Archive for holidays

Love for sale

Posted in pop culture with tags on February 13, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

heart1If you’ve been anywhere near a store or watched more than five minutes of television in the past month and a half, you should be aware that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.  It’s kind of hard to escape it at this point, as its status has been raised over the years to a gift giving holiday not terribly far removed from Christmas, and certainly of a higher level than, say, Easter or Arbor Day.  While shopping at a department store for last minute items a week before this past Christmas, I was genuinely startled to see several racks of candy boxes and stuffed animals, decked out in the familiar pink and red colors of February 14th.  Unless you’re intending to propose to someone, I didn’t think that Valentine’s Day was a holiday you planned for, certainly not two months in advance.  And yet, there you have it, on December 26th begins the non-stop jewelry store commercials and recommendations for the best way to show your significant other you care, preferably with material items.  Didn’t I just do this? you may lament.  Well, yes, but hopefully you have a spare seventeen cents or so left over, because it’s time to do it again.

Before I go on, let me clarify: I have nothing against Valentine’s Day.  I have nothing for it, either.  I’ve never been one to make a particularly big deal out of it, and needless to say my partners have been grateful for it.  It’s amusing to me to think back to when we were kids, and the most stress Valentine’s Day caused was from wondering if you were going to get as many of those little fold-up cards (which usually had pictures of Yoda and the words MY VALENTINE, YOU WILL BE on them) as you gave to your classmates.   It’s a whole new ballgame when you’re an adult, however: according to advertisers and magazines like Cosmopolitan, February 14th might be the most important date of the year for most couples.  It’s become a competition for men and women over who can give and receive the most ostentatious displays of affection, preferably presented in front of one’s co-workers.  To me there always seems to be something a little heartless about sending flowers or balloons to a partner at work, particularly on Valentine’s Day, knowing full well that many of said partner’s co-workers are unhappily single or in failing relationships.  Unless I seriously disliked them, I wouldn’t want even inadvertently to contribute to someone spending the holiday power-eating a pint of Chubby Hubby while watching Sleepless in Seattle through a haze of tears.  Then again, I don’t understand people who propose to their partners in front of a bunch of strangers at a restaurant, or, God forbid, by using a JumboTron.  I may be old-fashioned, but I believe gestures of affection and expressions of love should be kept at an intimate level, without inflicting it on others, much in the same way as pregnant women force everyone to look at their ultrasound photos.

At the same time, however, it’s also become hip to speak out about how much you hate Valentine’s Day, how it’s a bourgeois concept that is built upon outdated stereotypes in which men have to constantly prove to their partners that they love them, preferably with expensive, useless gifts.  These people take sport in pissing on everyone’s parties and sneering at their fumbling attempts to express their love for someone.  They’re usually the same type of people who will claim that they haven’t experienced a single emotion other than bitterness and cynicism since around 2003.  They are exceedingly annoying.  However, I will agree that I don’t think it’s entirely fair that most of the pressure is put on men to pony up the cash for candy, flowers and jewelry, while women usually aren’t expected to do more than perhaps give a card and a pair of novelty boxer shorts.  I’ll also agree that you won’t see a selection of more pointless, silly gifts to give someone than you will at Valentine’s Day.  You thought that Billy Mays shouting at you that the Big City Slider Station would make a great Christmas gift was bad? Check out some of the offerings available to present to someone that you purport to “love”:

~~Candy boxes with pictures of NASCAR drivers on them.

~~An Agent Provocateur strip poker game.  Good etiquette deems that you don’t give a gift to someone that is ultimately a gift for you.

~~You and your partner’s heads superimposed on a famous piece of artwork.  God, please, no.

~~a figurine of a nun holding a personalized heart, accompanied by a card proclaiming the recipient of the gift to be “God’s Valentine.”

~~a heart-shaped anal wand.  In fact, a good rule of thumb is never give anyone a gift that has the word “anal” in its name.

~~an acrylic ‘#1’ trophy.  Though it may come in handy during the inevitable breakup fight that will follow.

