Aisha Harris, Christmas, Fox News, Irony, Megyn Kelly, Reza Aslan, Santa Clause, Satire, Slate Magazine
What so many in the right wing echo chamber do not seem to get is that Satire does not begin the moment you are called out for making an ass of yourself. You cannot simply toss bigoted statements about the airwaves and play the irony card whenever someone says no to your bigotry. Jokes are meant to be funny the first time around, not simply when the whole world finds your position too stupid to take seriously. Even when the humor is intended one always has to content with the with-me or at-me question. And if the point of your joke is to make fun of someone’s race, gender or sexual orientation, all the laughter in the world will not let you off the hook. Humor is NOT a get-out-of-trouble-free card, especially for those who simply weren’t joking to begin with.
Granted, satire can be a tricky game to play (just ask Sarah Silverman), but an ironic intention doesn’t usually materialize out of thin air. We can generally spot some sign of it in the original moment, so to speak, or at least we should recognize that irony when it is pointed out later.
This is what makes Megyn Kelly’s I-was-joking defense of her comments on Santa’s race so ridiculous. In case you’ve been comatose for the last day or three I’ll let Kelly tell you the story, but let me just say one thing first, watch closely for the light-hearted tone of her original comments. In this clip, she tells us that her comments about Santa were meant as a joke, then plays the original clip. When the original clip comes up, let’s watch closely and maybe we can find the signals of humorous intent:
Did you see the humor? Did you hear that light-hearted tone in her treatment of the subject?
Okay neither did I.
There was nothing funny about the original segment, and that is not changed by Kelly’s forced humor in subsequent statements. She wants us to believe she was joking, but dammit, a joke doesn’t look like that, and it doesn’t sound like that. What is hilarious about this pathetic defense of Kelly’s own racism is that the very video clip she plays ought to be a positive refutaion that her own attempt to recast the moment as humor. Everything from her tone of voice in that original clip to her body posture and the complete lack of humor in all of those present should suggest that she (as the others) were taking the issue VERY seriously. …even too seriously. There is nothing in Kelly’s words that suggests any intent to undercut the seriousness of her claims; she does nothing to show us that she didn’t mean exactly what she said. Everything about he original clip suggests that she meant to be taken seriously.
It’s all just a little funnier when you realize that the original article written by Aisha Harris for slate magazine was in fact offered in a satirical tone, as Kelly herself (now) concedes. So, the bottom line is that Kelly and company read a satirical piece about a real issue (racial identification with a major holiday figure), took it as a serious threat to their own racial politics, and proceeded to pronounce, ex cathedra, that one ought not to mess with Santa’s racial identity, because he is white.
He just is.
Just like Jesus.
John Stewart and his guest (Jessica Williams)are spot-on as usual. To watch that, click here.
So irony is playing quite a shell game with us here. It is present in the piece Kelly was talking about altogether absent in her initial comments on the subject, and present only as an effort to save face in her attempt to address the controversy. …which is unintentionally ironic in the extreme. Is this irony fail or irony jackpot? I really can’t say.
Maybe it’s both.
Don’t read the comments of her twitter defenders by the way. …I mean it don’t! You’ll lose faith in humanity, or at least I did, which is odd considering that I didn’t think I really had any faith in humanity before this, but anyway…
Kelly does have one defender worth considering, though his defense is flawed as Hell. Reza Aslan a Professor of Creative Writing and historian of religion at the University of California, Riverside, tells us that Kelly was actually right about something, sort of. He tells us that she was right about Christ, but not Jesus. Jesus, Aslan tells us was the historical person in question. Jesus would most certainly not count as a white person, as Aslan tells us, but Christ, the cultural construction of Jesus as a God is most certainly white. So, Aslan is trying to tell us that the vision of Christ near and dear to Kelly is certainly white whereas the historical reality of any person whose life might have served as the inspiration for that vision is not.
Okay that’s interesting. It just isn’t all that helpful.
See the problem is that Kelly was not just telling us that Jesus is white as he is imagined in western religious traditions; she was telling us that he really was white. Hell she still hasn’t quite wrapped her mind around the fact that he most certainly wasn’t but apparently she has learned enough to concede that the matter is open to question.
