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The Gift and the Word

Bil Talen

5th January, 2009

We interrupt our regular programming for a moral advisory...

Children – What is ‘Giving’ at ‘Christmas’? What is it doing to us? This is the season where the supermodels march on us in earnest. The celebrities do their soft-shoe right off the label, they seem to push past the screen and plant a kiss on our bundled faces like bad weather made of pouring-down sex videos. There is a feeling in the air that the right wing apocalypse scheduled by Tony Blair and George Bush will not interrupt the monument of Christmas. First things first. That global warming, that Lake of Fire – it will happen as God wills it. But first we must pummel one another with plastic conveniences, schmazzle dazzle… oh my GOD. Christmas! What can you do? Try to gain copyright control on your own mind? My wayward flock, stay calm.

Corporate Christmas is the Total Falsehood that holds within it a great opportunity. Brave the neurotic elves and smiling Wal-Mart hostesses, look for a moment into that blinding darkness. Here is THE ECONOMY THAT WARS ON THE IDEA OF GIVING.

We can recover from disinformation. We can eventually heal from the official lies of the Fallujas and Katrinas. But how do we work our way out of the tinselchoked smoke and mirrors that leave us saying Merry Christmas and meaning its opposite? When looking into the eyes of a loved one at Christmas only to find that the gaily wrapped box we are then handed is A TRAGIC INTERLOPER, NOT A GIFT AT ALL. Rather it is a demand – a demonstration of ‘Consumer confidence’, ie I’VE GOT CONFIIDENCE IN THE CONTENTS OF THESE PRODUCTS, and what would that be? – hurricanes and soup at the North Pole and toxins in your breath. Evil! The Reverend suggests that we do the brave thing and commit to a regimen utterly lacking in propriety. This Christmas, those of you who really believe – you shall stop inflicting on one another the symbolic corporate product, under the tree, over by the squealing little god in the manger.

Let us turn Christmas on itself and thus create the single gift that can come from that godforsaken Evilday… Listen now. Love is what we are discussing. The would-be gift-givers want to celebrate the year together. Lovely. I’m about to sob. But corporate marketing has known for some time how to meet the word ‘love[‘ with a high-tech echo that erases it. Captures it and pixilates it. Packages it and ships it into some globalised inventory. HAS LOVING COMMUNICATION VANISHED INTO PRODUCT SENTIMENTALITY FOREVER? Well, we have to re-learn a decorporatised love.

What we will do today is a controlled experiment. We will find ONE GIFT that wasn’t delivered with the corporate lie. This gift will take the meaning of the word ‘love’ straight to us with no interference (with no Christmas, Incorporated, no right-wing Christian sponsorship). Listen to me – this gift will have to be pretty good. It will have to bring tears to our eyes with its unmistakable intimacy.

Rosa Park’s memorial is the gift. Our Go into a store and proclaim the truth about the company. Don’t hurt yourself, don’t get arrested act of remembering her life. The gift of Rosa’s act of bravery. The little lady who set off the Civil Rights Movement, whose refusal to give her seat to a white man, and whose arrest for that refusal created the Montgomery bus boycott and brought Martin Luther King to town. Our memory plays and re-plays it again and again – how the white man claims her place on that bus, and how she declines to move – in her quiet voice. This is a gift to us, a real gift of unsentimental love, and quite beyond the possibility of any corporate or fundamentalist tinkering with its meaning. There is no logo in the corner of Rosa Park’s bus.

Now you say – isn’t this a bit extreme, Reverend? I say thank god we have something as straightforwardly intimate as Rosa Parks to put against the corporate fourth quarter called Christmas. We have a way to find our way home in a world where oil companies greenwash their logos and Bush/Blair say ‘security of our citizens’ when they mean the end of the world.

Here’s Reverend Billy’s gift idea: Go into a store and say in a clear voice what the truth about the company is. Don’t hurt yourself, don’t get arrested. Just talk for as long as Rosa did. Then give your loved one a description of your action, or fi lm it or record it. Wrap it up nice, and smile a real unpaid-for smile. Now that is a real good gift.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist December 2005


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