With the rise of the latter we risk losing the former. Many comedians no longer perform at college campuses because campuses in America have turned into humorless dens of fascism with “speech codes,” “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions” – anti-intellectual devices designed to suppress expression and thought.
In the words of the American poet Charles Bukowski, “beware those who are quick to censor, they are afraid of what they do not know.”
Racial humor has always been a touchstone of comedy, and if that ceases to be then the world will be less funny and diverse peoples will become more and more alienated from each other.
Countless comedians have based their entire oeuvre on their ethnicity, from Mel Brooks to Margaret Cho, Paul Rodriguez to Chris Rock. Comedians, like Don Rickles, who use crass racial humor in a positive light as a means to bring people together, are often misunderstood and shunned by the ignorant and the self-righteous.
This translates to music. Artists from Louis Jordan to Louis Prima created humorous songs by playing up ethnic idiosyncrasies and stereotypes.
So this holiday season, here are a few of my favorite racist, culturally appropriated Christmas songs.
Trigger Warning: some of these records may induce joy and cause one to laugh at oneself. In severe cases, they may allow an appreciation of others’ experiences and cause one to recognize elements of those experiences in their own.
“¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” – Augie Rios
Augie Rios was a child theater actor born in New York City to Puerto Rican immigrants. In 1958, at the time of this record, he was appearing in Jamacia alongside Lena Horn, Ricardo Montalban and Ossie Davis. “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” is credited to Rod Parker, Al Greiner and Rios’ manager at the time, George Scheck. Considering the flip side, “Ol’ Fatso (I Don’t Care Who You Are Old Fatso, Get Those Reindeer Off My Roof),” this 45 should come with a double trigger warning. “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” remains a holiday staple in many Latino-American homes.
It’s the holidays – that all-encompassing term we use to describe this time of year when we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice or whatever else you wish to add to your holiday list. The more the merrier. But when it comes to popular music, Christmas is by far the most significant holiday of the season. Christmas music is more than a genre of popular music; it has become an entire industry unto itself. Christmas songs cover virtually all aspects associated with the holiday, from the specific to the seasonal at large. From sacred songs about the birth of Jesus to silly songs about snowmen and Santa, to songs about winter weather or winter romance. Virtually every culture that celebrates Christmas has their own offering to the genre, from finding humor in ethnic stereotypes such as “Donde Esta Santa Clause” or “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey,” to specific regional American subcultures like Alan Jackson’s “Honky Tonk Christmas” or James Brown’s “Santa Clause Go Straight to the Ghetto.”
“Christmas” is a feeling bigger than the specific day and, as a federal holiday, the atmosphere created by the general public discourse this time of year is inclusive for all Americans to enjoy. This is as true with music as with anything. One certainly does not need to be a Christian – or religious in any way whatsoever – to enjoy Dean Martin crooning “The Christmas Blues” or Charles Brown pleading his baby to “Please Come Home For Christmas” or The Ronettes inviting you to take a “Sleigh Ride,” or Judy Garland’s heart-wrenching “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from Meet Me In St. Louis – one of American cinema’s greatest moments. Somehow, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Holiday” just lacks the same punch. Continue reading →
Originally from 2011, but Christmas comes every year, so welcome. You might want to check out these holiday-themed pieces:
by Matt Powell
by Caroline Sposto
by Matt Powell
by David Olsen
by Steve Brykman
by Michael Giles Purgason
One of my favorite Christmas tales, from David Sedaris, on traditions of other places, including Santa in the Netherlands:
Also, hear him read from his Santaland Diaries.
And see below for some Christmas themed political cartoons (updated for 2013!):
The holiday season is, of course, upon us. A time when brothers and sisters come together to divvy up the sober driver duties for their many mandatory family parties. (You and your loved ones may have other traditions.) A time when the unlikeliest of music becomes unavoidable. No, I am not talking about Susan Boyle’s inspirational (?) versions of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on her Christmas album The Gift. (Although she should have called it The Re-Gift, because let’s be honest…)
I am thinking instead of the perennial “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” As I’m sure that you, too, have felt with a kind of shiver completely unrelated to winter weather, the lyrics to this holiday favorite make Santa seem almost tyrannical in his tireless vigilance. “You better watch out,” it begins. But for what?! At least the next lines – “You better not pout / You better not cry” – offer a very specific rebuke to whiners and brats, but the fact that Santa is not something to eagerly await and watch for but to “what out for” makes him less a benefactor than a dictator. Less Tomie dePaola, more Brian De Palma. I guess the implication is that you better watch out for Santa watching you, at which point we may as well be in a Pynchon novel or a Police song.
In other words, Santa is like a heftier, jollier version of a spy drone. He flies around in his sleigh undetected – um, we’ve even got NORAD working on it – and although you never see him, he sees you when you’re both sleeping and awake (i.e. always) and knows when you’ve been both bad and good (i.e. everything). In this light, getting a wood-burning kit or a Kindle Fire hardly seems to make up for another year’s worth of despotic surveillance, to say nothing of the attendant paranoia that this song all but recommends.
I’m not the first to make this connection between Santa and a spy drone, however, as the following recent cartoons attest:
Also, did you know that there’s a war on?