December 16, 2014 [27 favorites]


Well, this is actually a terrific essay!
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:01 AM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Embourgeoisement aside, that was a pretty awesome concise history. I didn't even mind the Portnoy* quote.

*Diclosure: I mostly like Philip Roth's novels
posted by thivaia at 2:49 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can make a similar argument about virtually any social tradition.
Christmas is just the easiest target.

Of course Mefi will be the place to deconstruct the tradition, instead of enjoying it.
We are all much too cool for tradition.
posted by Flood at 4:20 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


embourgeoisement

I feel so fabulously pretentious when I say it.
posted by Shouraku at 4:26 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


People write and critique as if all of small things that will measure and determine the fate of the world depend on a holiday.

Sometimes, when I look at all of the product going in and out of the giant warehouse where I work, I think this could be the case. Every single piece of packaging, every single product, every single box, paperwork.. all of it is going into a landfill one day.

I'm not really arguing against Christmas though. I like the holiday. I'm just in awe at the waste that we as a society produce. You don't really take it in until you see just a small portion of it under one giant roof.
posted by DriftingLotus at 4:58 AM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


This article does actually have an interesting history of the tradition. Yet, I find it hard to get past the repeated insinuations that true intellectuals are annoyed or disgusted by Christmas pomp and circumstance, and that only the unwashed masses could take any joy in such ridiculousness. Even if you play devils advocate and suggest that he's right, I would still contend that there is value in a tradition that makes a large number of people happy. Yes, its a capitalist nightmare in it's current incarnation, but so is the rest of the year, it's just more pronounced during the holiday(s) season.

This reminds me of the ban fireworks thread. Yes, there are many logical reasons to ban all fireworks, but the fact that a large amount of people take joy in firework displays has value. It's more than just an academic exercise.

I don't like Christmas, and never really have, but I wouldn't want to see it (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa) go away, as those traditions seem to bring great joy to a non-zero sum of people around me.
posted by Shouraku at 5:01 AM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't like Christmas, and never really have, but I wouldn't want to see it (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa) go away, as those traditions seem to bring great joy to a non-zero sum of people around me.

This. I engage with the holiday less every year (and I am from a family that never got into the more commercial side of it, so my starting point was pretty low to begin with); the thing that I have struggled the most to get right is how to balance that with reciprocity for friends who are super into Christmas and show up with presents (literally, unannounced on my porch). I don't want to be all Grinchy and a downer for someone who is being nice, but it's also usually more of a drag than it is a pleasure.

I should be the perfect audience for a deconstructionist article like this, but this piece in particular didn't grab me. Most people appear to be enjoying the holiday on its own terms, and the ones who aren't come from a variety of perspectives that don't get fully explored here and don't have much to do with the Romans.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:30 AM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I want to opt out for Christmas. I one of the travelers without kids in my family, so it's expected I'll be making a poor weather trip every year. I'd rather sit in bed and watch Netflix.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:43 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


cjorgensen, you could put "Netflix subscription" on your Christmas list, and then stay home just in case someone hooks you up. (If not, well, at least you're home, safe and comfy!)
posted by wenestvedt at 5:48 AM on December 16, 2014


I do not hate Christmas but I do not celebrate it either. I would not want to deny anyone their enjoyment of the season but, as an adult, I have always found it to be distinctly unenjoyable. I will always answer a "Merry Christmas" with a smiling "Merry Christmas" because I insist on being polite. No reason to add to the glut of jerks in the world. Tongue-in-cheek, I do observe the winter solstice ("celebrate" would be a tad strong) usually by raising a mug of beer or glass of wine as a toast (it's this Sunday, by the way). Seems to be enough celebrating for me. Merry Christmas everyone, and God bless Tiny Tim...
posted by jim in austin at 6:16 AM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


That's quite an article; it manages to name-check Philip Roth, Jonathan Edwards, Thorstein Veblen, Clement More, Thomas Nast, Charles Dickens, and more; a regular hit parade of intelligentsia.

