I can still remember the first time I saw one. It was a few weeks ago, and I was minding my own business, watching TV, when there it was. It was horrible: There was this awful music with all these bells jingling … and a fat man in a bizarre outfit laughing with eerie self-satisfaction at nothing in particular. The whole thing lasted about 30 seconds; and then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it vanished.
I was traumatized. It was only Nov. 10 and I had already been asked to withstand the vicious onslaught of a 2006 Christmas ad. I decided to try and block it out.
This proved impossible: over the weeks that followed, there was always something to remind me of that terrifying commercial: tacky decorations in store windows; a kitschy Muzak version of “Jingle Bell Rock” in a cab; those simpering Lexus ads that started coming on before the highlight packages on espn.com.
Before you all hurl the usual jibes at me — “Grinch!” “Scrooge!” “Atheist!” — I’d like to clarify my position on Christmas. I do not hate Christmas; I have absolutely no objection to the Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a heroically kind, benevolent man whose birth deserves commemoration (perhaps for no other reason than his having been both the most well-meaning and most successful con-artist in the history of mankind). I can hear the old “but Christmas isn’t a religious holiday anymore, it’s an American holiday” argument forming in your head and, dear reader, it is precisely the Americanness that I cannot abide. I cannot abide the American phenomenon that has attached itself to Christmas like fungal wrapping paper. A definition of terms is in order: what I object to is not “Christmas,” but would perhaps best be referred to as the “Christmas Season.” Wait, no, that’s so five years ago: I meant “Holiday Season.” Nice and secular.
Whatever. The point is, Christmas has become a long, drawn-out, sickeningly commercialized phase of American life. Come November we are suddenly bombarded from every angle with a frightening variety of stimuli that, for all their cuteness and variety, are all tantamount to the same thing: Buy Shit!
The Holiday Season claims to be about family, togetherness and all that hokey Hallmark stuff. It’s not. It’s about consumption. It’s about excess. It’s about satisfying social obligations to people in various echelons in your life through that most American of practices: shopping. When it comes to showing everyone you care, what better currency is there than currency?
And here’s the terrifying part: this new American holiday of ours — this Holiday Season thing — is now crucial for maintaining our current way of life. Sales during the Holiday Season support an enormous multitude of businesses (including some that run losses the rest of the year but can afford to stay in operation due to November and December sales), businesses that in turn support enormous numbers of people and ensure, through the continued circulation of dollars in the form of consumers’ consumption, the position of economic supremacy that allows us to enjoy the cartoonishly good standard of living we all take for granted.
Isn’t it a little horrifying that if we hadn’t turned the last couple of months of the fourth financial quarter into a buying frenzy, our whole society would collapse?
The Holiday Season sure is American all right. It’s as American as a holiday could possibly be. We depend on it for our existence as much as it depends on us. And to me, it’s representative of everything that’s wrong with us as a people: our wastefulness, our easily exploitable sentimentality, our greed, and, worst of all, our failure to think critically, that oh-so-American weakness we have for blithely ignoring very troubling things because we’ve been provided shiny distractions on which to fixate.
Our addiction to consumption — of which the Christmas Season is the single most prominent symbol — ranks pretty high up there on my list of Things About America That Terrify Me, behind:
1) the fact that we haven’t dealt with global warming;
2) the corrupt political system that keeps anyone from fixing (1);
3) the overwhelming majority of people in the country whose reaction to (2) is to not vote, thereby letting the people responsible for (1) get away with it for the sake of
4) profits made available by keeping everyone addicted to consumption.
Every time I think it through, it leaves me speechless, and often blindingly angry. I have no idea what to do about it except loathe it.
How could this have come to pass? How could it be that American capitalism got a mind of its own and created (from the celebration of an irrationally generous iconoclast) this disgusting phase we’re forced to live through every year?
The Lord works, I’m told, in mysterious ways.
David Chernicoff is not a Grinch; he’s not looking to steal Christmas because he thinks it’s worthless. He should probably go buy something anyhow: There’s a War on Terror to finance.