The bottom line is that Aslan is introducing a distinction that his subject matter does not make which is ironic. More ironic still, Aslan is using this highly flexible manner of speaking about Jesus to defend someone who was most emphatically denying any flexibility to the notion of Jesus whatsoever. She wasn’t telling us that Jesus was white to her and a number of others; she was telling us that it was wrong to think of Jesus as anything but white.
This is the sort of thing that has always bothered me about the study of comparative religion. Too often it seems to amount to a claim that religious faith in general is a good thing even if any particular faith is problematic. I can accept that religious institutions may produce a wide range of wonderfully positive values but I expect those fall in an undefined array of social benefits whereas those who study comparative religion often seem to want to locate them in religiosity itself. It’s an ironic form of apologetics that always seems to stop just short of a literal defense. But that’s just my general beef with the academic field of religious studies; it bears a strong resemblance to Aslan’s effort to rescue some value in Kelly’s views even as he acknowledges their inaccuracy as applied to actual history. The trouble is that Kelly herself isn’t really cooperating with his analysis. She was talking about the history even as she was also talking about the religious imaginary.
And that brings us back to Kelly’s disingenuous attempt to hide her bigotry under the guise of humor. She wants to remind us that both she and Harris acknowledged the same thing, that Santa and Jesus has historically been thought of as white but of course this would h=be a half truth if it were even a little truth. Kelly misses the alternative visions that are in fact out there. More to the point, she is opposed to those alternatives.
Make no mistake Kelly was telling us to say no to anything but a white Jesus and Santa, and she was not joking.
I think I prefer to say no to racism.
The Crazy Crone said:
Great comment, agree totally. Thanks for having the guts to say it!
Thank you. 😉
Thank you for sharing this! I agree!! No to racism!!
All my friends are, of course, talking extensively about this piece on Facebook, and now about her precious victimhood and how she was just joking. Why? Do we really expect better from these old white people and their blonde bimbos? The worst thing about it is that Megyn Kelly is the serious one.
I certainly don’t expect more from anyone on Fox News. Whatever their race, gender, or religious background, the talking heads on Fox are paid to promote prejudice. That is their role, and most of them understand it very well. It’s a damned shame to see this bunch define what it means to be ‘conservative’.
I’ve never seen the show before today – don’t own a TV so I’m completely lost as to whey they covered it at all – slow day, nothing else to talk about? Why did she even mention Fox News and Powerful in her response? Veiled threat? Showing off? Never heard an apology either. Why not just say, I made a bad joke, I’m sorry and move on? Seems like a desperate attempt to drag the embarrassing moment out and gather even more attention. Another day passes that I am glad not to have a TV.
It’s really fascinating to see Fox News approaching this as a sort of PR problem. They really seem to think they need to spin the story and redefine the initial segment. I think it helps to show the essentially agenda-driven nature of the program. Were their journalism to be taken seriously, I do not think they would allow her to take this approach. It’s falsehood is patently obvious, but of course their fan base will support them anyway.
Linda Hottel said:
FOX News has a very long history of RACISM. Megyn Kelly is clearly TERRIFIED of the United States becoming Multi-Cultural because it will mean that she can no longer claim the superiority of being white! (not that Megyn Kelly has ever been ‘superior’ to anyone!!)
Yep, it’s a case study in privilege, a woman (and her fan base) deeply threatened by the need to share the nation (and it’s symbolism) with people other than her own kind.
Leslie Winston said:
You nailed it. These dimwits don’t know what satire and irony are. I hate that stupid people have the power to speak to millions as if they are authorities, or as if they know something. The gullible and/or uneducated get sucked in. And if they vote, it can be against their own best interests.
Since reading your comment, I have been thinking that it may not be such a coincidence that these so called ‘conservatives’ are more likely to think Stephen Colbert is making a serious point. Many of them really don’t get irony. They know only what they agree with and what they don’t. That is all.
I’ve heard Rush Limbaugh called a satirist before. No, sorry, it’s only satire if it’s INTENDED to sound stupid.
