Nightmare before Christmas
When Robin Ince was invited onto TV to debate the "de-Christianisation" of Christmas, the flawed arguments of Vanessa Feltz and Stephen Green were enough to leave him foaming at the mouth
The following words were written at 2am. I had made the mistake of appearing on an ITV debate show and found myself still so furious that I had to try to write the experience out of my system. I have made some corrections for this version, but much of the poor sentence structure is probably intact enough to maintain that sense of bleary-eyed anger.
Oh dear, I just had a Howard Beale/Peter Finch moment of Network fury on television. My agent called me to see if I wanted to go on a TV show entitled London Talking presented by former Blue Peter host Konnie Huq. The subject would either be “Is England Becoming Secular?” or “Are they Taking The Christ Out of Christmas?”
The media reporting on both these subjects has kept me tetchy for the last few months, so I felt I should say yes. A few hours later, I found out more about the format. It was a panel show where four “journalistic experts” and some guests placed in the audience would toss around the ideas before a probably misled member of public would chip in and garner a round of applause for parroting a lie they’d read.
I spent the day double-checking Winterval myths and presumed facts about schools that have banned a three year old putting a tea towel on their head and shouting about a full inn. I pulled out the Bible from my shelf and reread excerpts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then I got to the studio. It appeared that the “expert panel” consisted of Vanessa Feltz and Nick Ferrari, so my hackles were up. I would be sitting in the audience with Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society, sceptic Wendy M Grossman, and Hanne Stinson from the British Humanist Association. There would also be a vicar of some sort and the hideous Stephen Green, from Christian Voice. He was the man who cobbled together nonsense about Jerry Springer the Opera and created a pointless uproar. If there is an omnipotent god, I am sure he can handle an entertaining and ridiculous opera in which he appears on a swing singing “It Ain’t Easy Being Me”. He can merely smite all who have enjoyed it and place us in a pit to suffer eternal torment. He’ll definitely win that round.
As with most TV recordings, everything was running late and I had another gig not long after this one. Stephen Green was the only person who requested make up (such vanity must spit at the lord) while we atheists were left to be the pasty, snaggle-toothed demons we are presumed to be. I am no Victorian physiognomist, but I get a hint of the sociopath when I look into Stephen Green’s eyes. Sadly, he was not the one who would appear to be a lunatic this evening.
Once the debate began, my right leg became instantaneously jittery with frustration as the misconceived, and frequently untrue, incidents were spat out by Vanessa and Nick Ferrari. The secularists were asked their opinions, as were the Christians. As they debated the issue I was becoming increasingly frustrated that no one was dealing with the most pressing issue of the debate about Christ being removed from Christmas. It is mostly untrue. The people who might be removing Christ from Christmas are not other religions or the liberal elite. They might be the great big corporations who want to pump every possible penny from your credit card, but the liberal meddlers are not at the forefront of this deconsecrating of a festival.
I was chomping at the bit, when it came to me, I burst, puce in face and with bulging eyes. I suggested that, as this was a panel of columnists they knew little of truth; you read the newspapers then have to spend the rest of the day researching to find out if its true. This was, perhaps, not the right foot to start on in terms of wooing these people over. I suggested that MP Mark Pritchard, who tabled a motion about Christianophobia, was painting a picture of England where Saracens maruaded through the meadows, charging at churches, smashing the pews and weeing in the font. I also brought up the urban myth of Birmingham’s Winterval. I was possessed with fury. Now I see why Dawkins couldn’t control his anger after Ted Haggard suggested evolutionists believed the eye “just happened”. I told them how I couldn’t find a teacher amongst my friends who was not involved in a nativity and how I, as an atheist, was happy to see that wherever I travelled there were carol singers and Christmas things. Stephen Green decided he would not believe me and kept saying, “I don’t think he’s as happy about that as he said”. Yes I am, I just don’t like people being fed with lies. My fury did not engender the applause that those who fictionalised the theft of Christmas received. As shitty shock jocks are wont to do (see Johann Hari with Littlejohn) , Ferrari replied by saying I should do my research as Winterval was in Luton. This was when I snapped. Winterval was in Birmingham, Luminos was in Luton. Even the Daily Mail can tell you that.
So he snapped at me that I had not done my research, by which point I was shouting – “Winterval was in Birmingham, Luminos was in Luton”.
I realised just how bug-eyed mad I was, I was shouting that the event he had fictionalised was in a different location, but whatever the location, they are both dipped in fiction. Ferrari’s argument was merely, “You sonny, have got the location of our lies wrong”.
How the hell do they get away with it? I am told Ferrari has spent the whole week ranting on about the theft of Christmas – I was to be briefly on a TV show, and I took the time out to do my research. How can we have any hope when the airwaves our strewn with people like him and Feltz failing dismally to do any research, just taking their press releases and newspaper reports at face value. Where is the honour in journalism?
The debate continued with a Konnie Huq now flummoxed by the madman in the audience. Vanessa said that one of her listeners had told her that their child was to be a lobster in the nativity – it was only later that we realised she was clearly referring to a scene in the film Love Actually.
I don’t even remember how it ended. I had a fury aneurysm and then had to go straight to the BBC. Whether it’s Bill O’Reilly or Ferrari, they have the same trick – declare the lie true for long enough, and it is true, and I am just a crazed liberal shouting foolishly. I wish I hadn’t lost my temper, but when lies are so bare-faced, I couldn’t stop myself. Stupid Robin Ince.