A Very Special Christmas Song — No, Really

queen bohemian rhapsodyIs this the Yuletide?
It’s such a mystery
Will I be denied
Or will there be gifts for me?

Come down the stairs
Look under the tree and see…

And it’s time, once again, for my annual plug for my candidate for the Best Christmas Song Parody Evar: Christmas Rhapsody, Pledge Drive’s Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” written by my friend Tim Walters and his friend Steve Rosenthal.

Alas, there’s no video. Which is a shame, since I think this thing has potential to go seriously viral some year if there were a good video to go with it. Interested videographers should contact Tim through his Website. In the meantime — enjoy the song!

And if you like that, Tim has even more holiday music on his site. My fave: Down in the Forest, described as “A dark and slightly confused Yuletide nightmare. It has something to do with the Fisher King. Maybe.” Have fun!

Catgroove

I am correcting a terrible, terrible mistake.

I posted a piece the other day, Letting the World Surprise You: Secular Transcendence and, Once Again, Morris Dancing. In it, I said this:

And since I now think that this life is the only one I’m ever going to have, I feel much more driven to experience it as fully and as richly as I possibly can. It is sometimes intensely frustrating to know that there are restaurants I’m never going to eat at, movies I’m never going to see, books I’m never going to read, people I’m never going to meet. But that makes me feel that much more passionate about really experiencing the restaurants and movies and books and people that are part of my life. It makes me feel that much more driven to stay present with them, to not space out and drift into my own little world, to connect with them and see what surprises they might have in store. Sometimes it’s a big, obvious, dramatic surprise: like seeing Scotland for the first time, or speaking to a crowd of 1,000 people, or meeting someone out of the blue who within a year would become one of my best friends. And sometimes it’s a small, subtle surprise of everyday life: like the taste of the scones from the new bakery, or some silly and wonderful video of a guy dancing in his rec room, or an afternoon with friends in a generic conference hotel room laughing ourselves into insensibility.

At the “silly and wonderful video of a guy dancing in his rec room,” I meant to link to this video. But I was in a hurry, and I totally spaced. For which I abjectly apologize. Okay, it’s not like this guy needs my help, the video has gone viral and it has 6,096,244 views as of this writing and you’ve probably all seen it before and are rolling your eyes about how I’m the last one to get on the clue train. But it’s been making me smile for days, and I wanted to share. The guy is so loose and cool, so extraordinarily good and so casual about it. And I love that some guy dancing in his rec room and shooting video of it has been seen by millions. I’m in love with the modern world.

Catgroove, by takesomecrime. Enjoy!

I have my archives!

I have my archives from my old blog! They’re here! With comments and everything! They’re even in the right categories!

Images and videos didn’t make it over, and there are a handful of posts that didn’t make it and that I’ll have to put in by hand. (For some reason, it didn’t like my posts about alternative medicine, speaking at Stanford, making atheism a safe place to land, atheists having morality, and my recipe for chocolate pie. Make of that what you will.) But I can live with that. The archives are here. Years of my old work — all finally in one place. This has been driving me up a tree, and I can now finally relax about it. (A little.)

If you want to see them, scroll down in the sidebar to where it says “Recent Posts/ Comments/ Archives.” Click Archives. There they are! You can also search for posts in the archives with the handy Search box at the top right of the blog. Which works waaaay better than the search box at my old blog.

When I’m back from my Minnesota trip, I’m going to start working on (a) getting the old blog to redirect to the new one, and (b) getting the best and hottest posts listed in my sidebar, so newcomers to the blog can browse them more easily. And I’ll probably start linking to the cool stuff from the archives, so newcomers to this blog can become familiar with it. For now, I’m just going to sit back and cry tears of happiness and relief. I can haz archives! Yay!

I have to express my intense gratitude to fellow Freethought Blogger Jason Thibeault, at Lousy Canuck, for making this happen. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that atheists have no sense of community or compassion. I owe him big time. Go visit his blog, and tell him Thank You.

Bad Religion to Play at Reason Rally!

Big news! The band Bad Religion will be playing at the Reason Rally for a one-hour performance immediately before the closing remarks!

The Reason Rally, for those of you who aren’t yet familiar, is the upcoming atheist/ humanist/ skeptic/ secular March on Washington, scheduled for March 24, 2012. It’s expected to be the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history. Having Bad Religion play there will go a long way to making this expectation a reality.

