French Santa, 1910
First, so much of the "nostalgia" associated with Christmas is manufactured nostalgia -- and manufactured by corporations trying to separate you from your money while getting you to believe that this hyper-commercialism is inherent to Christmas.
Second, so many of the symbols, practices, and traditions we associate with Christmas was also manufactured in recent history, often by corporations which were once again trying to sell things.
Philalethes wrote a couple of years ago:
In America's smaller towns, neighborhoods have been destroyed and businesses torn down, only to be replaced by chain businesses that offer a cheap imitation of the community values they ruined. "Old-fashioned" qualities - such as conscientious workmanship - are promoted in cavernous, dismal buildings that were made cheaply, out of shoddy materials, by people whose emotional investment in their work was at a bare minimum. Lovely Victorian buildings are torn down, to make way for some gigantic drab enclosure where faux-Victorian gaslights are sold. Our neighbors are driven from their houses and scattered to the four winds, so that chain stores can arrive and proclaim themselves our "good neighbors."
In my review of Culture Industry I wrote about the notion of manufactured nostalgia:
Consider just how much a part of today's commercialized Christmas runs on "manufactured nostalgia," like an old truck burning diesel fuel. We are bombarded with images of snowy fields, gingerbread men baking in the oven, immaculately decorated Christmas trees, carolers outside the window, children sitting around the fire, and so on and so forth.
I'm sure that these scenes form the memories of some people, but they aren't the only ones who experience nostalgia for such events -- there is a common feeling that scenes such as those describe the "perfect" Christmas Past, regardless of what one's real Christmas memories are. This nostalgia isn't created for our benefit, of course -- it's created because it sells products for large companies and perpetuates ideas about the perfect home life that we'd like to hear.
This manufactured nostalgia for Christmas is similar to a lot of problems we see in politics. Consider, for example, the manufactured nostalgia for the 1950s when people were respectful (blacks had to be subservient to whites, women had to demure to men), crime was low (police could beat false confessions out of suspects), families stayed together (women had few prospects outside marriage), and so forth. The nostalgia is manufactured by lies and suppressing all the negative experiences of so many people -- and of just about everyone who wasn't a white Protestant male.
Philalethes' comments remind me of Jean Baudrillard:
Baudrillard's concept of simulation is the creation of the real through conceptual or "mythological" models which have no connection or origin in reality. The model becomes the determinant of our perception of reality -- the real. Homes, relationships, fashion, art, music, all become dictated by their ideal models presented through the media. Thus the boundary between the image, or simulation, and reality implodes (breaks down). This creates a world of hyperreality where the distinctions between real and unreal are blurred. ...
The masses get bombarded by these images (simulations) and signs (simulacra) which encourage them to buy, vote, work, play,... but eventually they become apathetic (i.e. cynical). Because simulations and simulacra ultimately have no referents, the social begins to implode. This process of social entropy leads to the collapse of all boundaries between meaning, the media, and the social -- no distinction between classes, political parties, cultural forms, the media, and the real. Simulation and simulacra become the real so there are no stable structures on which to ground theory or politics. Culture and society become a flux of undifferentiated images and signs.
Baudrillard is not merely suggesting that postmodern culture is artificial, because the concept of artificiality still requires some sense of reality against which to recognize the artifice. His point, rather, is that we have lost all ability to make sense of the distinction between nature and artifice. To clarify his point, he argues that there are three "orders of simulacra":
1) in the first order of simulacra, which he associates with the pre-modern period, the image is a clear counterfeit of the real; the image is recognized as just an illusion, a place marker for the real;
2) in the second order of simulacra, which Baudrillard associates with the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, the distinctions between the image and the representation begin to break down because of mass production and the proliferation of copies. Such production misrepresents and masks an underlying reality by imitating it so well, thus threatening to replace it (e.g. in photography or ideology); however, there is still a belief that, through critique or effective political action, one can still access the hidden fact of the real;
3) in the third order of simulacra, which is associated with the postmodern age, we are confronted with a precession of simulacra; that is, the representation precedes and determines the real. There is no longer any distinction between reality and its representation; there is only the simulacrum.
Have American culture and politics reached the "third order," where representations are determining what is "real"?
Surely, there's more than a little of Las Vegas in America's religious notions, which increasingly boil down to the worker's daydream of getting the last laugh. But here, the fantasy turns a bit darker. It's not enough to thrive, not enough to be singled out for reward while the scoffers turn green with envy; everyone who's "bad" must suffer.
If the American God - the God, that is, of Scofield and Darby - is made in our own image, he's based partially on the office drone's vision of winning the lottery, and partially on the coward's admiration for brute force, but mainly on the overworked postal worker's dream of double-barreled justice. This God shares in our petty prejudices, damns whatever frightens us or angers us, and pointlessly punishes people whose personal knowledge of suffering is already more than deep enough.
If the postmodern critiques of culture are applied to politics, it sounds like a recipe for fascism. Very disturbing food for thought, here...