Christmas and Jews? nu-uh.

by tobybee

It seems there’s a new movie which will be out for Christmas – ‘Christmas with a Capital C’ – starring the least-known Baldwin brother (oh, they are definitely one of my favourite sets of celebrity siblings). Check out the preview…

As you can see, this is a film that comes straight from Sarah-Palin-country: god-fearing (and god-loving), moose-hunting, heterosexual, heteronormative, white, middle-class Alaska. And Christian. Definitely Christian. We start off with the pure town, a town where everyone loves each other, everyone helps each other out. There’s respect, there’s love, there’s certainty. And there’s certainly no-one doing anything remotely different. Until… the U-Haul van pulls up, followed by the black car. I don’t know about you, but I was certain a ‘Muslim’ was going to step out of that car, crunching their black-clad foot on the pure, virginal snow. But no, it was to be a thinly-disguised Jew. How do we know he’s jewish? Because he’s permanently dressed like a Wall Street banker, while everyone else is dressed in their country-town jeans and sweatshirts. He pulls up in a black town car, while everyone else drives a 4WD. And he never got the girl: as the husband character recounts to his son, as he sits on the back of a ute, with snow-buggies around them, arms raised and fists pumped in triumph. Because, of course, it’s not just that the Jewish Man comes from the city, is permanently an outsider, comes into communities and stirs up trouble with his vicious, conniving, meddling ways, seeking to control communities in which he doesn’t belong. But also that he’s not-really-a-man: he is not appropriately sexual, incapable of ‘getting the girl’. He is the emasculated, asexual city man of money, coming to your town to infiltrate and destroy your way of life. Beware.

And so, it seems the film moves on. Some people give him a chance, but he betrays their offers of friendship by working to destroy the very thing that means the most to them: Christmas. The birth of Christ. And here, in this event, we have the foundational heteronormative Christian moment. A couple – Mary and Joseph – give birth to the son of God. Even though (and I probably don’t know enough theology to make this point, but I think there’s something here) there is no need for Joseph in this story – Mary gets pregnant without his input – he is there, the happy father, making sure we all know that only a mother and a father can produce such greatness, such glory. To threaten the celebration of Christmas is to threaten Christian heterosexuality, and Christianity itself.

The significations of an ‘Open, Tolerant Society’ – things such as replacing ‘Merry Christmas’ with ‘Season’s Greetings’ – are presented as a threat to society (and the outsider is defined, very much, as not part of society). The jew-man is shown to attempt to pull down the virginal, literally angelic girl-child from her stand. What horror he brings for the people!

So the movie is a cowboy-movie: the dark, shadowy, city half-a-man versus the rugged, outdoorsy, saviour of the people, manly-man. What a surprise that the Jew is shown at the end – in clothes that are now dishevelled – to recognise his wrongs, to be embraced by the community he has attempted to destroy with his evil aims. And Christmas, with all its capital-c Christianity, can be saved by the only true Christians: the whities out in Alaska.

If there was ever any proof needed that Hollywood films – indeed, any media production – reflect the particular historical moments in which they are created, we need look no further than this film. It couldn’t have been made at any other time, and in any other place: the particular confluence of Christianity being located in Alaska (rather than, say, the Deep South), fear of outsiders, and assertion of heteronormativity, is so perfectly of this American moment.

It also perfectly exemplifies the power of citationality: to paraphrase Judith Butler (after Derrida), “the norm of [the threatening outsider] takes hold to the extent that it is ‘cited’ as such a norm, but it also derives its power through the citations that it compels. And how it is that we might read the ‘citing’ of the norms of [outsider-ness] as the process of approximating or ‘identifying with’ such norms” (Butler, Bodies That Matter, 13). In other words, this film exemplifies the circular historical processes of performativity, citationality and representation: through the iteration of such representations of outsiderness as unChristian, ungodly, disruptive and harmful (until battered down and successfully overcome, incorporated and assimilated, where possible) this representation, or idea, further becomes the ‘norm’, or the standard idea of outsiderness. Through the production of such representations knowledge about the ‘real’ threat of the outsider is produced: the outsider becomes definitively known as all of these pernicious things.