2013 was a year of epic news stories. From the bombing at the Boston Marathon and New York’s Weiner/Spitzer political candidacy circus to Bradley Manning’s harsh sentencing and gender changeover to Chelsea, we were all glued to our televisions, smart phones, and Twitter newsfeeds. But the game changer, the story that broke and laid broken perceptions in its wake, were the revelations by Edward Snowden reported by then-Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald. My Facebook newsfeed was overtaken with articles opining about Snowden, statuses offering two-cents on Greenwald’s reporting, until the collective attention span was overridden with the next shiny object: Christmas.
The reactions to Snowden were as varied as the people reacting. Some christened him a hero while others dedicated their Facebook statuses to calling for his head. Some were blindsided by the insidious implications of the NSA spying program, so much broader than any of us dared to imagine, while some of us were nonplussed, having already figured that all that was private was ripe for plundering in the name of national security, and stating plainly that if you have nothing to hide, you had nothing to fear.
The reactions spanned the ideological fault lines. Liberals who had voiced loud opposition to the Patriot Act were largely silent as its expansion occurred on their beloved President’s watch and couldn’t be placed squarely on the shoulders of a one George W. Bush. California senator Dianne Feinstein was staunch in her anti-Snowden stance, calling for no clemency. And none other than Glen Beck tweeted, “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.” I think he meant for whom he has waited. (I’m resolving to be less snarky about grammatical errors in 2014, but since it’s still ’13: for whom, for whom, for whom, Beck.) The Republican Party, not usually constrained by pesky civil liberties, is torn between defending a spy program that promises the utmost in national security and pretend outrage because they don’t want to miss a chance at jumping on a perceived blunder by the president. There was little room for both views of Snowden under the same blanket of “patriotism.”
This argument about whether he was a whistle-blower or a spy was shifted aside by the friends who show up on the newsfeed of my social media info-blasts. The merging of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah into Thanksgivakkah interrupted the outrage and philosophical discussion. What came on its heels was a fairly recent tradition. An elf.
Upon a shelf.
Apparently, the day after Thanksgiving an elf appears in many (Christmas-celebrating) homes across America. Its job is to keep watch over the children and report any misdeeds to Santa, who would come down on them with swift punishment of the coal-bringing variety. The idea is that the children would adjust their behavior so that it would never get to that point. They would live in fear the five or so weeks before Christmas, well-behaved and docile, and then reap their rewards, American-style (bought on sale over the trampled bodies of the weak at Walmart.)
The pictures of the elf, moved nightly to show that he had flown to the North Pole and back after having a brief tete-a-tete with the Big Guy, became the staple of my Facebook newsfeed. He was often a trouble-maker, making messes all over the house, dutifully recorded by creative parents. Here he was in the bathroom, having squirted out all of the toothpaste. There’s a photo of the little guy TP-ing the Christmas tree! Now he’s in the kitchen where it looks like he’s shitting Hershey kisses onto thumbprint cookies.
A welcome break from Snowden indeed.
Yes, the people who railed against a spy in our midst as evil and corrupt introduced a puppet, one who quietly recorded information about children in the privacy of their homes and reported it to a central division where that intel was documented for later use. Those who voiced support for Snowden as a heroic figure instrumental in bringing to task an overreaching NSA program whose methods defied the very Constitution it seeks to protect brought in an elf to listen in on private conversations. If our children don’t flinch at the building of a monstrous compound full of every phone call/email/ and social media comment ever uttered in their lives, might it be because they’ve been conditioned?
Instead of making idiotic arguments of a fictional Santa Claus’ racial integrity, why don’t we look into the political implications of the elf. Or we could just tell the kids that if they have nothing to hide, they’ve got nothing to fear.