And yet I still feel vaguely insulted (after reading the article) for actually liking Christmas, as if I don't fully appreciate it on as deep or as cynical a level as does the article's author. Not to be all middle-brow about it, but I do think that holidays are what we make of them, and if our holiday is sitting in bed and watching Netflix all day while drinking a spiced winter lager, then good for us.

As for me, I'm going to slip into a dark church for Midnight Mass and spend some time meditating on the symbolism and hope surrounding the birth of a poor child in the Middle East, and the promise (no matter how vain, no matter how futile) of a chance for peace.

And an Easy-Bake Oven. Because those things are wicked cool.
posted by math at 6:31 AM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm grateful for the comments in here, because the language in that essay was so dense and overwrought I couldn't even figure out what the hell he was saying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:33 AM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


This was a terrific piece! Thanks for posting it. Rich in information and perspective, and ends with a provocative and intriguing conclusion.

repeated insinuations that true intellectuals are annoyed or disgusted by Christmas pomp and circumstance, and that only the unwashed masses could take any joy in such ridiculousness.

I really didn't read it that way; I think, in the end, it was an endorsement of Christmas and of the [American?] impulse to blend sacred and profane in creative and nourishing ways, even while embracing a consumer economy.

Christmas was part of the liturgical cycle, the dramatic framework that created a life lived on multiple but overlapping planes of meaning. In that life, matter and spirit were hopelessly muddled; the humblest artifact could bear the most exalted meaning.

Beautiful observation.

Secular conversion narratives, such as Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

That's great; I never thought of it that way. Maybe that's commonplace when Dickens gets taught - never happened to study him in class. Either way, that reframes everything from It's a Wonderful Life to How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

there has been “no sweeping march of secularization, but instead a dance of the sacred and the secular, sometimes graceful, sometimes awkward.

Excellent point. Once you dig into a little Christmas history, you can't greet "War on Christmas" rhetoric with anything but an eye-roll. Our Christmas traditions are generally not especially time-honored and have never been completely pure. I second the recommendation of The Battle for Christmas for more on that. Nissenbaum also spends a lot of time talking about why the expansion of the market economy meant that people really needed an antidote.

In general, I'd like to see more of this kind of thing on MetaFilter. It's the kind of thing I have to slow down and read with more attention, but it's rewarding. It's beanplating, yeah, but it's also beanplating about something that is pervasive and strongly meaningful for people. I like attempts to better understand the water we swim in.
posted by Miko at 6:35 AM on December 16, 2014 [18 favorites]


I could give up gift-giving altogether, but seeing lights shining in darkness + hearing lovely minor-key carols that have that perfect combination of hopeful words and winter despair in them, brrr. That's good stuff. I don't care what you call it, just let me keep it.

Homemade sugar cookies are nice, let's keep those too.
posted by emjaybee at 6:56 AM on December 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'd say the article was unnecessarily dense and wordy, but still pretty good. It didn't seem particularly judgmental - Miko's comment is spot on.

I'm a lifelong atheist but I still love Christmas. Obviously I sort of skip the "Christ" part - I sing the secular carols, etc. - but given the history I don't think that's unreasonable. I mean I go to work on Thursdays but I don't worship Thor. It means whatever you want it to mean. Personally I love having a holiday party, being off of work, seeing family, and buying stuff for the kids and my wife. If everyone collectively started calling it Solstice Time that'd be fine by me but I don't feel the need to lead the rebranding charge.

The consumerism is a bit much but I try to dial my own to a reasonable level. If I have to pick one holiday to buy gifts I pick Christmas. But the other commercialized holidays (Halloween, Easter, etc.)? I'd prefer to sort of skip those or at least not be bombarded with kitsch.
posted by freecellwizard at 6:59 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I could give up gift-giving altogether,

I wish we could give up obligatory gift giving. Some years I have great ideas for gifts, some years I don't, but there are people I have to buy something for every year. I'd much rather save my energy for the people I have good ideas for.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:14 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


To enjoy a plate of beans fully, it is best to dissect, contemplate, ruminate, ponder, wonder, critique, question, and experience a full on existential crisis over the phenomenon before you, before you plunge delightedly into savoring each and every bite.