Also, the Ethiopian church has traditionally represented Jesus as African, and they certainly believed he was the Christ.
It seems to be his go-to excuse for whenever he over-extends on any number of issues. The problem is that he calls things satire when he gives all the appearances of meaning every word of what he is saying.
I don’t think the right wing has much use for the Coptic Church, or it’s members. It’s a shame too; they are an interesting part of the history of Christianity.
Aisha Harris’ piece didn’t read as satire, it was the typical whine about how growing up her feelings were hurt because Santa happened to not share her skin color. Were a white writer, or even a child to have said something to the effect that someone having black, or what have you, skin hurt him or her, the race cards would be flying in a blizzard. The double standard of racist blacks is farcical, and patently transparent.. it’s bitter resentment, the intent is to marginalize & exclude those who are white.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter what color Christ’s skin was, the fact also is, racists like you, with all your hatefullness, can never claim Christ as yours, because you clearly reject his teaching. Your hypocrisies, selective attention to issues reveals you not only don’t care about your so called black community, you’d abuse and exploit them.
St Nicholas is a Christian saint, he was a Greek, and ancient Greeks, they were Caucasians. The legend of Santa Claus, didn’t grow in Africa, the Middle East or Asia, but in Christian countries. Also, you cite Reza Aslan, an islamist seeks to redefine and demean Christ, to serve his ideological agenda. His book doesn’t even meet standards of scientific research, so his opinion on the subject is laughable. But let’s address your strawman argument that Jesus couldn’t be white. You don’t cite any basis for your claim. You just toss out a rant that any white person who disagrees with you is a racist. In another blog where you commented, you had a fit when a woman stated that St Nicholas was Greek in origin, you ranted that Greeks weren’t white. Greeks now, and in ancient days are Caucasian, and as to the ancient Jews, they were 5 tribes, and the Canaanites from which Jesus’ family came from, were known to have fair skin, and have red as well as brown hair. Another tribe, the Amorites included blonde as well as brown hair, and people with blue as well as brown eyes. Egyptian hieroglyphics show drawings of blonde and red haired Jewish slaves… but maybe evil white space aliens (isn’t that Al Sharpton’s pet theory?) faked all that? Let’s not forget the ancient Celts (who later ended up in Ireland) originated in what’s now the Middle East, and they’re a very fair haired and fair skinned people. But don’t let known scientific facts get in the way of your attempt to “know it all”.
With all my hatefulness, lol. I wonder if you have ever been true to any of the values your proclaim. Seriously, your post is a wonderful exercise in projection.
Laura Lynn said:
As usual you’ve given me a lot to think about and I loved the Jon Stewart piece-thanks for including it. I’ve always thought that St. Nicolas, Santa Claus and Jesus etc were all about the idea of sharing, peace, tolerance and love. Skin colour has nothing to do with it. I think some of the oldest churches in Africa and South American have always depicted Christ as dark skinned. Does it change the message? No…it shouldn’t. As for FOX news? Well, they’re all a little twisted as they make their own tempests in their own little teapots. It’s not that I think they should be totally ignored, but calling them out onto the carpet for things like this? Pointless. It just stirs up the trolls and ugly people. Spewing is never attractive. Burke said something along the lines of ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ But I think that sometimes it’s okay to ignore the idiots-their triumph is usually getting good people drawn into petty stupidity.
You know I struggle with this. Fox is incredibly powerful. I cannot imagine the Iraq War without their constant drum-beat, nor can I imagine the Tea Party, the Sequester, or the Government Shutdown without them. Ironically enough, I can imagine a much more effective opposition to Barack Obama if we had a more authentic conservative voice out there, one capable of fielding arguments that aren’t so childish. So, their important is far greater in terms of actual impact than the quality of their arguments. How to engage though? I really don’t know. Maybe posts like this don’t help, but neither does ignoring them. I’m at a loss. There is simply no way to talk to so many of those who now call themselves ‘conservatives’, and frankly I am less and less willing to grant these modern bigots the dignity of that term.
