On the Sunday before Christmas (or the Sunday after, when the celebration of the birth of Christ comes on Saturday) the color comic section is always full of the holiday.
For example, today the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers 24 comics in a 4-page color comic insert of which 16 focus on Christmas. If we remove the two comics that have regular daily
storylines and the two that are really project pages for elementary school kids, we’re left with 20 comics, meaning that 80% of the available comics present Christmas jokes today.
An analysis of the topics of these comics reveals how much the comics represent the ideology of the mass media:
- Gifts – 6
- Santa (bringer of gifts) – 5
- Baking cookies (as a gift) – 1
- Trees (under which gifts sit) – 1
- Family – 1
- Religion – 1
- Jingle Bells – 1
Gifts are the center of or part of 13 of the 16 cartoons. That means that giving—and by implication, buying—presents is at the heart of 65% of the available cartoons and more than 81% of the comics about Christmas. And make no doubt about it, these comics speak almost exclusively about gifts that are b0ought and not made or created.
On display are many variations of the buy-and-give theme:
- A husband buys many presents Christmas Eve after he and his wife had promised to do nothing (“Blondie”)
- A child wonders what he can buy his father for the 87 cents he has left (“Family Circus”)
- A father guesses what his grown son has gotten him, since the young man gets him the same thing every year (“Zits”)
- Father tries to teach daughter that the object of Christmas is to both give and receive (“Born Loser”)
Note that the narrative always centers on close relationships and that the glue that cements the relationship on Christmas is the giving—and therefore the buying—of a gift. Even the one Christmas comic about religion has three of its nine panels dedicated to gifts (“For Better or for Worse”), the same number it uses to deliver the religious message, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.”
Happy Birthday, Jesus. Praise the lord and pass the presents.
That is, after you buy them.
In the case of Christmas, I think the intentions of media outlets to encourage the purchase of their advertisers’ products and the desires of the public to buy them merge. The advertisers and the consumer participate together in a potlatch of spending on often shoddy goods that may or may not have its roots in ancient winter solstice propitiations to the gods, but certainly anchored in the American ideology that all relationships reduce to commercial transactions. The articles and the comics of mass media both reflect and shape this crass materialism.