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Check out the awful children in this commercial for a local skate shop. They could show the exact same thing with a tagline like “Birth Control. Think About It.” with no loss of meaning, eh?
Hope your little ones are the angels you remember yourself being on Christmases past, despite the pounds and pounds of sugar coursing through your tiny body.
The other week, I went to see Stranger than Fiction which I enjoyed very much. It is the odd story of a man (Will Ferrell) who first discovers that his life is being narrated by an author (Emma Thompson) and then discovers that she plans to kill him off at the end of her story. Will Ferrell is so lovely in it, and I’m not just saying that because of my geek-crush on him. It was a quirky comedy, sort of quiet.
But the previews – good god, what a lot of downers! The worst-looking trailer was for Children of Men, your standard dystopic vision of the post-apocalyptic future: grey people, skies, and cities, armed guards herding the masses through barbed wire mazes, and a mean and miserable totalitarian dictatorship. The movie, set to open Christmas Day, is about a world in which women have been unable to reproduce for the last 18 years and no one knows exactly why. Everyone is miserable without children since there’s no future to look forward to. And then the main guy, played by Clive Owen, finds out about a woman who has somehow managed to get very, very pregnant. Guess where they find her? In a barn. Full of dairy cows. Hooked up to milking machines. Talk about pregnant – with symbolism. Bah.
Maybe it’s the “No Children, No Hope” thing that’s gotten to me about this particular film. I don’t like dystopic films in general: Sin City, Aeon Flux, V for Vendetta come to mind. (I can’t even stomach those alternate-present scenarios in movies like Back to the Future II and It’s A Wonderful Life.) In an interview with Radar Online, Voluntary Human Extinction Movement founder Les U. Knight opines that fewer people having children would actually prevent the future chaos that Children of Men depicts:
If viewers find it plausible, it’ll show how irrationally human-centered we are. Besides, we’re already living in a dystopia, but we don’t want to admit it. Voluntary human extinction would prevent the dystopia of that science-fiction drama, not bring it about. Phasing ourselves out would actually enable us to progress toward a peaceful coexistence with others.
Knight’s is an extreme view to be sure. But he does bring up an interesting point about dystopia: are we already living in it? Dystopic fantasies seem to be based on the idea that all things have already gotten so bad that they can’t be fixed, and that everything is just going to get worse. This is called cynicism and it’s a comfortable view and an easy escape. Imagine everything turning to shit and sooner or later it will. Then cynics will predictably say, “Well, that’s what I said would happen.”
In the last century, there was this belief in progress, that things were just going to get better and better. People built railroads and went to the moon. In this century, such optimism is ridiculed. Artists, writers, filmmakers who want to be taken seriously deal in darkness, not lightheartedness. In a recent article for Walrus Magazine, designer Bruce Mau describes his irritation with the pessimism among artists and designers:
The prevailing mood feels dark, negative, harrowingly pessimistic, and tending to the cynical. Bizarrely, this kind of negativity has become the vogue even in creative fields, which are traditonally committed to vision, beauty, and pleasure, to notions of utopia – to possibility, in other words. This is especially true of design. How, I wondered, had the virus of pessismism crept into the one area of art that is charged with looking forward?
Optimism is unfashionable. It invites the stock response “How can you be happy when there is so much wrong with the world?” To that question I have no real answer, only a belief that there are still beautiful things in the world. To give in to the dystopic fantasies is to assume that everything will go wrong, in the worst way possible. If we’re just going to give in, I suppose we might as well do it now and stop torturing ourselves with images of a bleak future.
It’s shockingly easy to get cynical about where the world is headed at Christmas – on one hand, we’re bombarded with crap advertising that tells us Stuff=Perfect Gift!, and on the other, news of war, bombings in the Middle East (home of Jesus), etc. Yesterday, supposedly the frenziest shopping day of the year, I was walking the streets of the downtown shopping district, and I was struck by how everyone looked absolutely miserable. Everyone except the Salvation Army kettle people who were shaking their bells and singing like they just didn’t care who knew it. The shoppers looked fucking grim.
I feel happy, and I don’t know why. Call me a reformed cynic. I refuse to believe that everything will just get worse and worse. But I don’t believe in utopia any more than dystopia – things will never be absolutely perfect. The other day, a friend described how another friend of theirs bought a plot of land and was planning to build solar panels for energy to live off once the world’s energy ran out. I said I would just keep turning off lights when I left a room.
I didn’t even know Lawn Darts had been recalled, but just in time for the holiday toy buying orgy, Radar has compiled this list of the most dangerous toys ever made. We’re talking lawn darts (aka weighted spears perfect for lodging in your neighbour’s head), atomic energy kits, crotch-mounted pellet guns, and dolls that chomp kids’ fingers. It’s all fun and games until someone gets decapitated.
Is it time to re-evaluate the status of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as a classic Christmas special? Although it can be enjoyed as a kitschy, retro example of stop-motion animation, consider for a moment whether the story is too full of stereotypes of ethnicities and genders, hypocritical messages, and some really fucking weird plot points, to really be revered. Not to mention that Santa acts like an ass throughout.