I shall enjoy my christmas and all the navel gazing critiques and bean plating quite equally. Nothing can compare to sparkly lights, loved ones, cookies, and gifts from the heart to encourage each other to enjoy the beautiful experiences and objects one can experience here on earth.

I will also celebrate winter solstice and lament the barbaric christian destruction that took root over my european ancestors destroying many beautiful things in our culture. But... sparkly lights? Yes. I don't even mind the word christmas if it so pleases my loved ones. The christians robbed me of a deeper knowledge of the old ways-- but in all the destruction if I am still left with a bright sparkly loving holiday of gifts and sharing, I will take it.

I like the material world. It's nice to sit with your loved ones in nature but unless you have tools to craft and create, knowledge of how to craft and create- it starts getting boring sitting in nature all day. I want to INTERACT. It gets boring just sitting with people, you want to play games, eat food, do activities-- these often come with material needs, whether tools, books or instruction to teach. This is ok. Also aspects of being "in nature" are still quite physical-- the dirt, the physical bodies of living beings, the water... an abyss of nothing is not innately more profound than in infinite something. (Myself I'm more preferential towards something than nothing, I don't find that my "nirvana" that I would seek rests in a flat abyss of non-existence). And often those who profess asceticism believe in an abundant spiritual reality that is even more real than the material world, so in setting it aside they are in fact plunging deeper into an active existing spiritual realm. If there is no such realm, and as an agnostic I can't say there is, if would be awful cruel to tell everyone to give up the delights of this world and enjoying each other for the sake of.. nothing.

I've experienced periods of no income at all- where I was unable to give any gifts at all, and unable to buy anything related to fun or entertainment for myself for years. No lessons, no arts, no books, no craft materials, no ability to purchase such things for myself at all (though the holidays would bring a few gifts of such things). I would say this is a real spiritual deprivation, if we lived in nature we would be able to interact with nature (no government would block us from harvesting material resources) but we are not in that world, interact even with nature's resources often takes money. And I think gift giving, if you decouple it from exploitative and abusive means of production is beautiful and wonderful. And the tools to paint- paint brushes, the tools to make pain brushes-- the tools to do wooden crafts etc etc-- these are things we need gifts from each other to make. No one individual has the ability to innately understand how to build or do such things or access to all the materials to do so from scratch. We are interdependent on each other and resources that are beyond us.

I enjoyed this essay. Even in disagreeing, I enjoy people thinking on things. It is a nice thing in life. Let us celebrate in merry joyous spirit the delightful opportunity of beanplating this christmas season brings!

To me part of lifting those with less up, means acknowledging the deep spiritual and health loss of being without material needs to enjoy life and to support ones health. Asceticism sometimes works AGAINST helping lift others out of being without- though it has it's place in helping us take time away from consumption to witness any harms our consumption may cause, or any consumption needs of others we may be neglecting in focusing on ourselves. It can also help gaurd against unhealthy consumption that is not longer enriching or excessive- or involves health harming consumption. So I can see benefits of that, but I think (to me) in the dark difficult cold of winter it is not that time, it a time to celebrate the love and resources and light and warmth that will nourish our bodies, entertain our minds and carry us through the winter until the light and warmth of the sun and the renewed flourishing plants can nourish our spirits again.
posted by xarnop at 7:20 AM on December 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


In general, I'd like to see more of this kind of thing on MetaFilter. It's the kind of thing I have to slow down and read with more attention, but it's rewarding. It's beanplating, yeah, but it's also beanplating about something that is pervasive and strongly meaningful for people. I like attempts to better understand the water we swim in.

Spot on.

It's actually infuriating to read the numerous cloth-eared and downright dopey misreadings of the piece in this thread. No, he's not trying to ban Christmas! He's not even "against" it - if anything he's arguing that the default scorn of the liberal intellectual for Christmas tackiness overlooks some of its complexities! "Embourgeoisement" is neither a particularly difficult word nor a particularly pretentious one! Holy shit!
posted by cincinnatus c at 7:22 AM on December 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


It's actually infuriating to read the numerous cloth-eared and downright dopey misreadings of the piece in this thread. No, he's not trying to ban Christmas! He's not even "against" it

Wow, this is really condescending.

