Magazine article The Spectator

Baying Queens, Bot Praying Teens

Magazine article The Spectator

Baying Queens, Bot Praying Teens

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

AS Judy Garland advised in Meet Me in St Louis:

Have yourself a merry, little Christmas, Make the Yuletide gay....

But how exactly does one make the Yuletide gay? A couple of Yules back, I happened to be at Grand Central Station, where the New York City Gay Men's Chorus was seasonally serenading commuters and offering a few helpful suggestions. The big number was `Coming Out For Christmas', sung to the tune of `Hark The Herald Angels Sing', which recommended discreetly broaching the subject during the big family dinner:

Tasty turkey, perfect peas

Will someone pass - I'm gay - the cheese?

Let us overlook the desperation of the rhyme (except to note that serving your son turkey, peas and cheese for Christmas dinner may be the reason he's gay in the first place). What counts is the way the gayness takes priority over the Christmasness. Christmas is the apotheosis of the melting-pot, cooked up by Germans and Dutch, musicalised by Jews. But it seems increasingly an anomaly in the ever more hyphenated, neo-segregationalist America of the Nineties. A few weeks ago, in a moment of sad symbolism, Elton John's `Candle In The Wind 1997' overtook Bing Crosby's `White Christmas' as the biggestselling record of all time: Bing's single speaks to a universal, inclusive, aspirational sense of America; Elton's is confirmation that nowadays celebrity is all we share. Goodbye, England's rose, and goodbye, America's common culture.

It's not quite like that on the ground, admittedly. But even those areas that are reasonably cohesive are obliged to pretend they're not. Recently, a federal judge in Alabama ordered `prayer monitors' into De Kalb County high schools to prevent lawless Alabamy teens from disregarding his injunction and holding impromptu prayer sessions, at least one of which almost blocked the handicapped access ramp. Judge DeMent - not to be confused with the popular zany disc jockey Doctor Demento - has struck such fear into other parts of the state that school boards have been hastily cancelling decades-old Christmas pageants and carol concerts.

In his way, the judge is a paragon of moderation. Elsewhere in the great Republic, some killjoy zealot of a schoolma'am can usually be found around this time of year banning grade-school moppets from singing `Frosty The Snowman' on the grounds that it's offensive to those of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-frosty backgrounds. It's not only Jesus, Mary and Joseph who must be banished from the schoolhouse, but also the great secular trinity of Santa, Frosty and Rudolph. If the issue is separation of church and state, then the American secular Christmas is surely the most successful separation ever devised. In denigrating it, America's elites are moving beyond the separation of church and state to the separation of American from American - to the denial of the very possibility of a shared culture.

So what can you celebrate in America's halls of learning these days? Washington's Birthday's grip on the calendar is getting shakier. In New Orleans, under a policy prohibiting schools from being named after slave-owners, George Washington Elementary has just been renamed Dr Charles Richard Drew Elementary (after a black plasma specialist). `To AfricanAmericans,' said local activist Carl Galmon, explaining the change, `George Washington has about as much meaning as David Duke', a reference to the former Ku-Klux Klansman who periodically makes a doomed attempt to run for office in Louisiana. It seems hardly worth the effort to point out to these moral absolutists that Washington, though a slaveholder like any landed Southerner, refused to break up families at auction, declined to exercise his droit de seigneur or allow his guests to do so, freed his slaves in his will, provided funds for the care of the elderly and the education of the young, and inspired 25,000 Negroes to join his revolutionary army. It's because of Washington that today you're better off being an AfricanAmerican than, say, an African-African. …

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