Friday Fun: Deus ex mistletoe
Maybe the real holiday magic is the work you avoid along the way
My favorite contemporary Christmas song begins with the lines "I'm so busy this December/ there are places I should be," and it plays on a loop in my head from Black Friday to New Year's Eve. December is one of the busiest months of the year for me at work, and it's also one of the busiest months of the year for me as a hetero-partnered parent who project manages the magic of Christmas for my household.
At the end of a long day a few weeks ago, I collapsed on the couch next to my daughter as she was watching Sugar Rush. "I don't really want to eat any of that," she commented. "I just like watching other people doing the work."
I just like watching other people doing the work. Decades of movie and television viewing snapped into focus. I had really liked Gosford Park for its visual sumptuousness and the gilded nastiness of the aristocracy, but I had also liked it for the frank depiction that living that nicely requires whopping amounts of human labor. I rarely see a makeover on a home renovation show that I'd want to live with, but the appeal of DIY blogs is seeing other people labor away at trying to make their homes better. Seeing other people work made me feel as if my own work was less invisible.
Megan Garber's fantastic piece in The Atlantic, "The Holiday-Rom-Com Fantasy Has Nothing to Do With Romance," addresses this, noting that a very real appeal of the Hallmark holiday movie genre rests in how the people in the movies reap all the benefits of expensive and time-consuming holiday labor without having to do any of it:
The films’ props, from the decorations that swathe park gazebos to the plattered cookies set on gleaming counters, serve all the festive fauvism. Those items, for one thing, are almost never discussed in terms of financial expense: Money, when it doesn’t involve the purchasing of bookstores or bakeries, is a spectral presence in these worlds. And rarely do you see the aesthetic evidence of Christmas—the trees, the wreaths—being installed. The holidays, instead, are simply there. In a scene in Hallmark’s Christmas Everlasting, Peter (Dondré Whitfield) surprises Lucy (Tatyana Ali) by bringing her a Christmas tree. Luckily for them both, there’s an empty tree stand in the living room, conveniently present for an effortless setup.
Here is where I admit that one of my favorite things to do when heckling these movies is take in the festive sets and wonder aloud, "Who has the time to put all this together?" The answer is obviously, "People who make a career out of this."
A few nights later, after another long day, my daughter and I were back on the couch and watching Decorating Disney: Holiday Magic. For 42 minutes, we watched dozens upon dozens of people work all year round on everything from growing hundreds of poinsettias to assembling giant gingerbread houses to festooning castles with millions of lights. I only regret that we didn't get to spend time watching the project management that goes into plotting out how to best deploy all that skilled labor and track the materials and times required. It was so, so gratifying seeing that professional-level Christmas requires staggering amounts of money, skill and time.
I just like watching other people doing the work.
FUN, POSSIBLY RELATED LINKS
Kathryn Jezer-Morton's "Mothers Under the Influence" newsletter is great and I think "Rootin' tootin' charcutin'," with its nicely critical look at what Instagram food spreads are really all about, fits nicely with the Disney holiday aesthetic of commodified abundance.
Then go two months back to Anne Helen Peterson's "You Do Not Need to Sell This Life Today," with an observation that is permission to nope out of any influencer's holiday content: "I think most of us can sense the moments when an experience — whether parenting, a wedding, a hike, even a meal — has been aestheticized … it feels like all the blood has been drained from the image, even if the actual saturation has been cranked up."
To start us all thinking about what happens when people don't show their work -- or don't do it at all: Meg Conley's "My Friend's Life Was Ruined* by a Magnolia Network Home Makeover." This goes into the general sketch of the show that was -- until extremely recently -- under the Chip & Joanna Gaines umbrella -- and you can read the friend's firsthand account here.
Finally, our family made a sport of trying to find holiday movies that were so patently terrible, they entered Mystery Science Theater territory. Holiday in Handcuffs (Hulu) was the clear winner but let's not sleep on A Christmas Movie Christmas (Hulu), which tries to be in on the Christmas-movie jokes but is too constrained by the genre to really follow through. Trying to appeal to a Christmas movie audience while also making fun of the very thing that audience loves makes for fascinating viewing and enjoyable heckling. If you haven't gotten around to taking down your tree yet, queue up either of these movies and do the real invisible work of the holidays -- cleaning up -- to the soundtrack of mistletoe-induced madness.