I say we go forward with Festuvus and the hell with the bigots.
We still have to deal with the larger issue of big money in politics, that’s what’s behind all of this. There is some movement on this.
Meant to also say thanks for the post, well done, Dan.
Thank you, Elizabeth. How to deal with the big money is an interesting question, and a damned hard one at that.
I spam-blocked Jenny. I simply see no basis for meaningful debate with this person. For the record, this was her last post:
“So celebrate “festivus”, no Christian or conservative has attempted to stop you. But let’s do talk about “big money” in politics, first, why don’t you explain why you are silent over Obama taking big money from Wall St & corporations, like Monsanto, GE. Goldman Sachs & many more, and then giving billions to Wall St & corporations? Obama took $80 billion from the food stamp funding to pay for his wife’s “Let’s Move”.. her tv commercials and cd. Let’s Move doesn’t feed hungry kids, it takes what little money for food their moms get out of their pockets. GAO figures revealed food stamp funding was cut $40. per person per month because of Let’s Move.
Let’s talk about the stimulous, why did Obama give hundreds of billions to companies to encourage them to fire citizen workers & move their factories to China or Mexico? Obama has stolen jobs, income, food, everything from the poor & middle class to give to the wealthy. He made Bush look good by comparison, I mean even Bush gave foreign aid to help treat AIDS victims in Africa, Obama didn’t give any AIDS funding, he gives money to arm Islamists slaughter Africans in the Central African Republic. Bush didn’t give GE tens of billions to close 27 factories across US & move the jobs to China Korea Indonesia, Mexico & elsewhere. or pay GM hundreds of billions to shut factories in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and other states & build new ones overseas, 6 in Mexico, others in Brazil, Russia, China. Or is it it that you define poor US citizens, black and white, who lost those jobs as “rich” and corporate cronies of their HObama, as “poor”? Come on, let’s see you cowards answer those questions. Explain why corporate HObama has been silent over the 5 million families made homeless during his first 4 years in office? Please explain how corporate big money HObama doesn’t have the money to help those families, oh.. wait, he’s had the untold hundreds billions to pay for all those 20 odd luxury vacations.
So come on, talk your circles around my comments pretending the truth is oh, so ridiculous. Fact is, you’re a bunch of mindless phonies, pompous twats. And there’s nothing original about you either.”
Laura Lynn said:
“The America Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
….or for a more modern take:
“Remember that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have. — Barry Goldwater
These are the days when to be called a republican or a conservative has been to be called ‘mean spirited’ or ‘stupid’ or ‘war monger’ or ‘corporate mouth piece’, among quite a few other slurs. Those two quotes above are both by famous conservative politicians and republicans. I mean before it became a dirty word. It’s the same brush that has tarred ‘christian values’ to mean something narrow minded and insular and racist. It’s not fair or right but at this moment in time? I don’t want to be a republican, christian, conservative. It’s sounds like a series of curse words.
Reblogged this on Johnbalaya and commented:
One of the most thoughtful, well argued pieces about Megyn Kelly’s asinine assertions about the whiteness of Christ and Santa (as well as her defense of the comments by calling the rest of us race-baiters.) Worth a few minutes of your time to read….
Thank you for the repost John.
You’re more than welcome … it was so well written that it needed to be shared. 🙂
Dan, I just found your blog via Johnbalaya. I had something really funny to say, but it slipped my mind. I guess I am ready to take a job with Fox News. Because my head is completely empty now.
Well written, although I tend to shy away from saying “racism” with absolute conviction. This could also be strictly religiously motivated. The Right is currently terrified they are losing ground, so any perceived attack (usually in the form of “change”) is often reacted to in disproportion to the actual act.
I know people who show no other indication of being racist, but resist changes to their perceived stable view. Hidden racism could be inferred except in the real world they do not act or talk (in private or public) in what one would consider racial tones.
The example I could give is talk of (and I can’t remember exactly) either the next Batman or Superman being portrayed by a black actor.
People reacted badly to that, and some might have been racist, but others objected strictly to the changing of canon. Nothing against the actor, which they liked in other roles, but rather a pushback on having what they are familiar with, changed.
