Culture

Surprise! That ‘People Want Santa To Be Gender Neutral’ Story Is Bullshit

Everybody knows that statistics are very boring. Even people who study statistics understand that, on a scale of things people find interesting, statistics rate just below drying paint.

To that end, every once in a while, certain trouble-making elements use the mind-numbing dullness of statistics to make up utter bullshit, hoping our critical faculties will shut down in the face of all those numbers and we’ll swallow some very fake news.

Case in point: recently, the company GraphicSpring released a poll concerning ‘ways to modernise Santa’ (clearly not realising that Santa’s immense desirability means he’s already as modern as could be.)

One of the questions in that poll concerned Santa’s gender. People were asked whether Santa should be male, female, or gender neutral. The overwhelming majority voted ‘male’ — 70.79%, to be exact. But just over 10% voted Santa should be female, and 18.64% voted that he should be gender neutral.

So, with the thudding predictability that has come to define these cycles of online outrage, the hot takes started. And Twitter, famously a hotbed of nuance and empathy, got involved.

But amidst all that online, culture wars fury, nobody stopped to question the actual study itself.

For a start, it needs to be noted that this study was not conducted by a company that specialises in polling. It was conducted by a graphics company, as part of an exceptionally savvy, exceptionally cruel PR move.

Of course, GraphicSpring knew that mining the culture wars for clicks would be a way for their bullshit study and their disingenuous brand to dominate the news cycle, even if only for a moment. And they were right: I just wrote the words ‘GraphicSpring’ for the first time in my goddamn life.

The study was designed to generate a controversial result. Participants didn’t come up with the idea to make Santa gender neutral: it was offered to them. The question wasn’t: ‘What would you do to modernise Santa?’, or even ‘What gender should Santa be?’

The question fed participants gender neutral as an answer. That’s a kind of bias that real studies, conducted by companies that aren’t just trying to mine some outrage, would have worked on eliminating. And it’s a kind of bias that GraphicSpring had a vested interest in not eliminating. They wanted an attention-grabbing result that would piss off boomers already convinced of the evils of PC culture, and they got it.

Then there’s the question of participant numbers.

When the study started circulating, the media ran wild with their headlines: some publications said that Santa ‘could become’ gender neutral, some disingenuous bullshit if ever I’ve read it. And others still wildly overstated the results of the study, arguing that ‘a hell of a lot of people’ wanted Santa’s gender to change.

But here’s the thing: you know how many people wanted Santa to become gender neutral? Exactly 174. Out of a voting pool of 733.

That’s not ‘a hell of a lot’. That’s not even ‘a lot’. And yet before long, the media was stretching the numbers, with some publications arguing that ‘almost a quarter’ of people wanted Santa’s gender to change.

Then there’s the question of participant demographics. GraphicSpring is real wishy-washy on that front: all its study states is that participants were between 18 and 65 (note: that could mean they were all 65, or they were all 18), and that they were plucked from the UK and the U.S. But like: where in the UK and the U.S.? How many in the UK and how many in the U.S.?

All of these are factors that influence the result, and yet GraphicSpring has been vague about all of them.

All this might just seem like some humble data fudging by a company that has achieved its mission of getting the world’s media to write about it.

But it’s more than that. GraphicSpring knowingly weaponised the ire of the mainstream media against the gender-neutral community. Throwing out these distorted figures and studies feeds the right-wing lunatics who believe that members of the LGBTQIA community are secretly plotting to take over the culture. And it encourages a pile-on of hatred towards the community from those who consider themselves to be part of the ‘sensible centre’ (whatever that means.)

This isn’t new, of course: alt-right trolls and disingenuous pockets of the media have been trying to slur the LGTBQIA movement since the dawn of the internet, attempting to make serious concerns sound ridiculous and extreme.

This is just a new sad chapter in a very old book.