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Hallmark Inc./AP

Sweatergate

Culture | What greeting card should we send to sycophants?

Issue: "2013 News of the Year," Jan. 11, 2014

Was it whimsy or political correctness that made the staid old lady of greeting cards do it? We can eliminate the first guess right away: Everything in the public square these days is calculated to within an inch of its life. So it must have been that Hallmark really thought it would make Gay America like the company when it released onto the holiday market a 2013 “keepsake” tree ornament—an intentionally tacky multicolored tongue-in-cheek sweater bearing the words “Don we now our fun apparel.” (For the unchurched and people under 40, the original lyric to the traditional carol “Deck the Halls” had “gay” for “fun.”)

The gay community, having no more sense of humor than the feminist community, was not amused. And the so-called straights, whom Hallmark threw under the bus, saw company execs as the toadies they were, in heat for LGBTQ love. A scene from 101 Dalmatians comes to mind with regularity these days: When imperious fashion mogul Cruella DeVille asks her valet what he thinks of spots for the fall line-up, he replied safely, “I thought we liked stripes this year.” She asks, “What kind of sycophant are you?” Lip quivering, he stammers, “What kind of sycophant would you like me to be?”

More biblically, the kerfuffle conjures the reception David gave the Amalekite who thought he was bringing good news when he rushed to announce King Saul’s death and his own part in it (2 Samuel 1). David, being a man of integrity, was impervious to kissing-up, and the herald was summarily executed.

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Wishing to avoid the Amalekite’s fate, Hallmark trotted out the old Gaelic defense: “When the lyrics to ‘Deck the Halls’ were translated from the Gaelic and published in English back in the 1800s, the word ‘gay’ meant festive or merry. Today it has multiple meanings. … So the planning team decided to say what we meant: ‘fun.’” 

After no one bought that, Hallmark played its last card short of Japanese hara-kiri and performed the ceremonial abject apology increasingly common in America, though formerly associated with disgraced Soviet operatives before the Comintern: “We never intend to offend or make political statements with our products and in hindsight we realize we shouldn’t have changed the lyrics on the ornament.” 

George Orwell foresaw it all in his futuristic novel 1984: “… it was unusual for political offenders to be put on trial. … The great purges involving thousands of people, with public traitors and thought criminals who made abject confession of their crimes … were showpieces not occurring oftener than once in a couple of years. More commonly, people who had incurred the displeasure of the Party simply disappeared and were never heard of again.”

While not precisely anticipating LGBTQ (he envisioned FFCC and INGSOC), the secular prophet also divined how a super-state characterized by government surveillance and programmatic mind control would control language. A philologist named Syme, the editor of the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak dictionary, says at one point to protagonist Winston Smith:

“We’re getting the language into its final shape—the shape it’s going to have when nobody speaks anything else. … You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words—scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. … It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. … In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words.”

The biggest surprise for me personally in Sweatergate is to see how the gay community has become the acknowledged bouncer at the door of American Good Taste, to the point of dictating details as picayune as the dressing of a Douglas fir. Even some among their ranks are shocked, as seen in gay blogger Brad DeLong’s apology to former editor of The New Republic Andrew Sullivan for criticizing his driving too hard and too fast in advancing the gay agenda: “My thoughts were … what lobbying for gay marriage does now is to solidify the right-wing nutjobs. … I was completely, totally, 100 percent wrong. Andrew was right in his judgment of the politics.”

Let us see what the chastened hawker of cloying sentiments presents us with in 2014. Will Hallmark don the gay apparel of a finer time, or will it learn once more that kissing-up is hard to do?

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.

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