Scheduled speakers include Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Jamila Bey, James Randi… and, oh yeah. Me. I’m speaking there, too. I am bursting with pride and excitement at the prospect of getting to be on that stage, in this company, at this historic event. And it’s going to rock even hard, now that Bad Religion’s playing!

This is going to be super-fun. It is going to be made of 100% pure awesomenium. You do not want to miss it. Make your plans now! March 24, 2012. Put it in your calendar, and make it happen!

I’m on Twitter! Follow me at @GretaChristina .

“Evolved This Way”: My Atheist Evolution-Themed Lady Gaga “Born This Way” Song Parody

Carl Sagan told me when I was young
We are all made of stars
And Darwin said all life’s descended from
Ancient common ancestors…

*

Lady-gaga-born-this-way-single-album-cover Don’t get me wrong. I like Lady Gaga. I respect Lady Gaga. I’m even reasonably fond of “Born This Way” (although I do think it’s awfully goddamn close to “Express Yourself” — there is a line between “homage” and “ripoff”, people!).

But the lyrics kind of get up my nose. They got up my nose the first time I heard it; they get up my nose more and more on every subsequent listening. The whole “God makes no mistakes” bull keeps making me want to scream, “There is no god! And if you believe in a god who created the world and is responsible for how it’s turning out, how can you not think that he makes mistakes all the freaking time! Sinuses! Knees! Too-narrow birth canals! Pediatric cancer! Have you read anything about evolution? Do you even know how it works? Rrrrrr!”

If it were just a couple of passing mentions, it wouldn’t bug me so much. But religion is all over the freaking song. “‘Cause he made you perfect, babe”; “God makes no mistakes”; “Believe capital H-i-m”… it’s all over the song like a cheap suit. Indeed, the whole bloody theme of the song — “I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way,” in the context of “God makes no mistakes,” smacks strongly of deistic theistic predestination. Not to mention a piss-poor understanding of evolution, and how life came into being, and why we are the way we are.

And I want no part of it. I don’t think we should love ourselves because God made us the way we are. I think we should love ourselves because we’re awesome and lucky to be alive, and because our lives and the lives of the people around us improve vastly when we love ourselves. And the teleological fallacy seriously gets my goat. There is no reason to think that we were “born this way” because some invisible all-powerful supernatural entity shaped us into being on purpose to make him happy, or even because evolution proceeds in a specific direction towards some supposedly “higher” state of being. We’re not on “the right track” — there is no track. We were “born this way” because of natural selection, coupled with random chance. Period.

Okay. Deep breath. I am clearly taking this waaaaaay too seriously.

Pride 4 Ingrid So anyway. When Ingrid and I marched with the atheist contingent in the LGBT Pride Parade this year, Ingrid really, really wanted to make a sign that was an atheist riff on “Born This Way.” (She assumed — rightly so, as it turns out — that “Born This Way” would be getting played to death at this year’s parade.) And at almost the very last minute, the night before the parade, she came up with her totally brilliant sign concept: “Evolved This Way.” We jokingly started coming up with parody song lyrics on our way to the parade… and I got the bug in my brain, and couldn’t stop until I had the whole thing done. (And can I just say: Some of the best lines are the ones lifted wholesale from the original song. “In the religion of the insecure”? I couldn’t have done better.) Enjoy!

*

Evolved This Way

It doesn’t matter if you sing hymns,
There’s no capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up
‘Cause you evolved this way, baby

Carl Sagan told me when I was young
We are all made of stars
And Darwin said all life’s descended from
Ancient common ancestors

“There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are,”
They said, “‘Cause we’re all imperfect, babe
Our knees and sinuses don’t work for shit
But we’re alive — so celebrate!”

Lucky to be here today
There’s no god making mistakes
I’m on the tree of life, baby
I evolved this way

Humans and seaweed and cats
Mushrooms and beetles and rats
You know there’s no track, baby
We evolved this way

Could have gone another way
Thank your mutant DNA
Baby, we evolved this way

Could have gone another way
If that asteroid had strayed
No track, baby, we evolved this way

There’s killer sharks, there’s killer bees
There’s viruses, there’s willow trees
There’s elephants, there’s tiny fleas
And me.

It’s sometimes hard to see this scary world
With life in our own puny hands
In the religion of the insecure
They think it’s all a master plan.

It might be pretty to believe that lie
But it’s all an S-H-A-M
I love myself, I love my friends, and I
Accept that it’s all going to end.

