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The Great Christmas Ornament Scandal, Part 2

December 27, 2009 |  2:37 pm

Xmas tree Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson The Great Christmas Ornament Scandal has taken a remarkable turn. A festive ball on the White House tree that features a decoupage picture of Andy Warhol's silkscreen painting of Mao Zedong turns out not to be the only decoration with hidden political meanings for President Obama. An ornament with grave implications for events in the Middle East has also shown up.

To recap, last week a right-wing blog published a grainy photo of a Christmas ornament on the Obamas' enormous tree. The image of Warhol's "Mao" purported to add further evidence to insistent claims that the president is actually the Manchurian candidate — a callous secret socialist bent on destroying American democracy from within.

Then, on Christmas Day, another blog made a startling discovery that may turn that sinister notion on its head.

A second ornament, right next to First Lady Michelle Obama's well-toned right arm in an official White House photograph, appears to show the smiling face of former President Ronald Reagan, complete with the Stars and Stripes billowing behind him. Little Green Footballs, where an eagle-eyed blogger made the extraordinary find, firmly implanted tongue in cheek and ventured a guess: “Maybe it’s Stalin disguised as Reagan?”

The truth, however, might be even more ominous.

Xmas tree Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson detail3 The year in which the Reagan image was made cannot be easily determined from the photo. But perhaps it depicts the president during the Iran-Contra era, when America surreptitiously sold weapons to Iran to illegally fund anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua. If so, the Mao ornament needs to be rethought. The photographic proximity of the Reagan ball to White House muscle might signal some as yet unrevealed shenanigans on the part of the newest Nobel Peace Prize winner. Talk about a diabolically clever strategy of plausible deniability.

We here at Culture Monster are taking no position on the incendiary matter, preferring to leave all political augury to the folks at our sister blog, Top of the Ticket. We will, however, note two indisputable facts of a cultural sort.

First: Photographs are notoriously unreliable. As early as the 1850s, a robust genre of deceptive “spirit photographs” arose in London — manipulated images purporting to show the ghosts of the dead that walk unseen among the living. We all know that they're there, but the vogue for these phony-photos set back the study of paranormal science indefinitely.

And who can forget the 1917 Cottingley fairies hoax, in which woodland sprites were photographed dancing merrily before two innocent English lasses? What was once simple enough to do with glass-plate negatives and a darkroom (or, in the Cottingley case, a Kodak camera, a few children's book illustrations and some hatpins) is, in the virtual age of Photoshop, a pernicious laptop hobby enjoyed by millions.

Xmas ornament California MCT Second: No one has yet speculated on perhaps the most damning Christmas ornament of all, which Culture Monster is the first to identify. Also hanging on the tree -- right next to a red one blatantly covered in stars -- is a decoupage ball featuring the Hollywood sign with Liza Minnelli, Michael Jackson and James Dean. Just wait until the Family Research Council finds out: All three are well-known homosexual icons, a fact that raises serious concerns about the Obama-era fate of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Worse, the ornament proves that rival presidential nominee John McCain was right in that widely ridiculed campaign commercial last year pairing Obama's aspirations for America with those of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. It's right there on America's Christmas tree, for all to see: Vapid celebrity is what matters most to the 2008 election winner, who cannot claim the authentic Hollywood cred that President Reagan had.

And come to think of it, that Andy Warhol so desperately craved as well. Hmmm....

-- Christopher Knight

Photos: President and Mrs. Obama (and detail), Credit: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson; California ornament, Credit: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT


A Warhol Christmas at the White House