First, the stereotypes. Rudolph’s dad acts like an American football coach dad who is ashamed of his son’s differences. Rudolph’s nose might means he’s gay! Horrors! (Maybe that’s why Santa breaks into a showtune at Rudolph’s birth…) Hermey the elf sports a Jewish accent and wants to be a dentist. Maybe the sweatshop toymaking job isn’t working out because he’s just not into the toys for the Gentile children thing. Mrs. Claus is an Italian grandma who calls her husband “Papa” and most of her lines are “Eat, eat!” As for gender, only boy reindeer get to fly – the girls just sit around passively on the sidelines. You know Dancer? Prancer? Vixen? Hmmm. You’ll also notice that at the end of the show, Santa only has six reindeer, not eight, pulling his sleigh. Was that because the female reindeer were not considered up to flying through the snowstorm on Christmas Eve? A snowstorm at the North Pole in December – who could have foreseen that?
Second, for a story that’s supposed to be about accepting other peoples differences, there sure are a lot of examples of accepting others only when they become useful to you. First, Donner won’t let his son leave the cave without covering up his red nose. Then Rudolph is the best reindeer at his first flying lesson – but then his nose cover falls off and he’s instantly ostracized. Even Santa gets in on the action of not allowing difference on his team – snowstorm, headlight, come in Santa? At the end when there’s that snowstorm that no one could have predicted, suddenly Rudolph’s The Man. Most people today would probably agree that Rudolph should have told them all to stick it. But I guess he still needed to be liked by all the bigots around him, despite already having proved he could make it on his own, if need be. What’s the message here? Celebrate your differences, but be sure to conform when they tell you to. Nice.
Third, the plot. What was up with that whole Abominable Snow Monster/Island of Misfit Toys subplot? I sort of get how the Snow Monster was a metaphor for the dangers of life beyond the “safe” confines and familiar prejudices of Christmastown, but the Island of Misfit toys? Let’s see: this Winged Lion figure (a cross between Aslan of the Narnia series (himself a representation of Jesus) and the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz) flies around the world collecting toys too weird to love, brings them back to his island and imprisons them on an ice floe while he stays in his castle, and then says he needs Santa’s help to get the misfit toys adopted by children who will love them. Yeah, that makes sense.
And what about Santa? This whole critique germinated in my sister’s observation that the Santa of this particular Christmas special acts like a real prick. Despite delivering toys to children around the world, he won’t tolerate diversity among his reindeer. Then he acts like a grumpy old man while the elves are singing to just to him. And then he only acts nice to Rudolph when he needs him to guide his sleigh. I hope no one forgot to leave this Santa his milk and cookies. He’d throw a shitstorm of a tantrum.
Is this mishmash of stereotypes and prejudices really what we want the kiddies to be watching? To sum up: prejudice against others, nonsensical plot, Santa’s an ass. The only thing it’s got going for it is Burl Ives. And I’ve got his Christmas album.
Via the Tyee, I found this little gem of a photo gallery: kids terrified of getting their pictures taken with Santa. I was hurtled back in time to 1995 or so, when I had a job as Santa’s photographer. We had looped in Christmas music, one disgruntled Santa who doubled as the mall maintenance man, one nice Santa who seemed to actually enjoy the kids, and of course, the little darlings who lined up each session and then screamed in terror when placed in Santa’s lap. It would have been funny if it weren’t for the anxious moms who implored “Get one of her smiling!” while standing behind me and grinning with their fingers pulling on the corners of their mouths as if they were coaching the poor kid through a beauty pageant. Or worse, scowling at me and “the elves” as we shook a toy above the camera. “Smile!” Tantrum continues. “Next!”
Actually, I haven’t been Christmas shopping yet. Those poor schoolkids forced to sing in choirs at malls remind me too much of my own elementary school traumas. One minute, I’ll be browsing at the Body Shop for Peppermint foot lotion when I’ll happen to hear grade 5s from Ridgeway Annex singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (with naughty asides), and the next thing you know, I’m curled in the fetal position in the food court and rocking back and forth to what might be the rhythm of “Up on The Housetop”. Really Mrs. Armstrong, I don’t want to sing Christmas carols for five hours a day for the entire month of December. No. No! Noooooooo!!!
Poor kids. What we put them through in the name of Baby Jesus.
While not constructing elaborate fantasies of how I would cater my Christmas party, I like to imagine how my friends in far off places would celebrate their holidays. Call it my version of a Christmas card.
Makiko-chan lives in Paris, and I like to picture her walking down twinkling French streets with her cute French husband and designer window shopping. She would be impeccably dressed (no matter what her budget) and set off by flushed red cheeks. Miss you, OneeChan.
Amy, my favourite lawyer, would surely be found at the center of a party in a very hip London pub or wine bar. She dazzles a crowd with funny stories and screaming wit. Big hugs all around while getting smashed.