Lucky to be here today
There’s no god making mistakes
I’m a primate, baby
I evolved this way

Gorillas, roses and dogs
Amoebas, algae and frogs
You know there’s no track, baby
We evolved this way

Could have gone another way
Thank your mutant DNA
Baby, we evolved this way

Could have gone another way
If mammals hadn’t made the grade
No track, baby, we evolved this way

If you survive, you’ll make the scene
Then reproduce, pass on your genes
Random mutations roll the dice
Change every species, moss or mice
Forget your teleology
There’s no track on life’s gorgeous tree
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby you evolved this way

No matter huge or small fry
Whether you swim or you fly
You know there’s no track, baby
We evolved to survive

No matter feathers or fur
Whether you bark or you purr
You know there’s no track, baby
We were shaped by this world

Lucky to be here today
There’s no god making mistakes
I’m on the tree of life, baby
I evolved this way

Mosquitos, plankton and pigs
Canaries, leeches and figs
You know there’s no track, baby
We evolved this way

Could have gone another way
Thank your mutant DNA
Baby, we evolved this way

Could have gone another way
If grandma hadn’t gotten laid
No track, baby, we evolved this way

We evolved this way-hey
We evolved this way-hey
You know there’s no track, baby
We evolved this way-hey

We evolved this way-hey
We evolved this way-hey
You know there’s no track, baby
We evolved this way-hey

Note: I would love, love, LOVE to make a YouTube video of this. I don’t have the singing chops or video-making skills to do it on my own… but if someone out there wants to collaborate, please let me know. It doesn’t have to be a fancy video; I’d be totally happy with one of those “sequence of still images” numbers, and will even find the images. If you can sing ([cough] JT [cough]), and/ or if you have video-making skills, drop me a line at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com.

10 Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. Update: I have removed “Here Comes Santa Claus” from my Honorable Mentions list, since it was pointed out that the the last two verses do mention God, in a freakish mix of the Jesus and Santa mythologies. Thanks for the correction!

Christmascarols What do you do if you’re an atheist who likes Christmas carols?

It’s widely assumed that atheists, by definition, hate Christmas. And it’s an assumption I’m baffled by. I like Christmas. Lots of atheists I know like Christmas. Heck, even Richard Dawkins likes Christmas. Plenty of atheists recognize the need for rituals that strengthen social bonds and mark the passing of the seasons. Especially when the season in question is dark and wet and freezing cold. Add in a culturally- sanctioned excuse to spend a month of Saturdays eating, drinking, flirting, and showing off our most festive shoes, and we’re totally there. And we find our own ways to adapt/ create/ subvert the holiday traditions to our own godless ends.

Sure, most of us would like for our governments to not be sponsoring religious displays at the holidays. Or any other time. What with the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” thing. And some of us do rather resent the cultural hegemony of one particular religious tradition being crammed down everybody’s throat, in a grotesque, mutant mating of homogenized consumerism and saccharine piety. But it’s not like all atheists are Grinchy McScrooges. Many of us are very fond of Christmas. Some atheists even like Christmas carols. I’m one of them.

It is, however, definitely the case that, since I’ve become an atheist activist, my pleasure in many Christmas carols has been somewhat diminished. It’s harder for me to sing out lustily about angels and magic stars and the miracle of the virgin birth, without rolling my eyes just a little. And I do notice the more screwed-up content of many Christmas songs more than I used to: the guilty self-loathing, the fixation on the blood sacrifice, the not- so- subtle anti-Semitism. I’m content to sing most of these songs anyway (except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which always makes me cringe). But for some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for Christmas songs that I can sing entirely happily, without getting into annoying theological debates in my head.

So, with the help of my Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a list of Christmas songs that atheists can love unreservedly.

The rules:

Vierge_au_Chapelet_1 Songs cannot have any mention of God, Jesus, angels, saints, or miracles. Not even in Latin. This is the key, the raison d’etre of this whole silly game. I’m not going to start making exceptions just so I can sneak in the “Boar’s Head Carol.” And yes, this rules out “Good King Wenceslas.” Hey, I like it too, it’s pretty and has a nice (if somewhat politically complicated) message about how rich kings should help poor people. But come on, people. It’s about a Christian saint with magical powers. No can do. (I will, however, grant a “saints with magical powers” exemption to Santa.)

