I would generalize this tactic as follows: pick an impulse that most people would have (a desire not to be called by telemarketers at 9 am for instance), recast it as an attack on some basic value, and use it to put people on the defensive (or, depending on your cast of mind, annoy them).
I see the talk of a war on Christmas as being another example of the same sort of tactic. A basic question is: why do people use 'holiday' or 'holidays' or some other nonspecific term instead of 'Christmas'?
I don't think most organizations are worried about offending non-Christians. (There are no doubt some people who are offended at being wished a merry Christmas, but their numbers are probably pretty few.) At the same time, they want to create a welcoming environment for everyone, and by saying 'Happy Holidays' they hope to seem more inclusive -- they recognize that people who aren't Christian actually exist!
This results in some pretty silly stuff -- is anyone who doesn't celebrate Christmas going to buy a Holiday Tree? Is anyone who's going to be offended by a Christmas Tree not going to be offended by its generic holiday variant? -- but getting angry about such things doesn't seem intrinsically less dumb than getting angry about being wished a merry Christmas when you don't observe the holiday. In both cases, the basic intention is good, even if the implementation is somewhat lacking. (Also, 'holidays' encompasses Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year's Day, making it a handy catchall and allowing retailers to hope that you have a happy bunch of them starting in late November. In which connection I should note that this year I started seeing Christmas-related stuff in my local corner store just after Halloween, so maybe that's included now too. Grumble.)
This basic impulse is very common, so much so that you see organizations (Fox News in particular) who claim to be fighting in the War Against Christmas themselves reflexively selling 'Holiday Ornaments' (which are quickly renamed Christmas Ornaments when the contradiction is pointed out).
Since the impulse is so common, those choosing to fight the war will never run out of targets, some of whom will end up being pretty strange -- Fox News itself (as noted), and now George W. Bush himself is being accused of being anti-Christmas. Here's an article about it that I think is interesting.
I find this a little confusing:
One of the generals on the pro-Christmas side is Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss. "Sometimes it's hard to tell whether this is sinister -- it's the purging of Christ from Christmas -- or whether it's just political correctness run amok," he said. "I think in the case of the White House, it's just political correctness."I don't really understand that dichotomy -- isn't political correctedness run amok itself sinister?
Here is some math:
"Ninety-six percent of Americans celebrate Christmas," Donohue said. "Spare me the diversity lecture."Wow, that makes, uh, one in 25 people in America who don't celebrate Christmas, or I guess ten million Americans or so. 4% isn't really a negligible percentage; surely it's reasonable for retailers to want to take some care to make their stores welcome to that portion of their potential customer base. Isn't it? (Although also I am guessing that the 96% figure is made up, but I might be wrong about that.)
Then there's this:
"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.Yes, the worst elements in our culture -- Jewish people. Well done, sir.
"It bothers me that the White House card leaves off any reference to Jesus, while we've got Ramadan celebrations in the White House," Wildmon said. "What's going on there?"Indeed, those perfidious Muslims. How dare their faith be recognized! Sure, there was also a Christmas tree lighting at the White House recently, but that just shows ... that ... uh, hey, what is going on here?
Am I getting a bit wacky by raising the specter of anti-Semitism? I might be; certainly I wouldn't expect these men to view themselves as anti-Semitic. (I also have noticed a strange tendency for some commentators to describe the use of 'Happy Holidays' in place of 'Merry Christmas' as being threatening to Christians and Jews, which seems very weird to me, but perhaps someone can explain it in a way that makes sense.) Still, when Bill O'Reilly made a reference to 'Secular -- I mean, Comedy Central' and wished Jon Stewart a Merry Christmas (Jon being Jewish), it makes me cringe a bit.
The 'Secular Central' remark also seemed a bit weird. Does Bill O'Reilly think that Comedy Central should be overtly Christian, or at least overtly religious? Is MTV secular? ESPN? C-SPAN? It seems like a strange filter through which to view cable TV, but perhaps that is because I am myself pretty damn secular (and I do appreciate my freedom to be so).
[How was that for a nice little wrap-up to disguise the fact that this was starting to ramble all over the place? Well, anyway, as always, your comments are welcomed.]
I should note that some other Livejournal folks have made posts recently about some of these topics. Here are a few:
Also, I thought Jon Stewart's response to Bill O'Reilly was entertaining. Right now it's linked to at http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_daily_show/videos/headlines/index.jhtml .