~~a “Jizzie Lizzie” candy, a piece of chocolate shaped to look like a vagina with strategically placed spurts of white chocolate covering it.  I just don’t even know where to begin.  No, I do: just avoid the Chocolate Fantasies website altogether.

~~a bag of metal tokens reading ‘Good for One Hug’ and ‘Love Token.’ Has anyone ever given someone a gift like this and not have it end up unused in the bottom of a bedside table drawer? No, that’s never happened, because no one wants to give their partner a token for a hug like they’re riding the fucking subway or something.

~~a candy penis bouquet.  The heart-shaped tag is a nice touch, don’t you think? What does one write on a tag when presenting someone with such a thing? I eagerly await your answers.

See, this is what happens when people try to get creative with their gifts.  These aren’t presents you give someone you love, these are presents you give someone if you get off on watching people try to grimace their way through one of the most awkward moments of their life.  The “Jizzie Lizzie,” that’s something you give if you’re looking to get a restraining order put against you.  Chocolates and flowers might not be original, but at least they won’t earn you a place on anyone’s ‘Creeps to Watch Out For’ list.

Instead of worrying yourself into an ulcer over the “perfect” Valentine’s gift (which, I must reiterate, will never be a heart-shaped anal wand), here’s a novel idea: why not ask your partner what he or she wants? I realize that’s an unpopular solution, that men are expected to just sort of figure out on their own what are appropriate gifts, but it saves on quite a few embarrassing moments, such as faking a lighthearted discussion over where they’re going to put the “#1” trophy (because just blurting out “in the trash” would be rude).  One wonders if the companies that shill these items know they’re terrible gifts, and are having a little sadistic fun at the buyers’ expenses.

Don’t give in to the pressure, folks.  Either ask your partner what they want (though it’s probably a little late for this year) or go with the classics.  Your partner shouldn’t be weighing your relationship against the cost of the gifts you give them anyway.  Have a happy Valentine’s Day.  For the rest of you, Happy Saturday.

Hey there, Mr. Hinduist!

Posted in current events with tags , on December 3, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

hankeyxmas Just when you thought we as a collective nation had bigger things to worry about this holiday season, new lines have been drawn in the artificial snow over the mythical “War on Christmas.”  For those of you who tend to avoid watching or reading about such nonsense, the “War on Christmas” is a made-up conflict created by people like James Dobson and Bill O’Reilly, who are convinced that liberal atheists are trying to take the “Christ” out of Christmas by forcing Americans to acknowledge that there are other holidays celebrated in December.  This year, Dobson’s Christian watchdog group “Focus on the Family” has released a report card of sorts rating retail chains on their recognition that Christmas is the only holiday that matters, rating such stores as Banana Republic and Old Navy as “Christmas offensive” (meaning the word isn’t used is all), Best Buy and Toys R Us as “Christmas negligent” (meaning the word is usually occasionally but not enough for their liking) and Target and Wal-Mart as “Christmas friendly” (you get the idea).  Focus on the Family rather unconvincingly insists the report isn’t meant to encourage boycotts; apparently it’s just to let you know the best places to go if you want to hear “Merry Christmas” repeated ad infinitum by surly, underpaid cashiers.

Utah Senator Chris Buttars wants to go one step further by passing a state resolution that would make it mandatory for retailers to use ‘Merry Christmas’ as a greeting to customers.

”I’m sick of the Christmas wars,” Buttars told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We’re a Christian nation and ought to use the word.”

You know, I always wonder how people make it all the way to Congress seemingly without possessing the smallest crumb of knowledge of the Constitution, or really American history in general.  You say “melting pot” to these people and they think “fondue restaurant,” and probably a faggy French fondue restaurant at that.  Not only do they know nothing about American history, they also know nothing about the history of Christmas itself.  There is absolutely no historical evidence that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th, that particular date was chosen by the Romans to coincide with the Winter Solstice.  This isn’t a recent development, Isaac Newton was the first to suggest the connection to the Solstice.  The celebration of Christmas as we know it, with Christmas trees (originally a pagan symbol, by the way) and Santa Claus, didn’t begin until the 19th century; in fact it wasn’t even declared a federal holiday until 1870.  Hanukkah, which does actually have basis in Biblical history, had already been celebrated several centuries prior.  How Christmas went from being essentially a made-up holiday to the only holiday Americans should be celebrating in December is truly baffling.