Gay_Mens_Chorus_of_Washington_DC Songs must be reasonably well-known. Yes, this rules out some truly excellent stuff. Many of my favorite Christmas songs, atheist or otherwise, are on the obscure side: from the grisly, gothy, paganesque “Corpus Christi Carol” (I do love me some gruesome Christmas songs), to the simultaneously haunting and peppy “Patapan,” to Tim Minchin’s funny, touching, pointedly godless “White Wine in the Sun.” But it’s no fun singing Christmas songs by yourself. For a song to make my list, a reasonable number of people at your holiday party should be able to sing it… or at least chime in on the first verse before trailing off into awkward pauses and “La la la”s.

Weird al No song parodies. It hurts like major surgery for me to make this rule. Some of my very favorite Christmas songs of all time are song parodies: my friend Tim’s hilariously on-target Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Christmas Rhapsody”; the entire “Very Scary Solstice” songbook from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society; every Mad Magazine Christmas carol parody ever written. Song parodies are an excellent way to redeem a pretty Christmas tune from cringe-inducing lyrics, and many are just excellent songs on their own. But the idea here is that atheists can have a completely heartfelt, non-snarky love for Christmas music. So to make it onto my list, songs must be entirely sincere. (I will, however, give bonus points to classic Christmas songs that have spawned good parodies.)

Thumbs up Songs have to be good songs. A subjective judgment, I realize. And for the purposes of this game, one that is to be made entirely by me. Deal with it. I don’t care how secular it is: “Suzy Snowflake” is not making it onto my freaking Christmas song list.

Bonus points: A song gets bonus points for not mentioning the word “Christmas.” It’s okay if it does — I don’t think the word has to mean “Christ’s Mass,” any more than “goodbye” has to mean “God be with you” or “Thursday” has to mean “Thor’s day.” But songs that have become widely accepted Christmas carols without even mentioning the concept get bonus points: for chutzpah, if nothing else.

And songs get bonus points for being written more than 100 years ago. I’m not a reflexive hater of modern Christmas songs; in fact, some of them I quite like. But some of the best stuff about Christmas music is the old, old, tunes: the soaring, haunting melodies and harmonies that resonate back through the centuries. If a song can do that and still not mention the baby Jesus, I’m sold.

So with these rules in mind, here are my Top Ten Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love.

White-Christmas 10: White Christmas. This is a funny one. I don’t even particularly like this song: it’s kind of drippy, and it lends itself far too well to unctuous lounge singers. But come on, people. It was written by a freaking agnostic. A Jewish agnostic at that. And it’s become one of the most classic, wildly popular entries in the Christmas music canon. How can you not love an entirely secular Christmas classic written by a Jewish agnostic?

Jingle_Bells 9: Jingle Bells. A bit overplayed, I’ll grant you. But it’s cheery, and it’s old, and it’s fun to sing. The second through fourth verses (you know, the ones nobody sings or has even heard of) are all about courting girls, racing horses, and getting into accidents, so that’s entertaining. And the thing doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” once. Heck, it wasn’t even written as a Christmas song; it was written as a Thanksgiving song. You can happily teach it to your kids without worrying that you’re indoctrinating them into a death cult. Plus it’s spawned a burgeoning cottage industry of children’s song parodies, in the time-honored “Jingle bells, Batman smells” oeuvre. (Tangent: Do kids still sing that even though “Batman” isn’t on TV anymore?)

Sleigh ride 8: Sleigh Ride. For those who like jingling bells, but are a bit sick of “Jingle Bells” after all these years. Relentlessly cheerful. Lots of fun to sing, except for the weirdly tuneless bridge about Farmer Gray’s birthday party…. but then you get back into the sleigh bells jingling, ring- ting- tingling too, and you’re back in business. And no God, or Jesus, or even Christmas. Just snow, and singing, and pumpkin pie, and friends calling “Yoo hoo!” A trifle saccharine, I’ll grant you — a bit too nostalgic for a Norman Rockwell America that never really existed — but still good, clean, secular fun.

Silver bells 7: Silver Bells. I’m sure I’m going to get roundly hated on for this one. Lots of people truly loathe modern Christmas songs, especially the ones in the drippy lounge- singer category. (See “White Christmas” above.) But I have a genuine soft spot for this one, for a very specific reason: It’s one of the few Christmas songs that celebrates the urban Christmas. Most Christmas songs sing the bucolic joys of sleigh rides and forests and holly and whatnot… joys that are entirely outside of my own experience of Christmas. My own experience of Christmas is shopping and crowded streets and lavish decorations and electric light displays that could power a goat farm for a year. The very joys that “Silver Bells” is celebrating. And the tune is really pretty. Also it’s in 3/4 time, which means you can waltz to it. So thumbs-up from me. If you sing it in a peppy, up-tempo beat, you can avoid the whole lounge-singer vibe pretty easily.

