Christmas, manipulation and the society of the "unknown others"

23. 12. 2009 / Bohumil Kartous

Do you listen to how anyone speaks about politics on public transport or in restaurants in the Czech Republic? Usually you hear the following: "THEY just take care of themselves and their own interests." "THEY will steal everything again", "THEY and their pals..."

A Czech version of this article is in CLICK HERE

But this phenomenon does not concern only politics. If we start analysing what we eat, how we dress, how our health is being taken care of, how we communicate with each other, we will also have to use the impersonal expression "they". It is the impersonal "they" who provide a framework for our lives and influence it to a considerable degree. We are being controlled by the "unknown others". And we do nothing about it. We no longer regard ourselves as members of a community. Our identities, our interests and our aims have become fragmented.

Christmas is a social ritual. The purpose of a social ritual is to re-confirm the identity of the community which uses the ritual. These days, it is often said that Christmas has "lost its spirit", that it has "been stolen from us", that is has become a feast of commerce and consumerism. The feeling that "Christmas has been stolen from us" implies that the community which uses this ritual is no longer convinced that the ritual of Christmas still plays the role of the desired re-confirmation of the community's values. Yet the community still continues using the ritual of Christmas.

But when looking at the Christmas ritual from the outside, we have to admit that Christmas does fulfil the purpose of the re-confirmation of society's values. The fact that Christmas has become the festival of consumerism is in fact a re-confirmation of the identity of today's society which is exactly what Christmas has become.

Yet there is one other feature which paradoxically seems to confirm people's feeling that "Christmas has been stolen from us". Contemporary Czech society is chaotic. It is full of helplessness. The individual is lost in society. His or her community is controlled by "them", "the others". Thus even Christmas has become an instance of enforcement, imposed upon us by these "others". It is "they" who decorate the supermarkets with Christmas bobbles from October onwards. It is "they" who play carols ad nauseam in the supermarkets for most of the autumn.

The sociologists who examined Czechoslovak society as it existed in the final years of the communist regime, in the late 1980s, came to the conclusion that Czechoslovak society was totally fragmented at that time. There was no public interest. No one was willing to commit themselves to any public cause. They just took care of their families. Public space was controlled by communist ideology, an instrument of alienation and of manipulation. The same role is now played by consumerism.

But there is a difference. Under communism, it was clear who was the enemy. These days, in post-communism, it seems extremely difficult to define who are those who impose the current social value system on us. No one knows who are "the powerful" these days. The overall feeling of distrust in society is very strong - everyone feels that they are manipulated. It is extremely uncomfortable not to know who is the manipulator. The feast of Christmas fully reflects this situation. What is the way out? It depends only on us to what extent we will able to free ourselves of commercial manipulation, imposed on us by the "unknown others". How do we free ourselves? By behaving unpredictably , as thinking individuals. This seems to be the only solution at the moment because it is highly unlikely that people in the Czech Republic would be currently able to unite in order to support communal public interest values.


Obsah vydání | Pátek 26.2. 2010