You're right, he isn't against it, nor did he state that he wants it to be banned, but I personally didn't really like the tone of the article. It felt pretentious to me, even if his history was accurate and eloquent.

It's comments like this that make me question whether I want to continue to participate in this community.
posted by Shouraku at 7:28 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Embourgeoisement

It's not difficult, but it's definitely pretentious.

But here are two books which suggest the beginnings of a nuanced perspective on Christmas in American culture.

Okay, pop quiz, what two books? Because I'll be damned if I can figure out what he's talking about. This reads like a book review that got turned into a more general essay, and he forgot to take the book review part of it out.
posted by empath at 7:29 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was about to say the same thing. What are the 2 books you are reviewing? The intro sounds like it is a reposting of an earlier article, so maybe originally it told you what the books were at the top or something. Otherwise I actually sort of liked the article.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:35 AM on December 16, 2014


Here's the original from 1996. With titles of books reviewed.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:37 AM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Embourgeoisement" is neither a particularly difficult word nor a particularly pretentious one! Holy shit!

Jesus Murphy it is perfectly reasonable for actual readers to make comments about the readability of an article. MetaFilter is not an undergraduate seminar where we have to put up with pretentious twaddle. Or to put it more kindly, there is a time and a place for everything.

Writing concisely and engagingly about intellectual topics is very do-able. Compare the plain style Louis Menand uses for writing in the New Yorker or NYRB versus the more didactic style of his books.

I don't think it's an easy feat to pull off, but you have to write to be read. Presumably if you like this writer's style of writing and want to discuss it seriously you can go to the comments section of TNR before the publication switches over to amusing cat gifs.
posted by Nevin at 8:18 AM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


When I search youtube for (black, friday, violence) there are more than 89 000 results.

(true, meaning, Christmas) pulls less than 83 000.

The subject works better for me as a sculpture. Homeless Jesus.
posted by bukvich at 8:44 AM on December 16, 2014


When I search youtube for (black, friday, violence) there are more than 89 000 results.

(true, meaning, Christmas) pulls less than 83 000.


That seems like a bizarre way to spend your free time, but whatever floats your boat. However, you'll be glad to know that if you do the searches properly, "black friday violence" is utterly defeated by "true meaning of christmas," which gets more than 10 times the results. Turns out to be a heartwarming festive story after all!
posted by cincinnatus c at 8:56 AM on December 16, 2014


It's not difficult, but it's definitely pretentious.

Well, I'd say it's academic. But that doesn't mean it sets out with the intention of being pretentious, though it can seem that way. People in academic settings use these kinds of words because they really specifically encapsulate a set of ideas that is less efficient to express otherwise - it takes longer to describe and define the word in simpler terms than it does to just use the word, kind of like using a hundred-dollar bill is more efficient than using 100 1-dollar bills.

You use a word like that also to nod to those who coined or carefully defined it, to bring to a reader's mind all the associations it has accreted through discussion over decades or centuries [at least, a reader familiar with that word's usages and connotations from reading other stuff like this].

What makes it hard is when it's just dropped in, instead of introduced; a piece like this assumes you've seen it before, and that can feel exclusive. Of course this can be offputting to people who have not encountered whatever the word is that much in everyday language, but without those kinds of shortcuts, cultural criticism would be be even wordier. I agree that Menand is a great example of someone with a gift for plain language; at the same time, I think it's empowering to be able to understand and use academic terms of art, so that I can be in that conversation directly instead of reading it in translation, as it were.
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Embourgeoisement

How about "movement into the middle class" if that's what he meant? Much clearer. I'm not sure exactly what he means by "embourgeoisement" - I mean I can sort of guess given the meaning of "bourgeois" but the Wikipedia article on the term just says it's a sociological theory that was discredited in the 60s.

