A Columbia University professor has called for the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree to be ‘canceled’ for good, insisting the tradition is emblematic of the ‘toxic relationship’ shared between nature and extractive capitalism.
Brian Kahn made the plea in an op-ed for Gizmodo last week, in which he argued that the 75-foot-tall Norway spruce erected outside of 30 Rock ahead of this year’s holiday season ‘should be the last’ showcased ‘at the center of the beating, concrete-and-steel heart of capitalism’.
Describing this year’s tree as ‘floppy’ and ‘haggard’, Kahn said its appearance was a metaphor for ‘this year of pandemic, a slapdash coup attempt, and a general drubbing of American exceptionalism.’
But Kahn argued that this year’s tree is also ‘perfectly poised to reflect something more than our national mood: it reflects the absolutely toxic relationship we have with the natural world and the need to rapidly reverse course.
‘If this year’s tree sees any justice, it’s that it should be the last,’ Kahn insisted.
This year’s Rockefeller tree has been widely panned on social media for its barren and misshapen appearance, something many have likened to the perfect metaphor for 2020
A view from above of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in 2019. The lighting ceremony will look far different this year than in other years gone by
The Rockefeller Center’s annual tree unveiling has been a holiday staple since 1933, and attracts crowds of up to 125 million visitors every year.
Brian Kahn (above) made the plea in an op-ed for Gizmodo last week, in which he argued that the 75-foot-tall Norway spruce erected outside of 30 Rock ahead of this year’s holiday season ‘should be the last’
The towering Norway selected to take center stage this year has drawn significant criticism on social media for its barren and disheveled appearance since it arrived in the Big Apple from Oneonta just under two weeks ago.
In his article, titled ‘Cancel the Rockefeller Christmas Tree for Good’, Kahn insists that ‘everything about this tree tells a piece of the story of our past century-plus relationship with nature and extractive capitalism.
‘The tree is a Norway spruce, which, as you can likely guess from the name, is not native to the U.S. That in and of itself reflects how upended our relationship with nature is,’ Kahn wrote.
‘In its previous home, though, it had an iota of dignity lost completely once it was transported to Midtown Manhattan,’ he continued.
The purported loss of its dignity, according to Kahn, stems from the fact the spruce ‘served as a veritable island for wildlife’ back in Oneonta, something it cannot fulfil in New York City.
Kahn insists that ‘everything about this tree tells a piece of the story of our past century-plus relationship with nature and extractive capitalism’, adding that the one ‘iota’ of dignity the tree had was lost when it was transported from Oneonta to Manhattan
The Rockefeller Center’s annual tree unveiling has been a holiday staple since 1933, and draws crowds of up to 125 million visitors every year
To reinforce his point, Kahn highlighted that workers discovered an owl clinging to a branch of the tree when it arrived at 30 Rock earlier this month.
The brown and white speckled Saw-whet, which was transported more than 175 miles, was taken in by animal rescuers and is now set to be released to continue its migratory journey.
Kahn lamented the media’s coverage of the event, insisting the owl was not ‘rescued’ as the likes of the Today Show had framed it, rather ripped from the upstate town where it may have been hoping to spend the winter.
‘This poor owl was transported on a harrowing 170-mile journey on a flatbed and miraculously wasn’t crushed,’ Kahn wrote. ‘Sure, it’s great the owl survived and will be released back into the wild. But that’s a pretty p**s-poor definition of “right.”’
Kahn said the cutting down of the tree, and the inadvertent transporting of the owl, ‘reflects the ways in which we’ve subjugated nature to our whims. And really, the evolution of the Rockefeller Center tree tradition is a very apt stand-in for that in general,’ he said.
The Columbia faculty member called the Rockefeller tree tradition ‘an icon of American exceptionalism.’
‘Its story has humble roots in the Great Depression when workers building Rockefeller Center decorated a tree as a pick-me-up for a beleaguered city,’ Kahn wrote, adding that it has ‘since morphed into a made-for-TV spectacle to sell ads against and draw onlookers, wowed by a towering Norway spruce set at the center of the beating, concrete-and-steel heart of capitalism.’
An owl (shown above) was found clinging to a branch of the tree when it arrived in Manhattan this year. Kahn lamenta a number of media outlets for their coverage of the event, insisting the bird wasn’t ‘rescued’, rather ripped from its habitat
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rage across the country, and amid an uptick in case counts across the five boroughs of New York City, this year’s tree lighting ceremony will not be accessible to the public (2019’s tree is shown left, 2020’s right)
Kahn acknowledged that his pejorative take on the otherwise beloved tradition – particularly in a time where national is in need of a sense of normalcy – is likely to land him the label of a ‘tree-hugging’ Grinch, but he says he’s unbothered.
‘I know I’ll likely receive many a furious email cussing me out for being a tree hugger perpetrating the war on Christmas and a total killjoy,’ he admitted. ‘But my point isn’t that we should end joy and p**s on Santa. It’s that now is the perfect moment to consider what we truly value.’
Surely enough, The Blaze characterized Kahn’s take as a ‘cancel culture’ gone too far.
‘Bah, Humbug,’ author of the article Sarah Taylor joked.
But Kahn continued that when he saw the Rockefeller tree ‘propped up as it shed boughs to the cold plaza ground this year’ that he felt no sense of joy.
‘I just felt sad that we venerate the continued subjugation of nature at the expense of unfettered growth and consumption — or even simply because we, like those who suffered through the Great Depression, want to feel something like normal again,’ he wrote.
Kahn added he believed there could be ‘poetry in the notion that we could take this tradition, born in the shadow of the Great Depression, and end it for the right reasons in the midst of a new generation-defining catastrophe’.
‘We have, in this uniquely horrible moment, the opportunity to look beyond simply what makes us feel good and normal to what we can do to make our future normal truly good,’ he concluded.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree arrives at Rockefeller Plaza and is craned into place on November 14
This year’s Norway spruce was donated to the city by by Daddy Al’s General Store, Oneonta. It’s the second tree to come from the two in the last four years.
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rage across the country, and amid an uptick in case counts across the five boroughs of New York City, this year’s tree lighting ceremony, slated for December 2, is due to look significantly different to year’s gone by.
While typically crowds would descend on 30 Rock in their thousands, this year there will be no public access to the plaza for the ceremony.
Instead, would-be onlookers have been invited to view a live ‘Christmas in Rockefeller Center’ broadcast that will be airing on NBC.