Music: Harold Budd: Luxa (1996)
Shortly before Brooke and I left town for our respective families we had a two-day “Holi-date.” On the first night after a lovely dinner we boarded some shuttle buses downtown and headed to Zilker Park, where we joined hundreds of child-bursting families for the annual “Trail of Lights.” It’s like the Trail of Tears, only instead of dying Indians there are plywood cut-outs of cartoon characters and 200,000 Christmas lights (and these are Christmas lights, as there is absolutely no attempt to shout-out to our Jewish friends). It was obscene and an ob-scene, a scene “of” or “off,” an “obscene offscene,” if you will.
After touring the trail a small boy—I figure around the age of five—approached us as we exited a glowing tunnel with a disco ball at the end. He handed me what looked like monopoly money. “How cool,” I thought, as I looked and saw a coy Santa on the front of my $50,000 bill! (you can click the image for a bigger version). Brooke cynically said it was probably a Chick Comic deal, but I was hoping it was something cheerful.
Alas, later I learned that the play money was not designed to cheer me up. Instead, it told me Santa’s “naughty” list was about all the boys and girls that were going to hell because they did not read the bible literally:
He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice . . . he’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice! If Santa used the Ten Commandments for his standard, how would you do? Let’s find out . . . [.] Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? (No matter the value.) Ever used God’s name in vain? Ever looked with lust? Jesus said, “Whosoever looks upon a woman to lust after her had committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Holy Jimmy Carter, Batman! This play money says that when I imagine licking the erect nipple of that lady who I saw at grocery store just a half-hour ago I’m getting coal in my stocking . . . or hot coal in my pants . . . for eternity! The money continues:
If you are guilty of these things that makes you a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer-at-heart. Many people don’t know that God will use the Ten Commandments to judge the world. Forget about Santa . . . how will you do on Judgment Day? If you are found guilty, that means an eternity in Hell . . . 2,000 years ago, God sent Jesus to the earth to pay for your sins. When Jesus died on the cross, He took the punishment that you deserve for breaking His Law (the Ten Commandments). God’s wrath came down on Jesus instead of you. . . . Remember, if you try to get to Heaven on your own, you must keep every Commandment in thought, word, and deed. . . . Place your faith in Jesus Christ alone and God will grand you eternal life. Read your bible daily and obey what you read.
Well, golly, you know what sort of “naughty” things I could do if I read my bible daily and obeyed what I read? “Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, . . . and slay every man his brother, . . . companion, . . . neighbor” (Exodus 32:27). I won’t go there today (here’s someone who did, though). What I will say is that this kind of thing represents one side or the constitutive limit of the “obscene supplement,” to carp a Zizek phrase, of the holiday season.
In The Plague of Fantasies Zizek references the band Laibach (a personal favorite) and the novel and filmic version of Dune to question how a staging the phantasmic support of harmful stuff, like Proto-Fascism, can be subversive. In their ironic displays of Fascistic power, for example, Laibach stage the “obscene supplement” of Fascism.
Zizek argues that those who criticized Laibach for their form of “resistance” did so because it was obvious the band members enjoyed the staging. Zizek responds that the critics missed the point, for enjoyment is what enables Laibach to stage and make visible the inconsistencies and contradictions of Fascism in the first place. Or to put this in more contemporary terms: when legions of Marilyn Manson fans were giving the “German Greeting” during the deeply parodic Anti-Christ Superstar tour they were definitely motivated by enjoyment. What is characteristic of supplement is that it is presumably secondary to something “natural” (e.g., writing, birth-control, and so on)—that it either enhances or perverts–but, it turns out, supplementarity is absolutely necessary to complete or experience “the natural” or “the norm” (whether it is to realize fascism or its defeat, or fully experience sexual fulfillmet with another person because you masturbate without them). To offer up critique Laibach must similarly enjoy the phantasmic support of Fascism to stage it in the first place. In both matters of critique and ideological blindness, enjoyment always has an “obscene” underbelly.
It is in this respect that we can read the Santa dollar bill as both the staging of resistance as well as a form of child abuse—an obscene supplementarity. On the one hand, the child who is distributing the “money” enjoys the fact that the beneficiaries (at least initially) seem to enjoy getting it; the child participates in and enjoys commercial ideology of Christmas. What makes feelings of love, cheer, and wonder possible are all the sponsors who pay for the lights as a means of indirect promotion. At least from the fundamentalist perspective, the fake money is an enjoyable way to stage a critique of Christmas as a commercial holiday that drowns out the true “reason of the season,” laying bare the contradictions at its core. Of course, the child probably is not enjoying it in the way I’m suggesting (his parents, however, are).
On the other hand, however, the bill represents a form fundamentalist violence that underwrites Christmas kitsch: holiday ideology is designed to down out and temporarily cover-over political and ideological differences in the joyful harmony of childhood wonder (er . . . and lust for presents); betwinkled kitsch gives all the ugliness of human evil a green-hue (transforming it into the Grench). These many lights, for example, are supposed to blind us to religious righteouenss, however temporarily (even when they are erected by the righteous, for isn’t the plastic manger scene in the suburban front lawn precisely that, a non-righteous kitschy righteousness?). Now, holiday critics like the fundamentalists are right to point out that this green hue is really from money, but they fail to note it is the red hue of violence too (“Feeeeed tha wooooorld . . . let them know it’s Christmas time . . . .”). And as the phantasmic support of fundamentalist critique: what does obscene enjoyment do to a five year old when you tell her that she is going to Hell unless she lets Jesus ‘into her heart’?” One only wonders about the joyful scene prior to distribution, when the devout explain to their children what the Santa money says: “we’re saving souls, son.” One only wonders about the confusion of children exiting the exhibit and experiencing this rhetoric for the first time: “What does this say, mommy?”
“Don’t worry about it Suzy. It says you’ve been a good girl this year. Just wait to see what Santa will bring you tomorrow!”
I was raised an evengelical Baptist with Pentecostal leanings, so I get this obscene pleasure. I remember when was six years old a “Youth Minister” tried to explain to us what Hell was like: “Have you ever burned your finger on a stove,” he asked us. Universally all of us had. “Well, imagine that pain all over your body, but not just for a few minutes, but forever and ever and ever. That’s what it feels like when you die and have not been saved.”
Some days ago my mother called me a Scrooge for expressing disappointment that a holiday display didn’t have a shout-out to Jews. It reminded me of what an editor said about Nikki’s article on Christmas kitsch when he regretfully took it to press: pointing out the obscene underside of the holiday contradicted his “vision of humanity.” I didn’t bother telling mumsie about what the editor said, or the Santa money I was gifted, or the hellish memory that resurfaced thinking about the age of the boy who gave it to me.
Ah, the nostalgia: Merry Christmas/Go to Hell!