I keep hearing what a social minefield Christmas is. Stuff’s Weekend magazine on Saturday devoted a page to illustrator Toby Morris’s advice, delivered in the form of cartoons, about how to avoid family rows. Morning Report this morning included an item with a similar theme.
Particularly noticeable is the tired stereotype of the irascible old man provoking arguments or making cringeworthy jokes at Christmas gatherings. An older male was depicted as the problematical character in two of Morris’s cartoons, while the Morning Report item contained tips on how to talk to “that uncle” about climate change. (Cyclists are apparently another subject to be approached with caution, or so we’re told.)
Older white males are the one demographic group that’s considered fair game for snide, condescending digs. The drunk uncle has become a recurring cliché.
But how accurate are these stereotypes? I’m an older white male and an uncle to 21 nieces and nephews. We’ve celebrated many Christmases and other family events together, invariably lubricated with generous quantities of alcohol, and never discussed contentious political issues in any shape or form. The only reason voices have been raised was so that people could make themselves heard over the hubbub.
Similarly, my wife and I recently spent four days enjoying a reunion with our four adult children and six grandchildren, some of whom hadn’t seen each other for more than 10 years because they’re spread across three countries. The subject of politics never came up. There were far more important and interesting things to talk about.
In fact I wouldn’t have a clue what my children’s politics are. I have no interest in knowing and still less desire to impose my own opinions on them.
The same applies to my friends, who span the full ideological spectrum. We almost never talk about politics. Why risk spoiling the conversation by introducing potentially divisive subjects?
There are other people, like the group of mates I had a couple of beers with last Friday and whose company I’ve enjoyed for years, whose political views are largely unknown to me. All that matters is that I like them as people. Mostly we indulge in idle social gossip or talk about music. God forbid that we should choose our friends on the basis of their political opinions.
So it will be a politics-free Christmas for me, just like every other one. I imagine the same is true for many, if not most, New Zealanders. I sometimes wonder whether the drunk uncle is an urban myth; a phantasm created by people whose need to construct imaginary social ogres exposes their own underlying intolerance.
Alternatively, perhaps the anxious millennials who fret about the terrifying prospect of encountering contrary opinions around the Christmas dinner table just need to chill a bit.