However, though less vocal the individuals who don’t like being told to have a Merry Christmas by retailers are equally annoying.

In another city, at another mall, wherever Michelle Hesse encountered Christmas music or “Merry Christmas” greetings at certain stores, she privately cringed and vowed not to return.

“I just oppose people saying that their God is better or the only one. And I get that mostly at Christmas,” said Hesse, a stay-at-home mom from Lake Charles, La. “I have noticed (I get) looks when I do not reply with ‘Merry Christmas.’”

My guess is that she’s getting looks because she’s being a rude asshole, no better than Erin Nash, who claims she “challenges” cashiers to reply to her ‘Merry Christmas’ greetings and questions them about their employers’ holiday policies (and who also feels the need to mention that her husband is serving in Iraq, even though it doesn’t have a goddamn thing to do with how stores choose to handle the winter buying season).  Funny, I didn’t know that wishing someone a Merry Christmas is forcing your religion on them, much in the same way that wishing them “Season’s Greetings” is like telling them God is dead.  Then again, I don’t expect much from cashiers, if they can raise their voices over a mutter to say “Thank you” or “Have a nice day” I’m impressed.  I’m not making fun of cashiers, mind you, I’ve done my time in Retail Hell and know what a thankless, miserable job it can be, even without having to worry about offending someone with an innocuous, largely empty greeting.  I had no vested interest in my customers actually having a happy holiday, as with most people I expect it’s something you say when you want to sound polite, and while it’s nice to hear as a customer I suspect that if immediately after leaving the store I was hit by a bus and killed, Randy at Best Buy’s life wouldn’t be any poorer for it.

Perhaps my belief that, even during the holidays, the customer-clerk relationship is brief and meaningless, its sole purpose being exchanging monies for goods or services rather than spreading goodwill, is cynical.  I certainly don’t have the time or the interest in keeping mental checklists of what stores use which greetings, and I wonder how blissfully bereft of real problems the lives of people who do must be.  I’m not religious, but the religion I don’t practice is Catholicism, so I can go either way with the greetings.  You want to wish me a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule, go right ahead, I’ll accept all the good tidings I can get.  Granted, wishing me a ‘Happy Festivus’ might result in an eyeroll from me, but that’s mainly because I’m not a fan of Seinfeld, and again, making a point of finding every opportunity to mention how much you don’t celebrate the holidays rates about as high on the Obnoxious-o-meter as mentioning how much you do.

In the spirit of hypocrisy and self-contradiction unique to Americans, cries of discrimination and oppression are taken out on those least equipped to do anything about it.  Clearly, the best way to get your message across about the “proper” holiday greeting is by either ignoring or berating a teenager pulling in $7 per hour until they get it right.  What’s so fucking hard about just saying “Thank you” or “You too” and walking away? I wish a real, tangible Santa Claus really did exist, so he could bestow upon these people lumps of coal, as well as gaily colored Christmas socks they can cram in their damn mouths.

Yule love it!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 21, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

Cue the “OMGWTFHOLYSHITREALLY??!!1!” gnashing and wailing as I remind you that it’s now less than a week before Thanksgiving.  I had originally planned to get preachy on your asses by encouraging you to remember those who are without homes, food or companionship for the holiday by taking part in canned food drives or meal service, but I’m not in the mood for finger waving.  Instead, I’ll just post a fun link to Wired‘s 10 Unconventional Winter Holiday Movies list.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas themed movies, as they tend to be uneasy combinations of slapstick humor and mawkish sentimentality.  Movies like Deck the Halls and Christmas With the Kranks involve a bunch of insufferable schmucks who are forcibly taught the meaning of holiday spirit by people who are somehow even more insufferable than they are, and it’s supposed to leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy about it afterwards.  The last Christmas movie I saw in a theater was 2007’s Fred Claus, with normally respected actors Paul Giamatti and Kevin Spacey stumbling around in the type of film that normally stars Tim Allen or Tom Arnold (Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, seems to enjoy the genre, as evidenced by the upcoming Four Christmases, which doesn’t look any better).  In my defense, I didn’t pay for my own ticket, but again, same formula: after a series of plot contrivances it’s up to a miserable bastard to “save Christmas,” only this time he has to save Christmas for the entire world! Ho ho ho, indeed!