We wish you a marry christmas6: We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I was going to include at least one wassailing song in this list. Wassailing songs are among the finest secular Christmas traditions, and the general concept is familiar to a lot of people, even if the specific examples of it aren’t. But alas, every single one of them either (a) is entirely obscure outside folk-nerd circles, or (b) mentions God at least once. Even if it’s just in an “And God bless you and send you a happy New Year” context. I couldn’t find even one completely secular wassailing song that’d be familiar to anyone who doesn’t go to Renaissance Faires. So I’m letting “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” stand in for the “going from door to door singing and begging for food” wassailing genre. It’s reasonably pretty, it’s fun to sing, a lot of people who don’t go to Renaissance Faires know it. And it celebrates two great Christmas traditions: pestering the neighbors, and eating yourself sick.

Let it snow 5: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Another in the “Christmas songs that are really about the entirely secular joys of snow and winter” oeuvre. I like this one because it’s not about mucking around in the actual snow, so much as it is about staying the hell out of it. Canoodling in front of the fire where it’s warm and dry — there’s a Christmas song for me! Plus it’s about being in love at Christmas, which is a lovely theme… and one that, like the urban Christmas, is sadly under-represented. And it’s another classic Christmas song written by Jewish songwriters, which always tickles me. Thumbs up.

SantaBabyEarthaKitt 4: Santa Baby. Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves to gripe about the commercialization of Christmas. I griped about it myself, just a few paragraphs ago. But it’s hard not to love a song that revels in it so blatantly, and with such sensual. erotic joy. Cars, yachts, fur coats, platinum mines, real estates, jewelry, and cold hard cash, with the not- so- subtle implication of sexual favors being offered in return — the reason for the season! Plus it has the class to get the name of the jewelry company right. (It’s Tiffany, people, not Tiffany’s!) And the only magical being it recognizes is an increasingly secular gift-giving saint with an apparent weakness for sultry, husky- voiced cabaret singers. (And who can blame him? Faced with Eartha Kitt batting her metaphorical eyes at me, I’d be pulling out my checkbook, too.)

Carol of the bells 3: Carol of the Bells. A trifle hard to sing in parts. But it’s awfully darned pretty. No, strike that. It is stunning. It is lavishly, thrillingly beautiful. It has that quality of being both eerie and festive that’s so central to so much great Christmas music… and it has it in trumps. It is freaking old — the original Ukrainian folk tune it’s based on may even be prehistoric — and it sounds it. In the best possible way. It is richly evocative of ancient mysteries, conveying both the joy and the peace that so many Christmas carols are gassing on about. And it does it without a single mention of God or Jesus or any other mythological beings. Just a “Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.” I’m down with that.

Winter wonderland 2: Winter Wonderland. Yes, I know. Another modern one. Hey, what do you expect? Christmas got a whole lot more secular in the last century. But I unabashedly love this song, and I don’t care who knows it. It has a lovely lilting saunter to it, a melody and rhythm that makes you physically feel like you’re taking a brisk, slightly slippery winter walk with the snow crunching under your boots. It gets bonus points for being a ubiquitous, entirely non-controversial Christmas classic that doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” even once. And it’s another Christmas love song, which always makes me happy. I get all goopy and sentimental whenever I hear the lines, “To face unafraid/The plans that we’ve made.” Sniff.

And finally, the hands-down runaway winner, the no-question-in-my-mind Best Atheist Christmas Song of All Time:

DeckTheHalls200 1: Deck the Halls. It’s totally gorgeous. It’s unrepentantly cheerful — jolly, one might even say — with just a hint of that haunting spookiness that makes for the best Christmas songs. It celebrates all the very best parts of Christmas: singing, playing music, decorating, dressing up, telling stories, hanging around fires, and generally being festive with the people we love. It’s old as the hills: the lyrics are well over 100 years old, and the tune dates back to at least the 16th century, if not earlier. Absolutely everybody knows the thing, and even the folks who don’t can chime in cheerfully on the “Fa la la la la” part. It’s ridiculously easy to sing without being boring. Plus it’s spawned one of the finest song parodies ever: “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie,” from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, a parody that’s almost as beloved as the original song.

