Christmas is my favorite holiday, so merry Christmas!
I just wanted to make a small post in response to the Jacobin article posted yesterday.
It’s a joke post, and it’s fine as that. It’s not particularly funny, because it’s written in the stuffy Jacobin house style, but I suppose it’s amusing. The reason I wanted to post about it though, is because the post has more interesting things to say about hermeneutics than class, even though it’s about class. (yes, I’m going to write a super serious post about a super not serious post!)
The post has to do with hermeneutics because the amusement of the piece comes from the tension of imposing material class dynamics on a folkloric story. What the post says even more loudly than that, but further in the background, is that all things under capitalism use capitalist power dynamics (mostly true), and must be analyzed as such (not true).
Most analysis depends on structural elements. We understand things in their opposition. This is how I always took Forrest Gump to be a leftist film, only to later learn U.S. conservatives see it as a conservative movie. In my opinion, those lens of analysis depend on this question: do you think Forrest and Jenny get what they deserve? The leftist perspective would be that Forrest represents the power of mainstream WASP capitalism, getting everything handed to him even though he’s a dumbass. Jenny represents a subversive, dormant power, constantly being shit on by society. Since Forrest is the protagonist, we feel urged to see him as the “right” one. But, you could also see Forrest as a pseudo-villain—not a villain in his own right, but a symbol of the concentration of power, and Jenny is the true hero of the movie, consequently making the ending a tragedy.
Back to Santa: let’s take the basic elements of Santa’s story, in relation to labor. Santa generates enough toys for every child on earth. The capitalist view is that, in order to do this, Santa must employ elves, who live and work at the North Pole (a feudalistic feature), on Santa’s behalf.
On a fundamental level, the Santa labor system is complicated by the fact that Santa is different than the other elves. An elf doesn’t rule the elves. It does have capitalistic elements because of Santa Claus. Santa is seen as the capitalist class and the elves are seen as the working class.
But this is where we can understand, through the structures of analysis, that Santa Claus is representing capitalist elements, but all of that stuff can be explained away, because Santa makes no profit from distributing toys, so any sort of benefit Santa Claus would gain from the capitalist position does not exist.
These levels of contradiction indicate a few things. For one, it indicates that Santa Claus is a folk hero with many different interpretations. He is an aesthetic shell that people pour ideological meaning into. It’s revisionist to see Santa as a capitalist by default because Santa’s origins exist before capitalism. But since Santa is so ideologically hollow, we see him as capitalist, by default, because our society is capitalist by default.
PS, I’m not even going to go into Sinterklaas, which is much more explicitly racist, colonial, and capitalist.