Sunday, December 20, 2009

Santa Claus Is Stalking You

I've been thinking about this for a while now. When my eldest daughter was just a toddler, we got all nuts about having her get her picture taken with Santa at the mall. We got her all dressed up and headed out. To make a long story short she freaked out and we didn't get the photo. I don't mean that she just squirmed and cried. She. Freaked. Out. This got me thinking, 'Why aren't more kids afraid of Santa?' Sure he represents a time of year (supposedly) filled with joy and peace and forgiveness and love, but the rest of the Santa Claus mythos is kind of disturbing when you break it down into it's individual pieces.

Think about the song 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'. This song is filled with all kinds of scary stuff. 'He know when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake, He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!' Even as an adult I find this kind of disturbing. HOW dies he know if I'm sleeping or not? HOW does he know if I've been bad or good? More importantly, what happens if I haven't been good? Basically with Santa, you've got a strange hermit who watches us all the time and holds our behaviour out as a plan to get stuff. Last July I actually heard a mother in a store tell her child that he'd better be good or Santa wouldn't come! Six months ahead of time, she was placing a veritable Sword of Damocles over the kid's head. Most disturbing of all, this guy enters our homes in the middle of the night! He sneaks in and eats our food, has a smoke (if the old Coke ads are correct) and then climbs up the chimney to escape. Talk about stranger danger!

Isn't if funny how as we get older the magic of the season and the traditions involved change. We go from looking at the whole Christmas thing as a time of wonder and magic to thinking of it as an overly commercial and stressful time that is better to just get through and then be left behind. From enjoying a song about Santa to changing it into a disturbing narration of a stalker who enters our homes at night (even if only in jest). What if we all took a page from the books that the kids are reading from at this time of year. Take the time to look at Christmas through the eyes of a child. Isn't the magic that they feel better than the dread and stress of adulthood? Sure it is. Merry Christmas Everybody!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Problem With Christmas

Ah, Christmas! The time of the year that you love, or hate, or love to hate, or hate to love. A time of spending, giving, over eating and emotional stress – and that's in the good years. What about those years when the whole season goes off the rails and nothing goes right? I have a theory why many people enter the holiday season with hope and excitement and come out the other end feeling like they have been placed in the spin cycle of the washing machine and left in a damp smelly heap on the laundry room floor. I place the blame for the raised expectations and dashed hopes of the holidays squarely on three movies. Yep, it's not really our fault at all. It's the fault, once again, of Hollywood.

These three movies are White Christmas (1954), Holiday Inn (1942), and Christmas in Connecticut (1945). These movies all have the same elements: Beautiful people, great clothing, perfectly coiffed snow banks, holiday decoration perfection and idealized happy Christmas endings. These are the reasons why people feel that something is missing. Don't get me wrong, I love these movies (even though 2 of them are musicals). I watch them every year – How can you resist Rosemary Clooney? I mean come on! But these are not the reality of Christmas as most people know it. These three movies, whether you have seen them or not, have dictated Christmas and what we expect from it for fifty years. Compared to the Christmases portrayed in these movies, none of us have a hope for the season.

For the more realistic view of Christmas I prefer the insanity of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989). Who can resist the chaos of 'an old fashioned family Christmas'. Basically everything that can go wrong does go wrong for the Griswold's and the hilarity that ensues makes most of our own Christmas misadventures look like a walk in the park. So in the hopes of giving you a guide to holiday viewing I have compiled a list (three actually) along with either a quote from the movie or a comment from me. One for 'feel good' ideal holidays. One for 'reality'. And one that will make even the worst holiday season look like paradise. Merry Christmas everyone!

The Ideal Christmas Viewing Guide

White Christmas (1954) – Rosemary Clooney, (and Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye too) 'nuff said!

Holiday Inn (1942) – Laughs brought to you by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)"Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink."

Muppet's Christmas Carol (1992) – Come on. Who can resist the Muppets?


The Reality of Christmas Viewing Guide

Christmas Vacation (1989)"I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas and we're all in misery."

A Christmas Story (1983) – Doesn't everyone want a shapely leg lamp and a pellet gun?

Home Alone (1990)"I'm gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your lying, yellow, no-good keister off my property, before I pump your guts full of lead!"


The Christmas Chaos Viewing Guide

Scrooged (1988)"You've got a program featuring America's favourite old fart. Reading a book in front of a fireplace. Now, I have to kill all of you."

Die Hard (1988)"This is agent Johnson. No, the other one."

Gremlins (1984) – When you want the perfect Christmas gift. Oh, ah… just don't get them wet!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Well it's the start of the second and final week of talks in Copenhagen on the state of the planet's environmental health and the effect we are having on our home. As usual the whole thing is almost completely off the rails with no real solution in sight. The problem, from my point of view, seems to be that there are too many people with too many differing agendas, all pushing their story.

First off, you have the environmental scientists. They of course are saying that we are on the verge of a major change and major problems in our environment and that we humans are the cause. Then there are the scientists who present a completely opposite view of the whole thing and say that the first group of scientists are fear mongering. In the third corner, we have the politicians who are blowing their own hot air (and thereby contributing to global climate change on their own). The politicians remind me of the adult figures in the Peanuts cartoons. No real substance to their talking, just a 'Wha wa wa wa Whaa wa wa wa'. In the forth corner of this drawn out fight are the protestors. They add to the general chaos of the situation but rarely add anything constructive as far as I can see from my seat here in the audience. All of these people are talking about things like climate change and carbon credits and environmental impact, but even though they might be speaking the same words, no one seems to be speaking the same language.