And it doesn’t mention God, or Jesus, or angels, or virgin births, or magical talking animals, or redemption of guilt through blood sacrifice, or any supernatural anything. Not even once. Heck, it doesn’t even mention Christmas. This is a Yule song, dammit — and proud of it! If there are any gods at all who inspired this song, they are entirely pagan pre-Christian ones. Totally, 100% made of atheist Christmas win.

Honorable mentions. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Up on the Housetop. Over the River and Through the Woods. Jolly Old St. Nicholas. The Christmas Song (a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Frosty the Snowman. Jingle Bell Rock. O Christmas Tree. All these fit all my criteria, and would be perfectly reasonable additions to your secular Christmas songbook. They just didn’t quite make my Top Ten.

Axial tilt is the reason for the season So Merry Christmas, to everybody who likes to celebrate it! Enjoy your decked halls, your ringing bells, your food, your hooch, your snow, your staying the hell out of the snow and fooling around, your sleigh rides, your expensive jewelry, your neighbors who you’re pestering with endless Christmas carols… and above all else, the people you love. There’s probably no God — so stop worrying, and enjoy Christmas!

10 Best Christmas Songs for Atheists

Christmascarols What do you do if you’re an atheist who likes Christmas carols?

It’s widely assumed that atheists, by definition, hate Christmas. And it’s an assumption I’m baffled by. I like Christmas. Lots of atheists I know like Christmas. Heck, even Richard Dawkins likes Christmas. Plenty of atheists recognize the need for rituals that strengthen social bonds and mark the passing of the seasons. Especially when the season in question is dark and wet and freezing cold. Add in a culturally- sanctioned excuse to spend a month of Saturdays eating, drinking, flirting, and showing off our most festive shoes, and we’re totally there. And we find our own ways to adapt/ create/ subvert the holiday traditions to our own godless ends.

Sure, most of us would like for our governments to not be sponsoring religious displays at the holidays. Or any other time. What with the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” thing. And some of us do rather resent the cultural hegemony of one particular religious tradition being crammed down everybody’s throat, in a grotesque, mutant mating of homogenized consumerism and saccharine piety. But it’s not like all atheists are Grinchy McScrooges. Many of us are very fond of Christmas. Some atheists even like Christmas carols. I’m one of them.

It is, however, definitely the case that, since I’ve become an atheist activist, my pleasure in many Christmas carols has been somewhat diminished. It’s harder for me to sing out lustily about angels and magic stars and the miracle of the virgin birth, without rolling my eyes just a little. And I do notice the more screwed-up content of many Christmas songs more than I used to: the guilty self-loathing, the fixation on the blood sacrifice, the not- so- subtle anti-Semitism. I’m content to sing most of these songs anyway (except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which always makes me cringe). But for some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for Christmas songs that I can sing entirely happily, without getting into annoying theological debates in my head.

So, with the help of my Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a list of Christmas songs that atheists can love unreservedly.

*

Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, 10 Best Christmas Songs for Atheists. To see my list of cool Christmas songs that even a hard-line atheist could love — and my reasons for which songs did and didn’t make the cut — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

A Very Special Christmas Song — No, Really

QueenIs this the Yuletide?
It’s such a mystery
Will I be denied
Or will there be gifts for me?

Come down the stairs
Look under the tree and see…

It’s December now, which means it’s officially okay for me to start talking about Christmas. (A holiday that I actually do enjoy.) So here is my annual plug for the very best Christmas song ever:

Christmas Rhapsody, Pledge Drive’s Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” written by my friend Tim Walters and his friend Steve Rosenthal.

It’s absolutely dead-on. The lyrics, the performance, the production, everything. You will never be able to listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” again without thinking of it… and without falling into fits of the giggles when you do.

Here’s an MP3. Alas, there’s no video; videographers who want to take on the challenge should contact Tim through his website.

Trust me on this one. Even if you hate Christmas. It is hilarious, and it is freaking brilliant. Just take my word for it.

And if you like that, here’s more Tim-related holiday music. My fave: the gothy, Dead-Can-Dance-ish version of Down In The Forest, described by Tim as “A dark and slightly confused Yuletide nightmare. It has something to do with the Fisher King. Maybe.” Enjoy, and Happy Yule!

Don’t Feed the Stars!: Celebrity Bodies and Gossip’s New Schizophrenia

Dont-feed-stars“It’s sort of awful. Yesterday for lunch? Spinach… and some seeds.”

“I swear by almost nothing for breakfast. Mugs of hot water!”

“The other day I realized as long as I’m in this business, I’m going to be hungry.”