Also feminized is used in the article and seems to be a hotter buzzword than "gluten-free" but again, not obvious to me what it's supposed to mean. Mostly I see it used pejoratively as in "I long for the good old days when boys used to beat the shit out of each other with sticks; now they've all been feminized to the point where they want to communicate with others and paint and write stories and stuff." If I Google feminization I just get a lot of links about transgender stuff ...
posted by freecellwizard at 9:11 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


movement into the middle class

It's a start, but it means a little more than that - check out the links above. It means not just an economic movement to the middle class, as in more buying power or nicer stuff, but a larger shift of values and alignments and ideas, buying into a completely separate political and personal identity that distinguishes one from the working class in taste, behavior, morals, etc. That's why it's hard to substitute simpler words without using, like 20 words where one could work.

a hotter buzzword than "gluten-free"

But in a nearly 20-year-old article. I'd say it means "associated with values and imagery traditionally assigned to women."
posted by Miko at 9:23 AM on December 16, 2014


Here's the Google result for "define feminize."
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on December 16, 2014


Yes, and also it means moving into the middle class by one's own action or collective action. As opposed to, say, the middle class growing by coincidence of an economic boom, like geothermal energy in Iceland. It's not a tricky concept, but it's cumbersome to convey without the appropriate term of art.
posted by gilrain at 9:28 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


And also extremely unclear what the fuck it has to do with santa claus.
posted by empath at 9:33 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Somehow I missed that this was a reprint of an old article. It says "Editor’s Note: Especially for the holidays, we publish here Jackson Lears’s exceptional history of Christmas. Enjoy and happy holidays." but doesn't mention that it's not something he wrote just then.

I was being a bit tongue in cheek about feminization and embourgeoisement - the former makes more sense in context now that I know how old the article is. The latter I get but I still wonder whether this is a real phenomenon in any macro way. If manufacturing jobs go away and advertising and Wal-Mart are so ubiquitous that people buy more crap, is that the same as moving into the middle class? I'm not sure. It does seem sort of possible that having access to cheap goods might dull the rebellious spirit, but I don't know. Isn't it more likely that Republican/conservative lies about unions and working people are clouding the issue when it comes to the proletariat, as it were?
posted by freecellwizard at 10:06 AM on December 16, 2014


You can appreciate what this gentleman is trying to accomplish and his, uh, erudition without having to fall all over yourself praising it or getting mad because people are mocking its pretentiousness and its headache-inducing denseness. It's an overwrought piece, and that starts with the telltale of the use of the word "limned" in the next-to-last paragraph, which should never have any excuse to appear outside of, well, Thorstein Veblen. When I first skimmed it I thought TNR was republishing something written in the 1910s or 1920s, especially with the "Especially for the holidays, we publish here Jackson Lears’s exceptional history of Christmas" note. The piece has that same reaching-for-19th-century grandiloquence about it.

I was being a bit tongue in cheek about feminization and embourgeoisement - the former makes more sense in context now that I know how old the article is.

It's really not all that old (1996). It just reads like it was written in 1896.
posted by blucevalo at 10:17 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Embourgeoisement" is neither a particularly difficult word nor a particularly pretentious one! Holy shit!

Some mefi members are just too cool for the rest of us.
posted by Flood at 12:37 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hence we see that the real meaning of Christmas, of course, is recriminations.
posted by Miko at 1:40 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here is some stuff about the author. I suppose he was fairly young when he wrote the above, and he's clearly a traditionalist, so maybe we can trace some of the awkward and retrogressive style to that. Still, I think he expressed a couple of things in this piece really beautifully, and his narrative is sound.
posted by Miko at 1:58 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I want Santa to bring me a penny trumpet! I enjoyed the history in the article, which seemed to be a tutorial for humbugs, along the lines of see, it hasn't always been as it is nowadays. Sunday will be the longest night of this old year. Best to all of us in the coming year, may there be more rich and glorious stories to share.
posted by Oyéah at 5:18 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I never could get the embourgeoisement right on the transverse flute. I have a bit of a teardrop upper lip.

I enjoyed the article. It said a lot of stuff I've thought for a long time.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:40 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]




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