Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

One of my interests is the interplay between group culture and individual experience. In gestalt terms, this would be field theory. It isn’t just that there is a relationship between group culture and individual experience. Group culture actively organises individual behaviour, and this organisation of the individual by the group can be experienced in a wide variety of ways, ranging from a sense of communion to a sense of dominion.

Christmas is a good (and topical, have you noticed?) example of this process in action. I don’t think it’s possible to not be organised by Christmas in Britain or in the West generally. It is possible to make decisions about how one responds to Christmas, but the existential position of having no choice but to choose still remains.

This year, I would like to use the twelve days of Christmas as an exercise in exploring twelve different perspectives on, and experiences of, Christmas. I’m going to outline an awareness experiment below, and my invitation is for you to send me the result (simon@silvercatpsychotherapy.co.uk). I’ll then publish submissions as blog posts on each of the twelve days of Christmas.

And of course, if you don’t want to blog your experience, you can still give the experiment a try. Though by way of a self-care warning, if this exercise takes you towards trauma memories, I advise not revisiting them unless you know that you’ll be able to soothe yourself afterwards.

Christmas experiment:

Sit and be still for a few moments. Take a few deep breaths, let your thoughts settle. Let the idea of Christmas emerge. Notice what thoughts and feelings arise in response. Notice what memories and anticipations arise. What sensations do you most strongly associate with Christmas? What bodily sensations are you experiencing now? Sit with all these responses for a few moments, then consider what Christmas means to you now.

That’s it! It’s a fairly simple experiment, though it can seem a bizarre thing to do for people who don’t already have some experience of therapy/meditation/mindfulness. It also contains most of the glue that holds my therapy practice together: asking people what they are thinking, experiencing, remembering, anticipating. Asking people what something means to them now (the now is important, as meanings change over time). In a word, reflexivity.

Now, if you’re interested in sharing your experience as a blog post, then my request is that you write it in the first person, present tense to maintain the sense of now-ness. Other than that, any length of post is fine. I’m happy to post submissions anonymously, or with a link to your blog, twitter, or whatever.

~ ~ ~

My name is Simon Stafford-Townsend. I am a gestalt psychotherapist in private practice in Bristol and Cardiff. My private practice website is Silver Cat Psychotherapy.

Read Full Post »

I have an irrational and visceral dislike for list based blog posts. Every time I see a blog post title that goes “ten reasons why…” or “the seven principles of…” etc, a little piece of me dies and reincarnates as a berserker with a nasty case of blood lust.

Gestalt itself seems particularly fond of the number five for this sort of thing; hence Perls’ five layers of neurosis; Parlett’s five principles of field theory; and Clarkson’s five levels of relationship. I mean seriously, at least try some different numbers people!

Anyway, one of the things that makes me a gestalt therapist is my pre-disposition towards noticing what gets my hackles up, having an internalised therapist/supervisor/trainer jump up and declare ‘projection!’, and then crossing over to my dark side for a bit to see what it’s all about.

So here’s a festively themed list-based post about my irrational and visceral dislike for everyone’s favourite mince pie munching bearded reindeer abuser.

Four reasons I set man traps for Santa:

1) he is a patriarchal symbol of parental tyranny

2) he is a capitalist symbol of social control

3) he is an agent provocateur for the Coca Cola corporation

4) … this one’s a secret, shhhhhh!

Stick with me while I elaborate, it might just change your life…

1) he is a patriarchal symbol of parental tyranny

It’s Father Christmas, not Mother Christmas. Ok, so lip-service gets paid to gender equality by a number of films that do cast a Mother Christmas. But that actually serves to highlight the underlying patriarchal assumptions; Mother Christmas is always cut from the long-suffering-wife-whose-husband-is-a-really-important-public-figure cloth. It is Father Christmas who holds the power, and the power he holds is incredibly sinister.

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

Now, try (and unless you don’t recognise the song it’ll be hard) to read this as a threat. Because it is a threat. Try reading it out loud through gritted teeth. A bit extreme maybe, but the point is clear: you, child, had better start behaving in a manner that I consider to be good because an extremely powerful man is about to arrive.

He’s making a list,
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town

That’s right kid, you’re going on a list. And this is a black and white kind of affair; you’ve either been naughty, or you’ve been nice. There is no in-between. There is no process of appeal. There is only Santa’s judgment. Oh, and just in case you thought you had any way of hiding from the man with the big white beard:

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

That’s right; every second of every day, Santa is watching you. So be good for the sake of being good, because that is behaviour that Santa has been created to reward; actions that appear to be good. Niceness, that bland little alias for obedience to status quo.

And here’s what you get if you’ve been naughty (NB Tony is one of my cats. Yes, it’s a ridiculous name for a cat).

I labour this point because I consider it the principle point. Every time a parent tells their child ‘carry on like that and Father Christmas won’t be visiting this year’ to get them to obey, a vital message about society is being conveyed: obedience is good, disobedience is bad. Yet so often the people who hold social power and demand obedience are not people whose motivations and actions are all that good.

And of course, Father Christmas grants parents the vital tactic of deferred authority. It’s not me, it’s him; I’m just the messenger. Because the kids need to know how to get on the good list right? And they can’t ask Santa directly, so they need parental cues on what counts as good and what counts as bad. So the parents get to enjoy the authority conveyed by service to a higher power, at the same time as the comfort of delegated responsibility; it’s easier to implement a higher authority’s rules than to own and assert one’s own needs.