“I hate dieting… I’m hungry all the time.”

These quotes aren’t from a medical journal. They’re not from a psychology book on body image in modern society. They’re not from a Lifetime Channel docudrama on eating disorders.

They’re from an Us Weekly Magazine half-page celebrity puff piece (Sept. 13, 2010, Page 18), titled “Don’t Feed the Stars!”, on how “these celebs admit it’s a diet struggle to keep their fab figures.”

Encapsulating the celebrity gossip magazine’s bone-deep schizophrenia about dieting and body size… in one neat sentence.

*

Thus begins my latest Media Darling column on CarnalNation, Don’t Feed the Stars!: Celebrity Bodies and Gossip’s New Schizophrenia. To find out more about the celebrity-industrial complex’s freakishly self-contradictory attitude towards diet and weight loss — and the deeply mixed messages it sends the rest of us about food, beauty, bodies, and sex — read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to Carnal Nation — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Lady Gaga: Music Videos As Porn

This piece was originally published on CarnalNation.

Lady-gaga-telephone I realize that I’m late to the Lady Gaga party. (Hey, I’m 48 years old. Cut me some slack.) But I gotta say — I’m impressed.

If I just listened to her music, I’d only be moderately interested. I think her music is perfectly fun, well- above- average dance pop music. But I’ve been watching her music videos… and they’re making me think that this woman is a force to be reckoned with. (Yes, I realize she doesn’t direct her own videos — but they are clearly collaborations, strongly shaped by her artistic vision, and they’re a central part of her public persona.)

And what’s striking me about Lady Gaga’s music videos is not just how smart they are, or how imaginative, or how lovingly crafted and visually stunning, or how just flat-out funny. What’s striking me about Lady Gaga’s music videos is how strongly influenced they are by sex culture: by fetish fashion, by sexploitation flicks, and by plain old dirty porn.

What’s more, they seem to be strongly influenced by these cultures, not as an outsider, not as someone who’s manipulating this imagery to titillate/ shock the audience, but as an insider, someone who’s intimately familiar with both sex culture and sexual marginalization. This isn’t Britney Spears, using schoolgirl or slavegirl or girl- on- girl imagery to excite her audience without any apparent understanding or affinity for it. Lady Gaga’s music videos (coupled with her interviews about her work) show a thoughtful, informed insight into polymorphous perversity. She has an analysis that could easily hold its own in any queer theory/ gender theory/ sex theory forum — and damn do I love a sexy girl with an analysis! — and her freak flag is waving high and proud.

In a way that — if I can be crass for a moment — makes her videos very functional as porn. I’ve certainly seen other music videos that turned me on. I can’t remember seeing any that made me this hungry to watch them again and again… with a vibrator handy.

Lady-gaga-telephone-1 “Telephone” may be the best example of these porny influences. A brazen riff on “women in prison” sexploitation flicks — and “women in prison” porn flicks — the video plays with kinky imagery, catfight imagery, and girl-girl porn imagery… all reclaimed into a defiantly queer sexuality. (Yes, Lady Gaga is an out bisexual.) The women are costumed in the sexist, sluttiest, most wildly fantastical, least plausible prisoner uniforms imaginable, far outstripping the implausibly slutty costumes of any “women in prison” porn or sexploitation movie I’ve seen: elaborate platform heels, leather bondage collars, luxuriously trashy lingerie, chains draped around bodies, sunglasses made of cigarettes, leather gear studded and zippered within an inch of its life. Latex prison stripes for Ms. Gaga herself — rudely stripped off by the butch prison guards, to reveal black taped X’s over her nipples and fishnet hose with nothing but pixels underneath. All with cleavage and thighs and asses on meticulously offhand display. And all with breakneck-speed costume changes that defy even porn logic.

Lady gaga beautiful dirty rich Although… well, maybe “Beautiful, Dirty Rich” is the best example. A decadent, libertine, “beautiful useless people” bisexual free-form grope-fest, its vision of trashy affluence would do the excesses of either the Weimar Republic or the Roman Empire proud. Statues get humped, piles of money get rolled in, and the brass railing of a posh elevator gets used like a stripper pole. All in a style that hints at both amateur basement porn and “La Dolce Vita.”

