Morbid Anatomy Presents at Observatory
Date: Saturday, December 19th
How the Lord of Misrule became a Bourgeois Tool (And Still Managed to Enrage the Religious Right)
An illustrated lecture with cult author and cultural critic Mark Dery
Lecture, followed by an Observatory Holiday party, complete with lovely alcoholic beverages, themed snacks, and live music as performed by Brooklyn’s own Ruprecht and The Birch Switches, who will perform your favorite Krumpus Carols.
Few Americans know that Santa descends from the mock king who held court at Saturnalia, the Roman festival celebrating the winter solstice. Or that he shares cultural DNA with the Lord of Misrule who presided over the yuletide Feast of Fools in the Middle Ages—lewd, blasphemous revels that gave vent to underclass hostility toward feudal lords and the all-powerful church.
By the late 19th century, Christmas in Manhattan was an excuse for the rabble to go wilding from door to door in upper-class neighborhoods, demanding booze and cash from terrified householders in exchange for an off-key (and sometimes off-color) yuletide song. In desperation, Washington Irving, Clement Clarke Moore, and other members of New York’s cultural elite invented Santa Claus—and Christmas as we know it—as a means of domesticating the drunken revels of the dangerous classes. Their bourgeois myth was designed to channel lumpen unrest into a more acceptable outlet: a domestic ritual consecrated to home, hearth, and conspicuous consumption.
In Satan and Santa: Separated at Birth?, Dery, a cultural critic and book author, takes a look at the Jolly Old Elf’s little-known role as poster boy for officially sanctioned eruptions of social chaos, as well as his current status as a flashpoint in “the Christmas Wars”—cultural battles between evangelicals, atheists, conservatives, and anti-consumerists over the “true” meaning of Christmas. Along the way, Dery considers New Age theories that Santa is a repressed memory of an ancient Celtic cult revolving around red-capped psychedelic mushrooms; Nazi attempts to re-imagine Christmas—a holiday consecrated to a Jewish baby, for Christ’s sake—as a pre-Christian invention of tree-worshipping German tribes, in some misty, Wagnerian past; and the suspicious similarities between Satan and Santa, connections that have fueled a cottage industry of conspiracy theories on the religious right.
Mark Dery (markdery at verizon dot net) is a cultural critic whose byline has appeared in publications ranging from The New York Times Magazine to Rolling Stone to Salon to Cabinet, and whose lectures have taken him to Australia to Austria, Belgium to Brazil, Macedonia to Mexico, Germany to the Gowanus Canal. He has been a professor in the Department of Journalism at New York University, a Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellow at UC Irvine, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome.
Dery is best known for his writings on the politics of popular culture in books such as The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink and Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century.
He is widely associated with the concept of “culture jamming,” the guerrilla media criticism movement he popularized through his 1993 essay “Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs,” and “Afrofuturism,” a concept he introduced in his 1994 essay “Black to the Future” (included in the anthology Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, which he edited).
He blogs at MarkDery.com.