FRONT PAGE / POSTS
by Gareth Lewis| London, UK
Thursday, 23 December 2010
tags: consumer culture, culture, europe, making sense
Santa Claus? Sandy Claws. Ebullient tubster with heaving heart? Pie scoffing Bogeyman with sinister streak. Provider of pleasure? Pleasure seeker. Daft attire? Devil wear. Hilarious hat? Horny head.
Does Santa Claus exist? A quick web trawl proves indecisive. What's clear, though, is that there are more people fighting his corner than not. Particularly convincing is Henry Gee, who suggests Santa is (duh!) a Macroscopic Quantum Object: 'Following the logic of the two-slit experiment, it is perfectly possible for Santa to visit all the good children of the world simultaneously, provided that he does so unseen. If he is spotted, his wavefunction will collapse and he will be revealed as your Dad with a comedy beard after all.'
That solves that then. But what does it really mean to ask if Santa exists? In other words, who, or what, is Santa anyway?
There seem to be two answers. One the one hand, Santa is the same poorly camouflaged portly charmer he's always been. A figure uniquely appreciative of a child's capacity for wonder. An unfailing public servant who only indirectly costs the taxpayer any money. On the other hand, Santa is increasingly depicted as something of a liability.
The skateboarding brand Bench has an outpost at the bottom of my road. This Christmas, they're offering 25% off everything in store (unless you skateboard, and are endowed with what they call 'core muscles', I'd remain seated. This discount isn't for you). The odd, highly non-sequiturial thing is the marketing of this reduction as Santa's own 'transgressive secret'.
According to Bench, we can add Santa's name to the long list of celebrities whose careers have at one point or another veered off the sleigh-rails. Mugshots of a disgraced Mr Claus blanket the shop windows. Black eye, ripped stockings, missing hat — altogether battered. 'After too much sherry, don't rely on Santa to get your presents right', reads the website. As with clowns, and Mr Whippy van-drivers, one assumes that being Father Christmas demands regular and fairly copious bouts of liquid enhancement. Maintaining such eternal merriment must be hard work.
In fact, as an aside, the notion of a deliriously plastered Santa makes some empirical sense. Fly agaric — a highly toxic kind of mushroom with mind altering properties — is routinely imbibed by grazing Lapland reindeer. Because of their size, the fungus has no negative effect on the animals whatsoever. Although in its raw state fly agaric is potentially deadly to humans, as it passes through a reindeer's urinary system it is stripped of this fatal stripe, and emerges out the other end still retaining a great deal of its hallucinogenic punch. The piss can then be safely sampled, and fun-for-all kaleidoscopic mayhem is guaranteed to follow. The kind of kaleidoscopic mayhem, you could argue, likely to bring about visions of flying reindeer…
Aside over. An impromptu quantitative guess, based on nothing other than my own sense of statistical convenience for the purposes of this article, suggests there are at least as many bad Santas as there are good ones. A recent episode of Family Guy has Santa as an anaemic, exhausted wreck presiding over a factory crammed full of in-bred Elves. Outside, radioactive, sabre-toothed reindeer lie in wait for workers who can't hack the pace. 'Christmas', they all sing, 'is killing us'.
And it doesn't end with Santa himself. This year, why not get your hands on some Alien vs. Predator crochet danglers? Would a Death Star bauble look good hanging from a shaky limb of your tree? In 2009, consumers in the UK managed to propel Rage Against the Machine's 'Killing in the Name' to the top of the Christmas singles chart. This year, a song called Liar Liar by Captain Ska, which holds a bejewelled middle finger up at the country's coalition political leadership, looks likely to find similar success. It used to be Teletubbies, X-Factor winners and, well, Love, Actually. What happened?
Sick of the sickly. Fed up with the familiar. We all got bored. Rapid commercialisation is also rabid — it spreads, neutralises, and renders redundant the energy that abounds at this time of year. That vivacity is being clawed back. It's the Christmas Spirit, but not as we know it. The human tendency towards disruption peaks when all around is soft and sparkling, shiny, precious and perfect. The antidote? Why not pour yourself a tall glass of reindeer piss? There'll be a sooty thump coming from the fireplace any day now. The source might not be quite what you had in mind. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.