Monday, November 9, 2015


There is something in the more liberal, secular population of the United States that seeks out and responds to that thing in the more conservative, religious population of the United States that seeks out and responds to perceived slights against conservative ideals and religiosity. The latest example of this are the 2015 Starbucks Holiday cups, which are basically plain red cups with a Starbucks logo on them. A small handful of apparently hitherto unknown people took to Breitbart and Twitter to express their outrage grandstand in the name of religion. Hoping that the ceasefire in the always-good-for-some-pageviews "War On Christmas" had broken down, media outlets rushed to report the "story" that Christians were, once again, decrying the removal of "Christ" from "Christmas." Or, to be perhaps more accurate, expressing upset that a large corporation wasn't openly supporting and parroting their values and worldview. The teapot having been stirred, the tempest wasn't far behind, with people expressing outrage over the fact that people were expressing outrage over the fact that people were expressing outrage at the plain Starbucks cups.

The United States has, as a nation, spent nearly the entirely of its existence pushing one group of people to the margins of society for the benefit of the mainstream. This is more or less common knowledge - it's difficult to get though most American schools without learning this, despite the fact that teaching it is mildly controversial in some circles. Due in large part to their own aggressive gatekeeping, there is a segment of the American Christian community that believes that the increasing secularization of the country means that they are next in line to be the Oppressed Minority™, and that they are standing against a hypocritical majority that believes in a self-serving view of tolerance and acceptance that conspicuously excludes them. (Bear in mind, however, that they are not the only group that understands themselves to have the crosshairs on their foreheads. The line to be the next, or the one remaining, group in the United States that it's okay to discriminate against is a long one.) Falling back on that age-old canard of "if people are opposed to what you're doing, you must be doing it right," this mostly (but not exclusively) Evangelical group is constantly on the lookout for persecutory behavior trivial slights from only who can be (im)plausibly cast as "anti-Christian."

Again, to be fair, this isn't simply this self-selected group of religious conservatives who see otherwise random events as being directed at themselves - I recently read a piece in which American's suspicions of Big Pharma and the medical establishment were recast as trivializing/ignoring mental illness.

It's just that this particular bit of Christian paranoia has its own name - the badly mislabeled "War on Christmas," and so media outlets are always ready to pick up on it. It's pretty much a guarantee of at least a couple of overblown headlines (and the page-clicks that come with them) every year. And there are people in secular America who are ready to pounce on this annual holiday whine whenever someone decants a glass or two. So here we are, with a storm of silliness at the point where it's generated enough energy that it can, for the time being, anyway, feed on itself.

Part of this, admittedly, is that the bars for "outrage" and "controversy" have been lowered. The War on Christmas has gone from trope to shopworn cliché by this point. While it's possible that it gains traction again this year, I wouldn't bet on it. Yet, let what seems like fewer than a half-dozen people take to the internet with a new round of complaining, and you wind up with "Starbucks' Plain Red Holiday Cups Are Causing Outrage Among Christians" and "Starbucks' plain red holiday cups stir up controversy" for headlines. And the response to those headlines, rather than reading the articles to find out what's really going on, is: "Members of the majority religious group are 'outraged' that they can't force companies to bow to their outdated beliefs?! Must. Denounce. Now." And you quickly end up with what is honestly little more than a hail Mary pass for pageviews turning into an expanding swirl of people pointing fingers at one another.

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