Before some well-intentioned, self-righteous bastion of social justice jumps down my throat, I’m not claiming Kelly is not racist. Just allowing the possibility other factors drove her original comment (which I agree, had zero indication of being satire, especially given she completely ignored the penguin angle . . . I think they only read the title, not the actual piece).
I don’t know her personally, and watching her do what she is paid to do is not giving me insight on her actual personality, beliefs, etc. Aside the fact most individuals cannot be easily classified or pigeonholed based on one or two issue (even with regards to those issues), I’ve often experienced others “assuming” what I am like based on something I said. I don’t like it, and I tend to shy away from doing the same.
Judge me, and others, on actions, on real world situations, etc.
I think you are quite right to say that there may be other factors at play besides racism, at least insofar as racism can be construed as a feature of personal animosity. For my own part, I’m inclined to think that behavior (including verbal) is the defining characteristic here. Do I know whether she hates minorities in her personal life, shuns them personally, or otherwise feels terrible anxiety in their presence? No. What I think we can say in this instance, is that she has been remarkably quick to insist on the race of Santa and Jesus, slow to admit error on that subject, and completely unwilling to take seriously the concerns and problems of minorities. I also think it is safe to say that she is working for a program that actively seeks to harm minorities, and that she has proven herself willing to aid in that agenda. With a public record like that, I think it is quite reasonable to hold her accountable for the prejudice that shows in her words and actions. How she squares those actions with her personal psychology is her business, but the actions themselves are reprehensible.
I don’t have a television. I DID just watch a clip of The Daily Show with his apology. What she said, both in parts, and at the end, the entire thing just…I don’t think that I’ve ever seen ignorance dressed up in such a hoity-toity package with such a serious and indignant face, how did this woman and these people grow up?! Maybe she was locked in a closet and chained to a wall and is now trying to recover. whoa
Nick Harman said:
Santa, as imagined by Coca Cola I think, was white. They had to pick a colour and so that’s what they chose, although if they were doing it now they would probably have designed him so that no skin was visible in order to avoid such argument.
God is whatever you imagine him to be, black, white or a boiling cloud of gas. Belief is personal. It is not weird or racist though for a white person to imagine him as white, a black person as black etc. As long as they don’t insist on their version.
Jesus? Well if he existed, and it seems a prophet of that name may have done even if he wasn’t actually the son of God, would probably have been of Middle Eastern ethnicity. In those days people didn’t move around as much and while Mary and Joseph could have both come from Asia or Africa it’s unlikely. You don’t get many miles per gallon from a donkey.
The role of Coke in promoting the modern image of Santa is important. Thank you for pointing that out. I can almost agree that it’s not racist to imagine God (or Santa) in terms of your own ethnicity except that that does meet a certain minimal standard of bias. It may not be a malicious bias, but it’s the sort of thing that gets the prejudiced foot in the door. Whether or not it will be a problem depends a lot on someone’s ability to counter-act that sort of bias in practical thinking. In this case, we are of course talking about someone who very definitely does insist that Santa and Jesus are white. I think you are correct to suggest that is an important threshold, and Fox is way over the line on that one here.
Nick Harman said:
Santa IS white in as much as he is a fictional character who was created by coca cola as an old bearded white man. Just as Batman is white because that’s how he was created and Superman too. You could, if you wanted, change all their ethnicity depending on what part of the world was reading/watching but it would be a bit of a waste of time.
As to God, well is he a he or a she or an it? When trying to get a handle on the the unknowable we internally visualise in familiar terms and there’s really nothing racist or biased about that. Each to his own and what is the alternative?
And like I say, if a prophet called Jesus did actually exist then it is more than likely that he was of local ethnic origin and so ‘white’. If he had been born in Nairobi then he would have been black, in Tokyo he would have been Japanese etc.
That doesn’t imply white supremacy, just logic.
Daniel Digby said:
How can you not recognize Megan’s humor. Two of the greatest stand-up comedians who ever lived go largely unrecognized only because they don’t have a laugh track. I laugh my head off every time I hear Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.