Monday, December 12, 2022

The drunk uncle and other Christmas phantasms

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.



Russell Parkinson said...

Good call Karl. We will be spending Christmas with my cousin and her hubby. Most likely the most contentious issue will be which John Prine song is our favourite.

R Singers said...

The only thing inaner than a Toby Morris cartoon is when it is combined with an article by Toby Manhire. And that's a view shared by Gen X and Gen Z in my household. I dare not ask my Gen Y wife what she thinks, as it will end up with her telling me something very millennial. :-)

R Singers said...

@Russell why not all of them, but seriously Angel from Montgomery or take your bottle of Baileys and go home.

Trev1 said...

Politics at Christmas? Never! Ardern and her misfits are more of a Halloween act.


Paul Corrigan said...

I haven't mentioned anything 'political' or my disbelief in the current obsession with climate change for years.

I can't be bothered. Nobody's mind gets changed. Some young ones seem to enjoy trying to provoke their elderly relatives into reacting unpleasantly so they (the youngies) can feel vindicated that 'Uncle' is an intolerant old bastard.

I will be spending my second Christmas with my younger daughter - the only child of mine still in New Zealand - her daughter (the only one of six grandkids still living in New Zealand), and their Filipino relatives.

The Filipinos are lovely people - welcoming and generous. Who'd want to be an ugly drunken uncle and Dziadziu there?

- Paul Corrigan

hughvane said...

@ Trev1 - not April Fool's Day?

Andy Espersen said...

Ah, Karl - but you were a senior journalist all your working life. You worked with politics, wrote about politics - lived and breathed politics in your job. No wonder you choose not to discuss it with your friends in your free time. And also, you were (still are) so well-informed about all aspects of both internal and foreign politics that you would find it difficult not to dominate each and every political conversation that happened to occur at any social gathering!

You are very wise to stay clear of it in your private life!

Russell Parkinson said...

@R Singers - Angel is up there but Lake Marie is number 1 in my book, especially after seeing him sing it in Takapuna a couple of years ago then put his guitar down and dance a jig around it.
I can see its going to be quite an argument.

Karl du Fresne said...

I'm more of a Merle Haggard man myself.

Doug Longmire said...

We are looking forward to a lovely Christmas with the grandkids.

In that podcast, (once again !!) heard that stupid cliché "climate change deniers" used to describe any person who simply questions or wants to analyse the current media driven panic apocalypse claims regarding global warming.

I personally have never met anybody who "denies" climate change.
Climate is constantly changing. That is actually what planet Earth does.
The planet goes through complex climate cycles and has being doing so for over 800,000,000 years!

For example, we are now in a gradual warming phase as the planet emerges from the Little Ice Age about 150 years ago - when the River Thames froze over and you could almost walk to France across the frozen Channel (well not quite)

Doug Longmire said...

But of course - there will be no discussion of politics at our Christmas get together !!
It is a time for family, not a time to solve the world's problems. :-)

Gary Peters said...

Your notoriety precedes you Karl, you've been labelled an extreme right winger by a commenter on Chris Trotter's site.

I had to laugh though as the bulk of the "killem" comments do seem to emanate from the stock lefty sites although getting a comment on there that is contrary to the accepted narrative is a mission worthy of "Ethan Hunt" .....😎

Politics at Christmas .... Hell yes, especially after all the "anti vax" crap last year, that's why we're staying at home 😜 My wife wonders if you are still an anti vaxxer if you don't take the flu shot .......

Doug Longmire said...

OMG !!!!

Karl - you now relabelled by GS as "far - right" or something similar.

Ridiculous !!

Andy Espersen said...

Gary Peters - I agree with your sentiment, rather than Karl’s. You write, “Politics at Christmas? Hell yes, ...........”.

Pondering on this it seems to me that this has varied a lot during my time (and I am now 87) : In times when we have real, tangible, obviously threatening political problems facing us, e.g. during the world war, during the early cold war, during the Muldoon years (including during the 1981 Springbok furore) and now again during these woke, climate change, Covid years – New Zealanders stray from their usual pattern of preferring not mentioning politics at social gatherings to eagerly going for it. As it happened, I was the Nelson Electorate secretary for Bob Jones' New Zealand Party during its whole existence - I can vouch for that.

And isn’t that just as it should be?? If possible (that is, of course, if I can initiate a conversation with anybody about it!!) I certainly intend to discuss politics at this hugely interesting 2022 Christmas time!

Tinman said...

I am that drunken, grumpy uncle.

I'll happily comment on any subject people bring up.

Sometimes, although not often, I even have a very small amount of knowledge about those subjects.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I saw the silly article in RNZ. I have found it hard to find any adult over 17 years old that believes all the climate nonsense. We now know it is all about tax and control, and NZ being 'first', not care for the planet. Our media are just sooooo pathetic.

Doug Longmire said...

I do sometimes get confused over the terms "far-right" and similar ones.
Seems to me that any person supporting democracy, proper education, respect for others, respect for rule of law, having a sense of humour, having a true work ethic, or even being a member of a Christian Church is labelled "far-right".

Interesting I do not see the corresponding term "far-left" used by the mainstream media very often. I wonder why ?

Gary Peters said...

Tinman, I've found that my small amount of knowledge is in relation to my alcohole level, more of one leads to much more of the other 😎

Jack Tuohy said...

A politics-free Christmas - that's just not a runner. What's the point if you can't rark up the youth as being one of a drunken uncle, sloshed father or inebriated grandfather. Hell Karl, where's your Xmas spirit?

More importantly, thank you Karl for another year of your considered, insightful and so well structured and argued positions on many topics that draw all of us to your blog. I'm sure we all who read you appreciate your effort, thought and informed perspectives.

Happy Christmas and New Year to all,

Karl du Fresne said...

Thank you Jack - much appreciated. Christmas greetings to you and yours too.

Doug Longmire said...

Well said, Jack.
And may I add my thanks to you Karl for your very thoughtful and insightful blogs this year. Yes - we do all appreciate your informed perspectives. :-)