Tonight, thank God it's them instead of you: 16 morally dubious holiday entertainments
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1. Band-Aid, "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
There's plenty of lyrical bullshit in this charity cavalcade of British pop stars—do the starving children in Africa really care if it's Christmas, or where it's snowing?—but the most egregious line comes from Bono, who should've thought twice before belting out this horrible, horrible lyric: "Well tonight, thank God it's them instead of you!" Seriously, Bono? We know you didn't write it, but if you're just screaming at the sky anyway, a sentiment more along the lines of, "Tonight, let's pray that nobody is starving" would've been much, much better.
2. Best Buy "Pierced" commercial
Ads like this quasi-satirical Best Buy spot reflect society's mixed feelings about an era dominated by spoiled teenagers. On one hand, it mocks a bratty, overindulged 13-year-old who has all the high-tech gear she could possibly want, but who still finds reason to complain because her parents refuse to let her get her bellybutton pierced. On the other, it rewards the ungrateful teen with brightly colored packages full of even more electronic doodads—just like the swag bags and attention lavished upon the Paris Hiltons of the world. Here's a cheery question to ponder this Christmas: Why do we keep trying to buy their love when they're so unworthy of it?
3. Christmas On Death Row
Get a fire crackling in the hearth, make sure Grandma's asleep in her easy chair, place gifts glistening in shiny paper under a pine tree bedecked with twinkling lights and handcrafted ornaments, then slap this motherfucker on and get your motherfucking spirit on. Masterminded by label head and convicted felon Suge Knight, the Christmas On Death Row collection is worth the price alone for its cover art (a hooded Santa Claus in ankle cuffs, surrounded by colorful gifts and strapped to an electric chair). But nothing says Christmas like Snoop Dogg's "Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto," where the Doggfather raps, "Ain't no help from no elves, just tha Dogg Pound / And we passin' out gifts, blazin' up spliffs / Christmas on the row, can you dig it?" Ho, ho, ho, yo.
4. The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus
Ever since stop-motion animation mavens Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass adapted the song "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" into a popular TV special in 1964, their company's name has been synonymous with Christmas nostalgia—even though, let's face it, some of their holiday specials have been a little dodgy. (Sure, everyone loves Heat Miser and Snow Miser, but is there anything about The Year Without A Santa Claus that makes a lick of sense? Up to and including the idea that Santa would decide to take a day off on the ONE DAY A YEAR when he has any frickin' responsibilities?!) As the '60s gave way to the '70s and then the '80s, R/B's Yuletide productions grew more and more arcane, striving to explain the origin of every Christmas tradition from stockings to snow. Santa-themed TV specials don't get much more opportunistic or outré than the 1985 adaptation of L. Frank Baum's The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus, which takes Baum's Euro-myth-ridden retelling of Santa's origin and ramps up the action for the Masters Of The Universe generation, as Claus battles troll-like creatures in order to prove his mettle to the council of Immortals who raised him from infancy. Dry, confusing, and decidedly un-Christmas-y, The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus replaces all that "Peace On Earth" jazz with "Beware my laser-shooting magic axe, evildoers!" It's ready-made for teenage pot smokers looking for a version of Kris Kringle to airbrush onto the side of their bitchen vans.
5. Lionel Playworld's commercials
Lionel Playworld didn't get to (briefly) be one of the biggest toy stores in the U.S. in the 1980s by playing softball. The company's 1987 commercial shows kids what Christmas at grandma's is supposed to be: a nonstop orgy of toy shopping! Sure, grandma is apparently a widow charged with caring for the kids while their parents have a night on the town. But that doesn't stop her can-shop spirit as her grandkids drag her through the aisles, letting Lionel Playworld turn their frown, as the insistent jingle repeats, upside down. Wait, your grandma doesn't blow wads of cash on you at Lionel Playworld? Clearly your grandma is crap.
6. Mannheim Steamroller Christmas (1984)
What possible moral could a bunch of New Age, "baroque and roll" instrumental treatments of Christmas classics like Mannheim Steamroller's multi-platinum holiday favorite have to impart? Granted, there's no explicit message on offer, but the music implies, contrary to the spirit of the season, that God hates you and has employed a New Age outfit as the vessel for his wrath. After a few listens, the twilly, mercilessly synthesized strains of "Deck The Halls" and "We Three Kings" might seem like a refreshing break from the usual earnest caroling from Nat King Cole or some pop star of the moment. But repeated exposure will lead to a bout of holiday-wrecking psychosis, if not cancer.
7. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
There are few holiday songs lovelier than the Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane-penned "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which made its debut in Vincente Minnelli's classic 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis. But as a 2006 article in Entertainment Weekly explained, the song—which is plenty melancholy in Meet Me In St. Louis—was originally much darker, basically implying that our good times are at an end, so we'd best enjoy ourselves while we can. Over the years, singers have altered the lyrics to suit their needs, making the song happier or sadder depending on the mood they're trying to convey. But in the right (or wrong) context, that doleful melody and nostalgic sentiment can still devastate, making those inclined to holiday depression practically suicidal.
8. The Santa Clause
What kind of kids' movie kills Santa Claus? The same movie that posits TV funnyman Tim Allen as a worthy replacement for the dead Kris Kringle. In The Santa Clause, Allen plays a dad too busy to understand what's really important—namely his annoying son Charlie—so what better way to learn than by accidentally scaring jolly ol' Saint Nick off your roof and killing him? Allen ends up taking Santa's place at the North Pole, teaching kids what Christmas is really all about: covering up your crime by impersonating the victim.
