Annals of normalization: on the Santa Claus watch

From HuffPo on the 4th, this advance announcement about a Christmas book, “Santa Claus Will Be A Gay Black Man In A New Children’s Book: He’ll also be married to a white man”, by Curtis M. Wong:

Get ready to see Santa Claus in a new (and refreshingly diverse) light this holiday season, courtesy of a forthcoming parody children’s book.

On March 28, publisher Harper Design announced plans to release Santa’s Husband, which re-casts Kris Kringle as a black man in an interracial, same-sex relationship. Slated for an October release, the book will follow Santa’s life in the North Pole, except in this version, he’ll have a white husband who fills in for him at shopping malls around the world.

(Hat tip to Kim Darnell.)

As becomes clear in the remainder of the story, the book is not really a parody, but a light-hearted attempt to treat a number of unusual situations as unremarkable: a black Santa, gay Santas, an interracial couple, a same-sex couple, all in one package.

It will be written by Daniel Kibblesmith, a comedy writer on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” and feature illustrations by A.P. Quach (including the image above.)

Kibblesmith, who co-wrote 2013’s How to Win at Everything: Even Things You Can’t or Shouldn’t Try to Win At with Sam Weiner, told The Huffington Post that he got the idea for Santa’s Husband last Christmas, after the Mall of America faced a backlash when it introduced a black Santa (played by Larry Jefferson).

“My fiancée [author Jennifer Wright] and I joked privately, and then on Twitter, that since every house has its own traditions and lore surrounding Christmas, we would tell our child that the black Santa Claus was the ‘real’ Santa,” he said. “If they saw a white Santa at the mall, we’d explain that this was his husband.”

… As to what he’d like readers to take away from Santa’s Husband, Kibblesmith said, “warm Christmas-y feelings and a good night’s sleep,” noting that he hopes the book will ultimately become a yuletide favorite “for couples and new families who are looking to begin their own kinds of holiday traditions.” To prospective critics who may be angered at the prospect of a black Santa, Kibblesmith would like to remind them that “everything is OK.”

“Some people — not me — even believe that Santa Claus is just your parents, which would mean that there are as many interpretations of Santa Claus as there are different kinds of families,” he quipped. “But again, this is only a theory, because Santa Claus is real, and we have written a book about him.”

The black and gay Santa patrol. Discussion of black Santas, in NOLA’s Seventh Ward and in the Mall of America, and the anxieties they evoke in some people, in a 12/26/16 posting “Chocolate Santa, and more”. In a 12/16/16 posting “Gay Santas 2016”, an annual budget of gay Santa figures (though not actual gay Santas working with kids), plus a piece on a black Santa in Japan.

In the present context, it’s the Mall of America’s black Santa who’s crucial — because his appearance in the mall expanded (in a small way) the range of allowable social roles for black men, in much the same way as black actors moving into traditionally “white” parts (just last Sunday I saw Lucian Msamati shine in the role of Antonio Salieri in a production of Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, this after he’d performed in Shakespeare’s Othello to great critical acclaim — not as Othello, but as Iago).

These are actions to normalize black people in certain social roles — normalize in the innovative sense ‘render normal that which was previously deemed beyond acceptable bounds’. Interracial couples have been normalized, and many have been working to normalize LGBT people in a variety of social roles, including in same-sex relationships, all the way up to marriage (though homo-hostile groups and individuals have resisted these attempts mightily, maintaining that such relationships are irrevocably deviant, forever and everywhere unacceptable). More comments in my 2/17/17 posting “Felix D’Eon: on normalizing gay”.

Important point here: the (attempted) action of normalizing certain social roles — substantially cleansing them of social opproprium — goes on forever, in all cultures, but it doesn’t necessarily have a label, a generally used name. It’s words and things again: the category can be socioculturally significant without people having a label for it. The normalization of, for example, divorce, or topless bathing suits for men, depends in no way on our using the word normalization for the process. (Though, of course, having the word makes it somewhat easier to talk about the process.)

It happens that normalization (using the word, in its innovative sense) has been getting considerable press in American political contexts (and, before that, in sexual contexts, in contention over the normalization of homosexuality), but attempts at normalization (in the innovative sense) have been going on in many other contexts, in particular in the context of accepting racial, ethnic, and religious minorities as fully and unremarkably “American” (rather than “foreign”), or (in more muted form) in the context of accepting “intellectuals” (scholars and scientists, in particular) and artists of all sorts as fully human and not freakish. More to come.

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