Lady+Gaga-Bad+RomanceAnd now that I think about it… maybe “Bad Romance” is the best example. This may be both the strangest and the kinkiest Lady Gaga video of all. (Not surprisingly, it’s also my favorite.) In a futuristic bathhouse, strangely costumed women perform a private stage show for wealthy, sinister men who sit back calmly and consume the entertainment. (Much like we, the audience, are consuming the entertainment.) Gaga is forced by her fellow dancers into displaying herself and performing a sex-kitten lap dance for the audience, and later takes herself into the bedchamber of one of them, who seems to have paid for the pleasure at an Internet auction. (I think. This particular video seems to have been influenced by Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” films as much as by fetish porn, and the storyline is a little surreal and hard to follow.) This is Lady Gaga, though, always firmly in control even when she’s wildly out of it, and she takes her revenge in the end by… well, I don’t want to spoil such a lovely surprise.

Lady gaga bad romance shoes The fashion in this video isn’t just influenced by fetish fashion. The fashion is fetish fashion: from the masked latex catsuits to the strappy red lingerie to the six- inch- heel patent leather boots. Much has been made of the unwearable Alexander McQueen “alien” shoes that Lady Gaga proved were wearable in this video. I have not yet seen any mention made of the fact that the things bear an uncanny resemblance to pony play shoes. The ones that look like hooves.

But then maybe… oh, you get the idea. There’s “Paparazzi”, an ambivalent encomium to exhibitionism, sexual and otherwise, which eroticizes crutches and wheelchairs in a way that makes me think Gaga must have seen Japanese medical/ bandage porn. (Not to mention David Cronenberg’s “Crash.”) There’s “Poker Face”, featuring yet another bisexual free-for-all grope-fest. There’s “LoveGame”, with the poles on a subway car being repurposed as stripper poles, and the male dancers getting arrested and bent over cop cars, and Gaga seducing a cop in the security booth. (A cop who, mysteriously but alluringly, keeps switching genders.) I could go on.

But I kind of want to get to the point here.

Madonna justify my love Now, Lady Gaga is far from the first person to incorporate porn imagery into pop culture. She’s not even the first person to incorporate it into music videos. Madonna leaps immediately to mind, as does Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” as does every rock or rap video with scantily-clad coochie girls, ever. But Lady Gaga does it in a way that seems to be unique. (At least, I haven’t seen it before. Again — middle-aged lady here. Not exactly a connoisseur of the contemporary music video genre.)

The way Lady Gaga incorporates porn imagery into her music video is entirely shameless.

And by “shameless,” I don’t mean “flaunting it” or “in your face.” I mean, quite literally, “without shame.” Lady Gaga’s music videos incorporate a fascinating assortment of influences, from culture both high and low. I see Fellini in her videos, and Matthew Barney, and David Cronenberg, and “Natural Born Killers,” and the high-art end of high fashion, and “Thelma and Louise,” and much more.

I also see sexploitation, and fetish culture, and porn.

And nowhere do I see any hint that these influences ought not to be mixed — or that some are more equal than others.

Lady+Gaga+Bad+Romance+video+group+dance+photo The high-art influences and the porny influences are folded into one another seamlessly. The “women in prison” story in “Telephone” is given equal weight to the “women on the road/ mass murder” story. In “Bad Romance,” the latex fetish gear contributes as much as to the unnervingly antiseptic surrealism as the glossy white sets and the cyborg facial jewelry. The sexual exhibitionism in “Paparazzi” is as much a part of the commentary on fame as the flashing lights of the cameras. Sex is clearly a central part of Lady Gaga’s life and work — and she explores it in her videos with every bit as much enthusiasm, and every bit as much gravitas, as she does any other aspect of her life and work.

And I think this is not only why I like these videos so much, but why I find them so arousing. My favorite porn is almost always porn that (a) vividly gets across the feeling of a unique sexual experience, and (b) applies careful and loving craft to the medium in question, in a way that enhances the expression of sexuality rather than obscuring it. My favorite porn is almost always porn that recognizes the human complexities of sex… while luxuriously rolling around in it, and enjoying it to its fullest.

Lady gaga telephone nude Lady Gaga’s music videos do all of that. They don’t just incorporate porn and sex-culture imagery. They do it with passion, and with respect. They do it with a “fuck you” defiance, not only of sexual repression and demonization, but of sexual trivialization, the notion that sex and the body are petty distractions from the loftier arenas of human expression.

And that makes them both artistically compelling, and totally freaking hot.

(Note: This piece was written before the “Alejandro” video was released. Which is a shame, since it’s dirtier and kinkier and queerer than all the other videos put together. I may have to write a review of that video all on its own.)