Happy Thanks McDonald’s Plastic Christmas Special

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            I’ve lost my taste for popular culture. Over the last decade as I’ve invested more time on creativity in the form of painting, photography, and writing; television has become more of a life-eater than entertainment. I’m especially torn from holiday traditions as they’ve become more dominated by selling and shopping than love, gratitude, and spirituality. Still, childhood memories around the holidays are folded into our DNA to a certain extent, so I was surprised and curious after seeing a promo for a new Muppet Christmas Special this year. I had dropped cable months before, and the chance to see something that didn’t involve political analysis, or school shootings was quite welcome. Even more surprising, it was to be hosted by Lady Gaga, the seeming queen of everything unmuppet, and I wondered if kids would be treated to her more sensitive side featuring heart-warming duets with Kermit or Animal. I didn’t have long to wait.    

            Gaga sailed into a music number right out of the gate wearing what appeared to be a twinkling bedazzler-laden bikini wrapped by a see-through cape that flew apart when she kicked at the air. This was clearly more about giving dad a boner than celebrating the holidays: have to keep that attention focused on Gaga or dear dad might bail for the football game. One thing held my interest: this clearly was a train wreck in motion, and I wondered what other blasphemous ways the writing team had come up with to make Christmas outrageous while feigning some sort of holiday cheer.

            I recalled Thanksgiving of 2012, and the same phenomenon taking over the Macy’s Day Parade. I had been unable to sleep as my wife wrestled a turkey in the early morning, so I clicked on the television to focus my thoughts. I found the parade already in progress which always held an interest for me because, one; I hadn’t watched it in years, and two; had happy memories from A Miracle on 34th street as a child. Al Roker and the Today the show staff were hamming it up as floats and dance troupes all coordinated to the second took their cues, performed perfectly rehearsed routines, then marched away in time for the next act. The floats and balloons were spotless plastic and foam formed into holiday icons that gave a holiday appearance, but just felt fakey. Hours of devotion by spirited volunteers had given way to corporate shortcuts and flash sculpting that looked oddly like real life animation. Meanwhile, Al and the gang plugged away at endorsement after endorsement to underscore the ongoing commercial. “…and after enjoying a number from the Mac-ettes, why not celebrate with an egg mcmuffin and harsh brown to get YOUR parade rolling.”  It was a barrage of pre-written, pre-rehearsed, pre-perfected, contrived, consumptive vomit. Every move, every word was choreographed into a concentrated funnel of gluttony. So where does it end? A Nativity scene with 50% off coupon dispenser screwed right into the manger? 

When reality is made so clean and tidy with no room for error, we separate ourselves from our humanity. Lip syncing, choreographed speeches, outrageous behavior going viral, million dollar bras, and double whipped caramel frappes distract us from what matters: inviting neighbors for hot cider and good conversation, using a torn up refrigerator box to sled at the local park, spontaneous caroling for fun, visiting a local retirement home to deliver good cheer to a lonely senior.

I slipped back into muppet world to find Gaga performing a number with Elton John. Elton has more hair now than he did when he was twelve, and insisted on substituting “Lady Gaga and the Jets” for his classic hit chorus. Several more numbers followed, each unrecognizable as a holiday classic, and revolved around colorful skin tight outfights and flawless sets. A couple of mock interviews were slipped in, scripted spontaneity, but played more like a quarter in a mechanical bull ride at Walmart. Then, nearing the end of the show, the real holiday tradition was revealed: the muppet special she so cherished being a part of was supporting the release of her new album. All the songs from the show were featured, and I felt Jim Henson had been stuffed in a closet.    

Lady Gaga can wear what she wants, and I’m sure she did enjoy Christmas with her family and the Muppets Christmas specials growing up, but how can we trust anyone plugging an album surrounded by contrived holiday feelings? I understand she’s under contract to promote a new record wherever possible, but shouldn’t this be revealed before we invest an hour of our lives into an album plug?  Authenticity, spirituality, and love are commodified enough already. With the Superbowl and Olympics inundated by ads, can’t we have one minute of corporate free air somewhere? School shootings, abject poverty, hopelessness, all require community now more than ever. I suggest we rethink what feeds our soul, and press the reset button.

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