Remember, young kids think this stuff is real. They literally think that actual Father Christmas will punish them for being on the naughty list by withholding presents and only reward them with presents if they get on the nice list. Doesn’t that directly assert from day one that the child’s own nature is to some degree inherently unacceptable?

So, Father Christmas is a patriarchal symbol because he perpetuates male dominance of power. He is a symbol of parental tyranny because his function is to give parents an unaccountable deferred authority with which to condition children into obedience.

2) he is a capitalist symbol of social control

If you have kids, and do the Father Christmas thing, I’ve possibly just offended you deeply by implying that you are a tyrant. Soz. Most parents aren’t tyrants, and don’t use Father Christmas as an overt tool of tyrannical control. Unfortunately though, the effect remains the same; however benevolently Father Christmas is presented, he is still the arbiter of the getting of presents.

And there is one very good reason why Santa retains this power: commerce. The christmas shopping period is the retail occasion of the year. There are shops whose existence throughout the year depends on Christmas trade. That is, the profit they make in the run up to Christmas offsets the losses they make in the rest of the year. Watch in the New Year for businesses going into administration as a result of holding out for the Christmas revenues that didn’t come.

That’s a pretty powerful social pressure. Christmas is a vital economic stimulus; profits have always been at stake, meaning the interests of powerful people (it’s that 1% again!) are at stake, meaning a powerful controlling symbol is needed. That’s right, Father Christmas is in the pay of the corporate elite. This makes absolute sense; only multinational corporations can rival Santa’s ability to deliver presents worldwide in a single night without falling prey to the contradiction of timezones.

The point here is this: the vested interests that give the symbol of Father Christmas its power are corporate and motivated by profit. Just look at where the activity is focused; people queue to get into shops, empty the shelves of food, and fight each other to make sure their kid gets the must-have present of the year.

Now stop, breathe, and ask yourself: why does this happen? I’m serious, what’s the motivation here? Wasn’t the 25th December Christ’s official birthday last time I checked? For the record, I’m neither Christian nor driven by the need to labour the ‘but the Christians stole it from the pagans’ angle. All of that is somewhat irrelevant when we take gestalt’s here and now perspective and ask:

What is the need that mobilises all this action now?

My conclusion is that profit drives this action. Generally speaking, I do not observe families benefiting from Christmas. I do observe parents feeling an immense pressure to give their kids what they want for Christmas. I observe advertising telling kids what they should want for Christmas. I observe a level of activity that can only be described as manic taking place in retail centres; not a rush to attend church, not a desperate flailing to go home and play board games with family, but a frenetic stampede to buy stuff. And it’s all stuff that is largely not needed other than to live up to a collective idea of what Christmas should look like.

And Father Christmas is the lynch-pin. For one thing, he’s the symbol that many of us grew up with, so he now sits active in the psyche of many adults wanting to give their children the kind of Christmas they wanted and didn’t get (or worse, the sentimentalised Christmas they remember but that never actually happened). More importantly, he ensures that no parent is in any doubt that Christmas is about giving your children presents.

When your kids go back to school, the question will be: ‘what did you get for Christmas?’. Not, ‘don’t you think it’s ironic that our Government is forcing another 100,000 children into poverty at a time of year when we celebrate Christ being born in a stable?’. Not, ‘did you enjoy spending time with your family over the holiday period?’. But, ‘what did you get for Christmas?’. Because kids are authentic (that is, they respond to the actual situation) and they know what Christmas is really about.

So, Father Christmas is a capitalist symbol because he is the jolly bearded face that demands you shop like a maniac for the benefit of the wealthy few. He is a symbol of social control because his image demands action that is hard to disobey without attracting social disapproval.

3) he is an agent provocateur for the Coca Cola corporation

Holidays are coming, holidays are coming, holidays are coming…

There’s a nice overview of the history of Santa Claus on wikipedia. A brief synopsis of this would be:

Father Christmas started out life as a pagan symbol of the coming of spring. In time, this merged with the legend of a Christian Saint famed for making anonymous gifts to the poor. Under the influence of Victorian sentimentalism, the erstwhile variable form of Father Christmas crytsallised into the kindly old sleigh riding, present bearing bearded one we know today. Finally, Coca Cola popularised the red version.

Coca Cola say: “though some people believe the Coca-Cola Santa wears red because that is the Coke® color, the red suit comes from Nast’s interpretation of St. Nick”. A more accurate way of putting that would be: “some people believe the Coca-Cola Santa wears red because that is the Coke® color; this is true”. After all, the decision to use Nast’s interpretation of St. Nick will have included the rationale “it matches our corporate colour”.

And in the spirit of the imperialistic urges of multinationals, this corporately sponsored Father Christmas has so homogenised the celebration of Christmas, that a natural abundance of diversity in portraying the spirit of mid-winter has been largely wiped out. That’s right, Santa Claus is also a genocidal maniac.

He’s probably not really an actual agent provocateur though, I just put that bit in because it sounded good.

And finally…

4) FATHER CHRISTMAS DOESN’T EXIST!!!

Even ignoring the fact that our entire society collectively puts effort into lying to children, forcing inquisitive children to remain in the lie, and using social pressure to force parents into maintaining the lie, we are left with an undeniable truth:

The guy in the red suit sneaking around my home in the middle of the night is a burglar.

Upstanding pillar of the community, Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke says I can stab people for being burglars. In the light of the level of menace this man represents to society at large (Santa Claus, not Ken Clarke, though I’ll leave you to make your own judgment in the latter’s case), I am therefore justified in ensnaring him in jaws of merciless steel should he cross the threshold of my humble abode.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I set man traps for Santa.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!

Read Full Post »