9. Jack Frost
In Jack Frost, Michael Keaton plays yet another dad too busy to understand what's really important—he also has an annoying son named Charlie—so what better way to learn than to die and come back as an unintentionally sinister-looking snowman? Nothing says fun for the whole family quite like the living dead. Actually, another movie named Jack Frost (released just a year before this one) applies the "man dies and comes back as a snowman" concept to the horror genre. As a family movie, it's even creepier.
10. Coca-Cola's "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" commercial
The holidays have traditionally been about peace, and in these troubled times, with unrest and lingering fears of terrorism at home and abroad, it's nice to be reminded that a 12-ounce can of caffeinated, carbonated, corn-syrupy soda was once a magical elixir that could elicit global harmony. Reverend Jim Jones had his Flavor Aid, but this beverage company saw fit to assemble a veritable rainbow coalition of international youngsters on a hilltop, holding candles, gently swaying, and singing earnestly, "I'd like to buy the world a home / Furnish it with love" and, of course, "I'd like to teach the world to sing / In perfect harmony / I'd like to buy the world a Coke / And keep it company." You have your Native American gal in perfect braids, what appears to be a geisha, and some hippie chicks, but watch for that cowboy in the denim vest, looking into the camera, adding his simple plea, "Coca-Cola." He's the only one that probably celebrates Christmas—the rest are either high as kites, or Buddhists.
11. Alvin And The Chipmunks' "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)"
The whole Chipmunks backstory has always seemed a little morally questionable: A cranky, high-strung bachelor somehow adopts three woodland creatures, teaches them to sing, then stands around bellowing at them like a madman whenever their cooperation flags even slightly. It's all uncomfortably exploitative, especially since "Dave Seville," the Chipmunks' adoptive dad, always seems on the verge of snapping and wringing some rodent necks. (Then again, who doesn't want to throttle the Chipmunks until their little buggy eyes pop out?) A lot of the creepy Seville family tension is rooted in the 1958 hit that launched The Chipmunks as a pop phenomenon: "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." In the track, Dave comes across like the world's meanest stage mom, prompting the chipmunks to sing, shrieking at Alvin for being slow to the mic, and warning him, "You were a little flat. Watch it." (That "watch it" says everything that needs to be said about the beatings about to ensue.) Then, when they want to keep singing because they're actually enjoying it, he grouchily shuts them down. Add in the song's treacly lyrics about how Christmas had better hurry up and arrive so they can stop being good, and the whole thing becomes an exercise in warped family and personal values. Dubious moral: The holidays are all about brief sanctimony and rigorous obedience.
12. Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby"
Eartha Kitt's much-covered sultry come-on to Santa sets out to be morally objectionable, in a cutesy sort of way, as Kitt mouths endearments to St. Nick while hitting him up for some big-ticket presents, starting with a sable and a new car, and working her way up from there. "There's one thing I really do need / the deed / to a platinum mine," she purrs, before moving on to demand a lot more, including "a ring—I don't mean on the phone." Does she really want to marry Santa? Is she actually into fat hairy old white dudes? Probably not. She sounds much more like an Everymistress, singing to her sugar daddy about all the things he'd better buy her if he hopes to hang onto her affections. When she points out that she's been good to him by not kissing other men all year, and that she might manage that again next year if he meets her impressively high price, the pouty greed turns into straight-up sexual barter. (If he's out of dough, presumably he'll end up stuck with the lip-synching drag queen in this classic video, instead.)
13. Victoria's Secret holiday commercials
Remember when receiving underwear for Christmas was a holiday tragedy on par with burnt cookies and lumps of coal in your stocking? Victoria's Secret somehow manages to make the gift of unmentionables seem wildly desirable, mainly by employing lots of unnecessary rhinestones, fur-lined red velour, and miles and miles of taut, tanned flesh. The slutty pink giant's yearly holiday ads blatantly mix sex with the most wholesome of family holidays, presumably in hopes of enticing shoppers to buy uncomfortable bras and sparkly lotions for their loved/lusted ones. It's crass consumerism made even crasser by the inclusion of lots of boobies and the exclusion of any emotion other than desire. Key breathy line: "Bring me… to my knees."
14. Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin, as abandoned kid Kevin, seems resourceful while fending off burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern over his Christmas vacation in 1990's Home Alone, but the little shit wouldn't last a minute in a manger. While worried mother Catherine O'Hara desperately slogs her way back toward him from Paris, Kevin finds that suburban comfort runs on autopilot—in spite of the perfunctory "missing my family" moments, he's got more than enough junk and food to keep him entertained, and mere household objects (including his brother's tarantula) turn the home into a fortress. He's even able to supply himself with an ego-bloating excess of attention in his family's absence—the writers seem to have paid the most attention to scenes in which Kevin talks to himself. "Families suck," Kevin proclaims at the beginning. If it's this easy not to miss your folks, the film proves him right.
15. BMW's "N64 Kids" commercial
It's clichéd to say that Christmas has become all about the presents. (And if the other option is "all about organized religion," presents are probably fine.) A genuinely funny 2006 BMW commercial features actual home movies of two kids going completely nuts over a Nintendo 64—the little boy screams and rubs the box—and that's all well and good, but the evil bastard who wrote the voiceover needs a little holiday moral check. "Remember when wishes came true?" he smoothly intones, as if to say, "You've grown into a cynical bastard, and the only thing that might make you feel better is if you get yourself a BMW for Christmas."
16. De Beers' "Morning Surprise" commercial
There's no space here to get into the morality of diamond-buying in general—there are plenty of books on the subject, as well as that Leo DiCaprio movie—but it's the pairing of Cat Stevens' poignant "How Can I Tell You" (sung in the commercial by Cat Power!) with a goopy diamond commercial that ups the ick factor. A song of longing and searching for the right words to express emotion is given this simple answer: "Don't describe your feelings, let these shiny rocks do that."