The latest offensive in the War on Christmas - you know, the war we're supposedly not having, according to the people fighting it most energetically - began as a blog post at Slate, which argued that the traditional white Santa Claus is frightening, alienating, and divisive to non-white children. The solution proposed by the author was to replace Santa with not a Person of Color, but a penguin:
America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies. Isn’t it time that our image of Santa better serve all the children he delights each Christmas?
Yes, it is. And so I propose that America abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man and create a new symbol of Christmas cheer. From here on out, Santa Claus should be a penguin.
That’s right: a penguin.
Why, you ask? For one thing, making Santa Claus an animal rather than an old white male could spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame that I remember from childhood.
For another thing, the penguin is both black and white, just like the aliens on that one Star Trek episode. Ooh, wait, bad analogy. Those guys wiped each other out in a planetary race war. Umm... think like a Slate writer, think like a Slate writer... aha! I've got it! The penguin is black and white, just like the ebony and ivory keys on a piano keyboard, living side by side in harmony. And just savor the post-modern irony of a flightless bird zooming across the world to dispense presents from a sled pulled by flying reindeer!
A TV news host decided to discuss this idea with the panel of commentators on her show. As it happened, that news host was Megyn Kelly, the rising star at Fox News, so liberals had a collective stroke and littered the Internet with a thousand screeds portraying Kelly as a racist, an icy blonde spokeswoman for the dying white male patriarchy. As usually happens with the Left's choreographed freak-outs, the original sources of the "controversy" - both Kelly's actual TV program, and the Slate post she was discussing - quickly vanished down the Memory Hole. Here's the clip, in case you haven't seen it, and have any doubts as to the tone of the discussion:
Obviously, a great deal of the "controversy" over this segment is an Alinsky-style character assassination of Kelly, and by extension Fox News, which liberals are very keen to marginalize. I don't blame anyone who thinks the matter has already been discussed at absurd length, so no hard feelings if the reader wants to bail out now. But there are some significant cultural issues at play.
To get the obvious out of the way first, Santa Claus is a fictional character (sorry, kids!) based on a real person, a history briefly covered by Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters:
The personage of Santa Claus harkens back to 4th century Saint Nicholas of Myra who was indeed white, had a beard, and gave generous gifts to the poor.
During the Middle Ages, when the actual gift giving by Christians changed from December 6 and the night before to December 24 and 25, his name was changed to Santa Claus due to the Reformation and resulting opposition to venerating saints so close to the anniversary of Christ's birth.
It's not uncommon to see entirely fictional characters extensively remodeled in terms of their appearance, with varying degrees of success. Two of the main male characters in the original "Battlestar Galactica" were re-imagined as women in the 2000s, for example, and it worked out just fine. And who doesn't love Idris Elba as Heimdall in the "Thor" movies? The man took out a starship with a knife. (For what it's worth, in the mythology of these superhero movies, it's easy enough to explain the discrepancy between Heimdall's appearance and traditional Norse legends. The old Vikings never actually saw him - he was back at his post in Asgard, running the bridge - so they just assumed he looked like the Asgardians they met.)
One notes, however, that these character remodels never run the other way. There aren't many cases of traditionally female characters re-imagined as men, and I can't easily think of a Character of Color who became a white guy. I suspect such a creative decision would be denounced as offensive and exclusionary, which brings us back to Santa Penguin.
Recall that the thrust of the Slate article was not an argument in favor of allowing Santa Claus ornaments and decorations that don't resemble a fat old white guy. Such things are ubiquitous - your local department or craft store probably sells plenty of them, quite possibly including penguins dressed in Santa suits. What the writer wanted was to replace the official image of Santa Claus with an officially sanctioned, racially inclusive, non-human icon.
The case for doing this was that the image of a white person is inherently divisive and exclusionary. If the very incarnation of kindness, generosity, and holiday cheer is a jolly, corpulent Caucasian male... well, that intimidates and alienates children from other racial backgrounds, locking them out of Christmas. And that, my dear Critical Race Theorists, is one of the most offensive, exclusionary ideas I can imagine. It's a formula for endless racial strife, which of course is very useful to those who profit from nourishing racial grievances, but the rest of us should have no patience for it.
We're also told that the solution to the neurotic terror of racial exclusion is to make Santa non-human, which doesn't send the kids a very positive message about the overall character of the human race. I seem to recall a lot of talk about how children are sweet and unassuming by nature - they have to be taught ugly ideas like racial prejudice by bitter, mean-spirited adults. But now we're being told children are intrinsically sensitive to race, to the point that they can't embrace Santa Claus unless he has the same skin color they do, and certain adults want to indulge and accommodate this prejudice! I liked the old idealism about childish innocence better. There was a time when leftist thought at least pretended to something better than sour all-encompassing species-loathing cynicism.
Doesn't it send a far better message to children to teach them how love and kindness transcend race, and jolly old Saint Nick treasures each and every one of them, regardless of whether they look like his grandchildren? Santa sees what we do, not what we look like. He doesn't like putting anybody on the Naughty list, but nowhere on that list is the skin color of the naughty child considered. If we're going to accept the notion that a white man is inherently incapable of expressing such all-inclusive affection for the children of the world - or, to follow the reasoning of the Slate writer all the way to its flightless aquatic avian conclusion, that no man can - we're teaching the exact wrong lessons about "tolerance."
Santa Claus isn't arbitrarily white, fat, and elderly, as noted above. Not only is the real Saint Nicholas to be considered, but the Santa Claus figure comes to us out of time-honored tradition. To accept any version of the argument that he shouldn't be thought of as the ruddy-cheeked grandpa with a bowl full of jelly is to abandon that tradition, and treat Santa as just another fictional character, no more substantial than the work of last year's cartoonists. That's another step down the road to deconstructing and dismantling Christmas itself, stripping everything both religious and traditional out of the Holy Day that became a holiday, and is well on its way to becoming just another paid day off. People don't just like Santa Claus, they cherish him. Our culture is having trouble understanding the difference, to say nothing of the difference between cherished Santa and the reverence held for the child who gives Christmas Day its name.
Megyn Kelly was excoriated for simply putting in a good word for the traditional image of Santa Claus, in response to an article that aggressively critiqued that image and demanded its expulsion from our common culture. Even though her tongue was more than a little in cheek when she delivered the lines that set liberal pundits on fire, she's been treated as a closed-minded monster because she defended an ancient, beloved tradition. I would point out that Kelly was generous and sympathetic when discussing the Slate article and its author, Aisha Harris. In fact, both the original article and Kelly's discussion of it can be taken as whimsical, although Harris apparently didn't mean it in jest, and doesn't seem inclined to cut Kelly any slack in the name of whimsy.
Every other constipated leftist who piled on top of Kelly has been serious as a heart attack with their accusations of cultural imperialism and outright racism. Whatever ulterior motives they might have for trashing the Fox host, they're also getting a lot of long-simmering deconstructive sentiments off their chests. The implication here is that no one is allowed to defend certain traditions in good faith, let alone good cheer, which automatically puts them on the defensive in a losing cultural struggle. "Prove to me you're not a filthy racist" is not an inviting way to begin discourse, or share Yuletide merriment.