True, “miserable bastard redeemed by the holiday spirit” is the crux of the most classic Christmas story of all, but Dickens managed to write it with a minimum of crotch-punching elves, and it still works pretty well today.  The limited number of Christmas movies I do enjoy tend to be on the traditional side.  They may not count as movies, but I’ll never get tired of the Grinch or Charlie Brown’s sad, droopy little tree.  It’s a Wonderful Life may feel like it’s four hours long, but two key scenes–when little George Banks cries after getting his bad ear boxed and the last ten minutes–never fail to make me feel like there’s something in my eye.  The 1951 version of A Christmas Carol captures the story’s themes of hope and redemption perfectly.  And yeah, it’s all but ubiquitous now, but I love, really love A Christmas Story, loved it long before TNT started running it in 24-hour marathons, can quote entire scenes of dialogue from it (the Old Man’s incomprehensible swearing is always fun to mimic) and usually try to watch it at least once per year.  It’s pretty much the perfect holiday movie, touching without being sappy and funny without resorting to toilet humor.  As far as less conventional fare, my second favorite “modern” Christmas movie is Scrooged, arguably the best updated theme on A Christmas Carol, followed by the absurdist National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which is really only funny to those of us who actually have relatives that would empty out the septic tanks of their RVs in front of our homes.

That being said, Wired actually did pretty well with their list, even the lovably goofy Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  I always forget that Die Hard counts as a holiday movie; as with Gremlins it’s a movie that takes place at Christmas without actually being about Christmas.  Still, if nothing else it deserves mention for featuring Run-DMC’s ‘Christmas in Hollis,’ one of my top ten favorite holiday songs, on the soundtrack.  I’m also glad they remembered to include the hilarious The Hebrew Hammer, one of only two movies about Hanukkah, the other being Adam Sandler’s animated abomination Eight Crazy Nights.  I’d argue that The Nightmare Before Christmas toes the line between being a Halloween themed movie and a Christmas themed movie, but since I can watch it pretty much any time of the year it doesn’t really matter.  Commenters make a few other good suggestions, such as Edward Scissorhands, Trading Places and Lethal Weapon, not to mention a couple that wouldn’t have even occurred to me, like Better Off Dead and 1941.  I was also glad to see quite a few mentions of The Ref, a holiday movie that’s black as a lump of coal.  Kevin Spacey, long before Fred Claus, and Judy Davis are an estranged couple held hostage by Denis Leary, yet are less concerned with that than with getting through yet another interminable Christmas dinner with Spacey’s horrible family.  The Ref works because its humor hits uncomfortably close to the bone for a lot of the viewers, Yr. Pal included.  Its characterizations are sharp without resorting to stereotypes: everybody knows at least one member of their family who resembles someone in this film, whether it’s Spacey’s passive-aggressive sister-in-law or his arrogant, self-martyring mother who gives gifts less out of love than as yet another way to keep her family in her thrall.  By the end of the film no one has been redeemed, no one has been taught the true meaning of Christmas, the best thing that happens is that Spacey and Davis discover that one step towards saving their marriage is Spacey cutting his apron strings.  Perhaps next Christmas will be a better one for them.

Before you blow off part of your hand with a cherry bomb

Posted in current events with tags on July 4, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

Happy Fourth of July. Here’s some holiday-appropriate reading: The Top 10 Most Awesomely Bad Moments of the Bush Presidency.

If you need to be reminded why you’re roasting wienies and watching explosions in the sky, go here. And don’t forget to wear your sunblock.

Because Hallmark doesn’t make a ‘Happy Father’s Day, you miserable prick’ card

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 15, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

PostSecret celebrates Father’s Day in its own inimitable fashion.