Christmas Season: Nasty, Brutish, and Short

I’ve decided not to do Holiday Horrors this year, as I feel I may have mined that territory too thoroughly to do a post every day from now until December 25. (I will have another holiday feature, though; more on that soon.) However, I couldn’t let the Yuletide pass without commenting on one horror I’ve noticed in the recent spate of Christmas commercials. To wit: Competitive asshole shoppers.

I have this self imposed rule that I try not to swear in my posts, at least not in the first paragraph, because it’s a lazy way to get laughs or attention. However, there really is no other word to use in this case. The people in these commercials are straight-up assholes. They are horrible human beings, and seeing them in holiday ads depresses me almost beyond reckoning.

I think we can all agree that times are tough, and don’t look to be getting any less tough any time soon. One would think this would inspire us all to appreciate what we have and not be obsessed with the accumulation of material goods and, in general, try and not be jerks to one another.

Maybe I’m just a cockeyed optimist, but I do think most people recognize this and genuinely try to conduct their lives in a non-hideous way (maniac pepper sprayers notwithstanding). You wouldn’t know that from watching TV this Christmas season, however, because it is filled with wall-to-wall sociopaths.

The most baffling, in terms of the source, are the ads for Wal-Mart. In keeping with their traditional Middle American roots/image, Wal-Mart ads tend to be aggressively small-c conservative. The first hint of a change in the weather came a few weeks before Thanksgiving, when commercials began to air that featured goofy, distracted shoppers being informed of things like layaway and price guarantees by helpful employees. The shoppers were invariably played to brassy, over-the-top comedic effect (like the mom miming her kids saying “awesome!”). Not exactly the Old Spice spots, but by Wal-Mart standards, a tad out of character.

Then, post-Thanksgiving, we got something on the next level. It’s a commercial that features a shopper handing her Christmas list to a Wal-Mart employee. She asks him to read it to her. He informs the shopper that he can’t do that everything is crossed out. “That’s because I’m done,” she says, then makes a triumphant noise more or less in the employee’s face.

Why is this woman taunting this employee about how much stuff she got for Christmas? This man makes minimum wage (since pretty much everyone who works at Wal-Mart does), so presumably he does not have anywhere near the same amount of shopping power, which makes the shopper’s act just cruel. Also, this man threw no obstacles in the path of her shopping experience. If anything, his capacity as an employee helped her. The theme of the ad makes no sense unless there’s missing backstory about his nefarious plot to impede her shopping experience and steal Christmas or something.

This weird, needless competitiveness reminds me of a little kid who challenges you to a race then immediately takes off and declares victory once he’s crossed the imaginary finish line. Perhaps in the cutthroat world of brick-and-mortar retail, where every store is fighting for survival against online shopping, everything is a competition. Whether you know it or not, you are competing against everyone, even that poor slob who’s making $6 an hour and just wants to see if you need some help getting that huge tub of popcorn into your car.

To see this idea taken to its truly psychotic conclusion, however, you must see the Best Buy ads in which people talk smack to Santa. There are a few variations on this theme, but what happens in all of them is this: A family has purchased so many things at Best Buy that when Kris Kringle arrives, he sees the space beneath the Christmas tree is completely filled with presents. Then, he finds himself face to face with a mom who basically shit-talks him about getting there late or having a lame haul. Then Mom stalks out of room like she just laid down some mind-blowing rhyme and dropped a live mic on the stage. Boo-ya, you right jolly old elf.

Let’s put aside the fact that this brings up the thorny issue of who really brings presents to your house; personally, I’m of the opinion that if you’re gonna tell your kids some fairy tale story, it’s not everyone else’s job to enable that fantasy. If nothing else, Santa Claus is a symbol of altruistic gift giving, a figure who exemplifies the trope that ’tis better to give than to receive.

In Best Buy’s world, however, it is best of all to give more than someone else can, then rub it in the face of that someone, even if that someone is a paragon of selflessness and childlike wonder. This commercial says doing your holiday shopping at Best Buy will fill you with so much godlike hubris that you will flip the bird to Joy Itself.

I wonder if this is a product of Reality Show Culture, where literally every mundane profession or hobby now has its own competition-based tournament show. So how long before shopping is also considered competition, a game in which foes are vanquished? (It already is, in a way, on Extreme Couponers.)

Or maybe it’s a reflection of the neo-Ayn-Rand-ian POV you see displayed at any of the Republican presidential debates, which essentially boils down to: I got mine, I don’t care if anyone else gets theirs, and fuck anyone who stands in my way. I fear this is a subconscious preparation for the kill-or-be-killed economic reality we may wind up in, that we all secretly fear we will soon be fighting over crusts of bread and shoe leather.

Or maybe it’s just a sign that he people in charge of Wal-Mart and Best Buy are hideous animals who believe in the most base aspects of human nature. I’ll pick this last option, so I can continue to sleep at night.