Is "Die Hard" a Christmas movie? Was Rudolph bullied? And, most importantly, is Starbucks "Christmassy" enough this year?
It’s December, the month when people go online to argue about Christmas. Or perhaps at the dinner table.
Although nothing will ever top the fights that the Puritans had about Christmas (some Puritans, like Increase Mather, thought Christmas was just a bunch of heathen decadence), the current-day United States is also pretty good at coming up with new things to disagree about. From the “War on Christmas” to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” there’s an endless supply at this point.
Below is a thorough, categorized list. Enjoy?
MOVIES AND MUSIC
Is “Love, Actually” actually good or actually bad?
“Love Actually” is an unavoidable Christmas flick about love and British people and a Mariah Carey earworm. For many, it’s a tradition to watch the film in December. For others, it’s a tradition to argue online about whether it’s extremely good or extremely bad.
Basically, the argument about “Love, Actually” being bad comes down to three things: how unrealistic its plot is even for a rom-com; the sexist cliches peppered through the entire movie; and the fact that some story lines played as heartwarming actually feature more troubling behavior (like stalking).
The film’s fans, meanwhile, really love “Love, Actually.” For example: MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who sat down with The Washington Post two years ago to explain what he loves about it.
Is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie?
“Die Hard” takes place at a Christmas party. A pivotal scene involves a Santa hat. Does that make the action classic a Christmas classic?
Although “Die Hard” was released in mid-July 1988, it’s become something of a meme to say that your favorite Christmas film is the Bruce Willis action flick — one that’s meant to identify the opinion holder as someone who is too cool for holiday sentimentality. The debate over whether it can even be a contender rages online every December, without a definitive answer.
Is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” about sexual assault?
A few radio stations announced this year they would not play “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” during the holiday season, because the 1944 song’s lyrics appear to romanticize a date rape. With lyrics like “Say, what’s in this drink?” and the woman in the song repeatedly saying “No” only for the man to continue to press forward, it’s easy to see why.
In 2016, a viral Tumblr post defended the song, arguing that its original context gave its more disturbing lyrics an entirely different meaning — one in which the encounter was consensual.
“People used to say ‘What’s in this drink’ as a joke,” said Susan Loesser, the daughter of songwriter Frank Loesser, in an interview this year. “You know, this drink is going straight to my head so what’s in this drink? Back then it didn’t mean you drugged me.”
We got a new one this year! Introducing “Problematic Rudolph,” the name for the raging debate over whether it’s OK for people to tweet criticism of the social messages of a holiday classic. This fight began when HuffPost aggregated a bunch of mildly viral tweets that argued that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s” depictions of bullying and shaming are problematic.
“Problematic Rudolph” quickly leaped from minor Twitter fight to a multi-day story on Fox News, becoming the latest culture-war fodder.
Tweets about the film’s possibly problematic message had hundreds of retweets. But those articulating conservative outrage had substantially more.
Welcome, “Problematic Rudolph,” to the purgatory of annual Christmas fights.
Eggnog: Delicious or disgusting?
Eggnog is the candy corn of Christmas, a beloved treat for some and a disgusting abomination for others. The drink is basically just eggs, cream and sugar, with optional alcohol and topped with nutmeg. Starbucks makes an eggnog latte every year.
How about fruitcake?
If eggnog is the candy corn of Christmas, than fruitcake is its airplane food. A dense, cakelike brick that has become a cliched comic trope.
Alas, while we were tempted to leave fruitcake off the list — it’s not so much debated as it is universally ridiculed — there are plenty of hungry, contrarian content creators out there willing to defend the baked good for hate clicks. “Be real: Have you even TASTED it? DON’T BE A SHEEP,” BuzzFeed argued.
Other pro-fruitcake arguments point out that maybe some specific recipes are edible, or that it’s often soaked in alcohol.
Fake tree vs. real tree
Time to put up the Christmas tree! Question is, was it once alive or is it plastic?
Real-tree defenders tend to argue that a real Christmas tree looks better, makes your house smell like wonderful pine and is better for the environment because it’s not made of artificial materials. (Christmas trees are generally grown to be sold, not cut down from forests.)
But a CNN poll in 2014 found that 51 percent of Americans planned to have an artificial tree, and only 24 percent a real tree. And the fake-tree team is getting more aggressive. In Esquire, one fan wrote that real Christmas trees are “like the worst roommate you ever had showing up once a year, draped in shimmering garland, to die in your living room. And you pay for this to happen.”
When should the lights go up?
The Starbucks cups come out at the beginning of November. But that doesn’t mean it’s the season for all holiday things. The general advice on lights seems to be: Don’t put them up until after Thanksgiving, and they should come down the first week of January at the latest.
You can also have lots of other fun arguments about Christmas lights. For instance: white lights or rainbow lights?
WAR ON CHRISTMAS
‘Merry Christmas’ vs. ‘Happy holidays’
I probably don’t need to explain to you that people argue about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy holidays,” or that said argument has become extremely political.
The “War on Christmas” has become an annual outpouring of conservative anger and anxiety about a changing world. So, the argument goes, if conservatives accept greetings other than “Merry Christmas” in the name of trying to be respectful and inclusive of other traditions and beliefs, what they’re actually doing is helping a vast liberal conspiracy to abolish the holiday altogether.
In one YouTube video with more than 3 million views, for instance, right-wing personality Dennis Prager claims that “activists on the left will eventually seek to remove Christmas as a national holiday,” and that anyone who chooses a greeting other than “Merry Christmas” during the holidays is hurting the United States. The video also includes an animation of someone punching Santa in the face.
The Starbucks battleground
One of the most time-honored traditions of the Christmas culture wars is singling out and targeting service employees for outrage and shame, particularly if they work at Starbucks. In 2015, an evangelical social media personality attempted to start a viral campaign, #MerryChristmasStarbucks, to get customers to say their name is “Merry Christmas” so that baristas would write that on the cups. He believed employees had been instructed not to say the greeting (Starbucks denies this).
The main reason for the man’s anger was another mainstay of the Starbucks wars: the design on their holiday cups. Every year, the cups become a battleground over whether they are explicitly “Christmassy” enough, or merely holiday-themed.
When should kids learn the truth about Santa?
OK, look, I don’t have kids. This is not my fight. But people have feelings about it. Has a 12-year-old aged out of believing in Santa? How about a 7-year-old? What happens if one of your kids knows, but the other still believes? One teacher felt so strongly about this topic that he decided to ruin it for an entire classroom of first graders.
Anyway, I found out when I was 5, thanks to a neighborhood friend’s older brother, and look how I turned out: writing this important article about all the ways to ruin a beloved holiday.
Is Elf on the Shelf fun, or is it a dystopian tool to train children to accept a surveillance state?
Elf on the Shelf is a toy that monitors your child’s behavior by perching in a high place and “watching,” on behalf of Santa, for signs of naughtiness. Parents activate their child’s precious imaginative powers to make the illusion work, infusing the plush toy with a sense of authority.
For some parents, Elves on the Shelves have become a month-long Pinterest DIY project: Each night, the elf moves, and each night, creative parents give it a new activity. They might be playing cards, cutting out snowflakes or building an army of snowman mercenaries (?!??!?!?). There’s also a cottage industry of Etsy shops selling Elf on the Shelf-related signs, like, “This house is under elf surveillance.”
For other people the Elf is just a sneaky way to normalize the metaphorical panopticon surrounding present-day life.