The first group of scientists seem to be too worried about the impact we are having on the planet, while the second group does not seem to be worried enough. Then the politicians add their brand of double speak and empty promises while the protestors are outside getting arrested for demonstrations that cause lots of noise and keep riot police busy but do little else.

I think we all need to take a step back and agree on a few things first. Firstly, is this planet important? Do we need this planet to live on in order to survive as a species? I mean, there isn't some other planet close by that we can all relocate to right? I think we can all agree that this is a firm 'yes'.

Secondly, is pollution a good or a bad thing? Is the reduction of the pollution we pump out of our cars and factories a good or bad thing? I don't know about you but I prefer to breathe clean fresh air rather than particle laced smog and I like to drink clear fresh water, rather than murky goo. So I guess that the answer to the second set of questions is another firm 'yes'.

The next set of questions need to be limited to a definite end. It is at this point that we seem to get bogged down. That being elimination of the pollution. Is living on cleaner, healthier planet worth doing something about? Is it worthwhile to begin limiting our pollution (and whatever your position, it is ours. Mother Nature did not build the chemical plants and oil refineries that dot the landscape.)? That's it. No more. It the answer to this set is a 'yes' then lets do something about it. If living on a cleaner healthier planet is worthwhile then all other concerns begin to pale in comparison. Let's do it and get on with other concerns. If not, I'm selling seats on my escape rocket ship for $1,000,000 each because it's time to leave!

Monday, December 7, 2009

‘Tis the Season for… Hyperbole

It must be the confluence of the sports world in the fall that causes it. You've got baseball ending in late October or early November. Then there's the blessedly short CFL season during the early fall ending in early November. The NFL runs through the fall into January. Finally the interminably long NHL season from basically September to June. Oh, and the PGA is in there somewhere as well. With all of the sports and over paid players and the scandals comes the grand dame of language – the hyperbole.

For those of you who might not have paid attention during English class, hyperbole is the intentional use of exaggeration. 'I hugged her a thousand times.' 'That was the best coffee in the world.' 'If you take away my cell phone I'll die.' All hyperbole. But it's not just in English class that we see hyperbole.

You hear it every day on the sports news. Athletes talking about the sports arena/field/court as a battlefield and the specific contest in question as a war. Can we not find another euphemism for this. Especially with soldiers on real battlefields fighting real wars. If the game was a close one we could say that it was a hard won victory. That the team pushed hard for the win. But a battlefield? Nope. Don't think so.

Another that I just love to hear is "We just went out there and gave 110%." No you didn't. You might have given all you had and pushed yourself to do your best but there is no way to give more than 100%. By definition 100% is eveything.

The one that got me thinking about this was something I heard the other day on the radio. The player in question said something like, "We overcame great adversity to take the win from them." Great Adversity. Not really. You played a little harder and got the ball over the goal line or the puck in the net or the ball in the basket or… whatever. You did not overcome great adversity. The people who float from Cuba to Florida, in an attempt to gain a better life, through shark infested waters in a leaky bathtub – these people overcome adversity.

To compare sports to a battlefield or to say that you overcame adversity to get another win on the tally sheet demeans the reality of what some people are doing every day. Perhaps if we put two NFL or NHL teams in leaky boats on shark infested waters and they had to play their sport in those conditions, with someone shooting at them, then I might agree with the whole adversity thing.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Call Me Old Fashioned

Well, it's early December and here we go again. As seems to happen every week for some reason, I had to make my way to the grocery store the other day. We try to be as efficient as possible when it comes to grocery shopping and running errands. We make a list of things we want to eat in the coming week and then if there is any thing else we need at other stores, we try and pick those things up on the same trip. This cuts down on the time we spend running all over town and saves some a bit on the gas budget at the same time. Neither my bride or I like shopping at the best of times anyway so there is also that as well. Instead of heading out to the store three or four times a week we try to do everything in one trip. We still have to go shopping but it's like pulling off a bandage. Just rip it off and be done with it.

On my trip the other day I was bombarded with Christmas music. Every store I went into was blasting the cheerful holiday pap at the weary customers. From what I have gathered, some stores have been doing so for a couple of weeks now. Why? Why must we torture ourselves with this stuff? If I find it hard to put up with on my few trips to the store, how on earth do the employees of the stores put up with it every day for hours on end? I used to work retail. I loved Christmas. Even when I was working. People would come into the store all panicked and sometimes surly, and I took great pride in being nice to them. Sometimes my niceness really pissed them off! I thought it kind of funny, being the season of kindness and giving and all. But while I was on shift, the seasonal cds mysteriously disappeared and then returned when my shift ended.

Now the whole Christmas consumer culture we live in drives me nuts. It's too bad that the whole 'better to give than receive' thing has turned into 'It's better to spend more money than others'. The whole Christmas gift giving scene has become out of control. With the advent of so called 'Black Friday' sales in Canada, it's only going to get worse.

Anyway, as I went to the three stores that I need to visit the other day, I heard the same sappy Christmas song in those three different stores. Why can't we slowly gear up to the full on Christmas tunes? You know, start with one or two an hour early in December and as the month progresses, increase the number of tracks and frequency of play. Then the week before Christmas play however much you want (cause I'm usually done my shopping by December 15 anyway). Perhaps next year we will do all of our Christmas shopping online, because if I hear "The Little Drummer Boy" blasting at me again this century, that little drummer boy might be the one getting 'pa rum pa pum pummelled'. Bah, Humbug!