Columbia Prof: Rockefeller Christmas Tree Should be Canceled for the ‘Toxic Relationship’ of ‘Nature and Capitalism’

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Cindy Ord /Getty

A professor at Columbia University says that the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree should be “canceled,” because it represents a “toxic relationship shared between nature and capitalism.”

“Its appearance was a metaphor for this year of pandemic, a slapdash coup attempt, and a general drubbing of American exceptionalism.,” wrote professor Brian Kahn of the unveiling of this year’s Rockefeller Christmas tree in an op-ed published in Gizmodo.

The professor went on to call the tradition a “toxic” symbol of how nature is treated, adding that this year’s Norway spruce “should be the last” if we want to see any “justice.”

“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,” said Kahn. “If this year’s tree sees any justice, it’s that it should be the last.”

Kahn then claimed that “everything about this tree tells a piece of the story of our past century-plus relationship with nature and extractive capitalism,” and that the tree lost its “dignity” when it was transported to Manhattan earlier this month.

“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,” wrote Kahn. “In its previous home, though, it had an iota of dignity lost completely once it was transported to Midtown Manhattan.”

The professor wrote that the process in cutting down the tree — which included rescuing an owl that was found in it — reflects how “we’ve subjugated nature to our whims.”

“The Rockefeller tree was cut down in a town itself carved out of what was, more than a century ago, an old growth forest,” wrote Kahn. “And an owl was scooped up in the process of cutting down the tree and transported to New York.”

“All this reflects the ways in which we’ve subjugated nature to our whims,” the professor continued. “And really, the evolution of the Rockefeller Center tree tradition is a very apt stand-in for that in general.”

“Even our adorable feathered stowaway is a symbol of our toxic relationship with nature,” he added. “The Northern saw-whet owl is currently considered a low-concern species due to human pressures and has even managed to carve a niche out in human landscapes (clearly). But the climate crisis fueled by unending growth and fossil fuels will eventually come for it, too.”

The professor concluded by acknowledging that he’ll likely be called a “tree hugger” and a “total killjoy” for his remarks, but that he believes Americans today likely need this tree “to feel something like normal again,” just as they did during the Great Depression.

“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,” wrote Kahn. “But my point isn’t that we should end joy and piss on Santa. It’s that now is the perfect moment to consider what we truly value.”

“When I saw the Rockefeller Center tree propped up as it shed entire boughs to the cold plaza ground this year, I felt no elation,” he added. “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.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.


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