Claire-sama, all tanned and sexy-like down in Oz, is barbecuing Turkey with her mystery man down in Oz. They would be speaking Japanese to each so no one else is the wiser.
Zed is sitting down to vegan Christmas dinner with friends, family and his Mum. He will be in the middle of constructing elaborate art projects for a midwinter fair and running workshops to teach children how to have a sustainable Christmas. You are a child of the Universe, sensei.
Yen-chun will have escaped his cubicle (with twinly miniature Christmas tree) for a nice, sunny golf course. I think he will dress for the occasion in perfectly suitable yet slightly rumpled golf attire. Afterwards, its whiskey and videogames at the clubhouse.
Ally will be playing his guitar from friends while outside, big snowflakes are falling softly on the streets of Edinburgh. On Christmas Day, his mum will cook an amazing dinner and his dad will pull out a special bottle of whiskey for the occasion. They’ll all be speaking in such lovely accents, too.
Happy times from Canada, you international party people.
There were commercials for Christmas lights during The Exorcist on Halloween night. Couldn’t we enjoy the spooky darkness a bit longer before being bombarded with happy Christmas propaganda? I happen to like my Novembers dark and bleak and rainy, full of bare trees and chill winds and excuses to stay the hell inside.
But no, I’m already being asked to buy big-screen TVs for my loved ones and go frolicking through the the snow wearing colourful made-in-Malaysia mittens.
Today was also Remembrance Day, which I happen to like for its solemnity and silence. Usually we go to the ceremony nearby, but I slept in (and it was pissing November Rain) and watched the ceremony in Ottawa on the CBC. Remembrance Day ceremonies are the one time of the year I can handle bagpipers.
Anyway, to stretch out the melancholy late fall, I give you me in my Halloween getup: OD’ed on Prom Night.
Boo-yah! Another Christmas party season is here. I tried to get out of throwing one, but Mr. Man insisted we could not shirk our yuletide responsibility. Well, he didn’t say it as dorky as that but did insist I break my anti-social habits just once a year so all his friends will not secretly wonder if I really do hate them.
(Only when trying to kick people out who won’t take the 3 AM “I’m putting on a Michael Bolton CD, which means GET OUT” hint.) I love planning the food and I’m even getting into decorating this year. Every year though, it seems as if someone has had a hideous breakup. Last year, it was my old friend (girl)and Donovan’s old friend (guy) who flamed out after two years. We invited both, the girl came and got so roaring drunk by the end of the party that she got lost in the parking garage while trying to find the front door. A bit of a piss-tanker, but at least she had gone from annoying to entertainment. The guy stayed home with his new girlfriend to avoid causing a scene.
This year, some friends are going through a divorce. They don’t speak to each other, but we do still see both of them. Both have been invited to this year’s party, neither wants to come at the chance the other will be there. I don’t want to play “he said, she said” games or be a go-between who is scheduling their appearances so they don’t run into each other. “Is ____ invited?” she asked when I invited her, “Did he say he was coming? Because I’d kind of like to bring someone…”
A system could be rigged up where when one had left, we could call up the other to come over for a drink… But there was the chance then that the other could come back to check, and then there would be fireworks. Or at least a heated, hushed conference in some obvious corner, and its a small apartment.
My selfish self thinks this could be entertaining, but it would most likely kill the buzz.
Note to you two: I am sorry I will miss both of you for martinis and meticulously planned party snacks. We were always good social friends and you both could always be counted on to help out in the kitchen and the bar at parties, which is more than I can say of most. (I’m one of those cozy kitchen party girls.) I wish you both could come but you’re just going to have to work it out amongst yourselves.
See you next year?
Is it December already? I remember getting chocolate advent calendars that I would put up beside my bed, and wait to start opening the little doors that counted down to Christmas Eve. My sisters ate most of their chocolates right away, I rationed mine sensibly. It was just in time too, for the Halloween supply had usually have diminished to a few pieces of generic crap candy.
The clock is ticking (no, not that one) now! Down to the Big C. Decorating to be done, parties to plan (no potluck!), outfits to pick out (with shoes), gifts to make, crowds to elbow, showings of It’s A Wonderful Life to avoid (I’ve always hated that whole alternate universe Pottersville), and families to not kill. And lets not forget making time to gorge on Dad’s homemade smoked salmon! Yum!
I am making some of my gifts this year, but haven’t yet started knitting those manly scarves and hats I have been planning for my husband and my grandpa, whose name I got in the gift exchange. What on earth do you get for Christmas for a retired cowboy who is diabetic and unlikely to state a need for anything? He could use a warm wool cap for his morning trips to the general store for coffee. Luckily, there are two Stitch’n’Bitch sessions coming up this month to get my ass in gear. I almost wrote beer.
In other news, I just picked up the new issue of Bust, which contained the happy news that my favourite quarterly ladies magazine will now be out bi-monthly.
Happy Hurrydays and Merry Cashmas, let your wallet be light.