Christmas

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 70: It’s a Festivus Miracle!

episode-70-website-coverMany Christmases ago, Frank Costanza, fed up with the commercialism of Christmas and upset at how it caused him to reign blows upon another man who also wanted the same doll he was about to buy for his son, decided to create a new holiday–a Festivus for the rest of us.  In the spirit of Frank and this holiday, Michael Bailey joins me for a very special Festivus episode.

We begin by exploring the origins of Festivus, both through its appearance on Seinfeld and its real-life history …

And then carry on the traditions of the holiday with the airing of grievances, where we talk about what’s bothering us in pop culture this year as well as the feats of strength, wherein we take a look at the 1992-1993 Image Comics miniseries Brigade.

So get out the aluminum pole and get your family around the table so you can tell them all the ways you’ve disappointed them before they try to pin you because it’s time to celebrate!

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

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Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

When you care enough to send the very best

A rack of greeting cards of various categories. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Do you have any cards for granddaughter and husband?”

“Oh my God, you’re the reason we still do this,” I muttered under my breath as I scanned the rack of Christmas cards.  I’d already been there ten minutes longer than I wanted to; hell, if I’d had a choice, I wouldn’t have even gone to Hallmark to begin with.

As I get older, I’m failing to see the need for buying Christmas cards.  I’m not talking about the cards that you buy in a box or customize with a photograph or two and mail to people you haven’t seen, heard from, or spoken of in at least a decade; I’m talking about the individual cards you give along with a gift to people you are going to see on Christmas Day to whom I can say “Merry Christmas.”  Is a card really that necessary, especially when it’s going to wind up in the trash sometime before New Year’s Day?  And why, if I am complaining about having to buy Christmas cards, did I wind up dropping $34 in Hallmark?

I think it probably boils down to the idea of obligated tradition, a “We’ve always done it this way” thing for Christmas that is probably one of the few things keeping the greeting card industry afloat.  Because if you’ve actually stopped and thought about it, there are very few people who actually want to buy Christmas cards and that’s because we’re all secure in our feelings toward each other.  Unfortunately, we cater to the insecure and the manipulative, either to shut them up or avoid drama, and if you haven’t mastered the art of manipulation yet, I can confidently tell you that there are five types of people that you have to look out for.

The Indexing Continuity Freaks.  I’ve already given you a glimpse of these people at the very opening of this post, but let me go a little further in depth here.  These are the people who own accordion files where they keep greeting cards for every different type of person and every possible occasion that may be celebrated.  Is your second cousin-in-law a secretary?  Here’s a Secretary’s Day card!  Does anyone possibly celebrate Arbor Day?  She does!  Is anyone going to be able to tell that you’re giving the same card to your grandmother this year that you gave last year?  This person, of course!  Look, I understand the mentality–after all, I’ve been known to obsess over how exactly to organize my comic book collection from time to time (alphabetical by title?  Should I put all the parts of a crossover together?  Do I arrange things pre-Crisis vs. post-Crisis?)–but there’s a point where it gets ridiculous.  Not only that, but greeting card companies have been catering to these nuts for years.  I can’t look for a plain birthday card for my sister without having to sift through shelves of “sister and deadbeat boyfriend,” “sister and her 10 cats,” or “when are you going to settle down, sister” cards.

The Backhanded Complimenters.  There was a point, a few years ago, that I stopped buying mother-in-law cards.  Why?  Well, first, there were only three mother-in-law cards that existed and I’d bought all three of them (see also: Hanukkah … do stores in the South really not think that Judaism is an actual religion?); furthermore, they were all so insulting.  If I’m buying a card for someone and it has to say something inside, I’d like something nice and simple, not some screed about how tough it is to get along with your mother-in-law.  The “Daughter” and “Son” cards are just as bad.  I mean, I understand that the woman or man your son married did not spring forth from your womb, but do you really need the quotes?  Does anyone, other than the Indexing Continuity Freak, really want to open up a card and find out that they’re a sub-category or that they’re “loved?”  Even Roger Maris had his asterisk taken away, for crying out loud.

The Emotional Momenters.  You know who I’m talking about.  They’ve bought you a gift that’s very nice, but they spent more time on the card and while you open the envelope, their eyes grow with anticipation, waiting as you read the card and searching longingly for the first sign of tears.  It’s a calculated move they use every holiday and they are outright disappointed when the card doesn’t have the desired effect.  After all, they read every card in the store in order to choose the right one, so you’d better cry.  Oh, you’d better cry.  And if you don’t?  Then, cold shoulder it is!  These people are the hardest to please because not only are they looking for just the right reaction, they are examining the opening and reading of the card so closely that you have to time everything just right or they’re going to know the moment you’re faking.  There’s no way you could read a card that quickly and react like that!  I watched your face as you read slowly–you didn’t mean it!  Emotional Momenters are powderkegs of dramatic irrational crying waiting to go off, so make sure you practice.

The Comedians.  I love a good funny greeting card.  Love them.  But I can’t stand the lowbrow ones.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m, oh, I don’t know, smart, but when I’m giving my wife an amusing card for Christmas, I’d prefer not to have to have her read a card about sex acts out of a bad porno movie. Furthermore, why does every joke about Santa involve reindeer poop or yellow snow?  There is such a thing as a smart joke; can’t I get a card that tells one of those?  People who give these cards most likely will present them to you in front of people who would easily get offended by said jokes and therefore, you wind up doing that nervous laugh that says, “Okay, I see how funny this is but you obviously have no social skills or you wouldn’t have given me a card involving 50 Shades of Gray in front of my 80-year-old Born-Again Christian grandmother.”  Please … if we all stop buying poop joke cards, maybe they’ll stop making them.

The People Who Didn’t Pay Attention in English Class.  I teach high school English.  Whenever I assign a novel, the first question is, “How long is it?”  Well, either that or students open the book, look at the last page, then look at the first page and celebrate the fact that the book begins on page four instead of page one (because that makes such a difference).  These people seem to think that quantity begets quality; therefore, these people are more likely to buy greeting cards that have multiple pages of sappy sentiment, as if that makes them better than something that is simply stated.  Thankfully, I married someone who majored in English and knows better, so the two of us get simple cards–that is, if we remember to get cards at all.  I’m convinced that nobody who buys these long-winded cards actually reads said long-winded cards.  They just see a lot of words, grab the card, pay for it, get in their IROC with a “Tommy & Gina 4-Eva” license plate frame and speed off into the night.

One year, I’ll actually not buy cards at all.  I’ll rip the Band-Aid off and allow for the disappointment of “Oh, you didn’t buy cards?” to wash over me until it’s repeated enough times over enough years that people forget I ever gave anyone a card.  That won’t be this year, though, because I’m too lazy to deal.

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 41: The Pop Culture Affidavit Christmas Countdown!

Episode 41 Webpage CoverBECAUSE NOBODY DEMANDED IT, it’s time for yet another Christmas episode! And this year, I’m saving you from the barrage of crappy Christmas “classics” out there with my own TOP TWELVE COUNTDOWN of CHRISTMAS FAVORITES! Plus, a special long-distance dedication!

You can download the podcast from iTunes or listen here:  Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 41

And here, for your viewing pleasure, are the thirteen songs that I play on the countdown …

Bob Rivers, “It’s the Most Fattening Time of the Year”

Everclear, “Hating You For Christmas”

Run DMC, “Christmas in Hollis”

“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Christmas at Ground Zero”

The Kinks, “Father Christmas”

Sarah McLachlan, “Song for a Winter’s Night”

The Carpenters, “Merry Christmas, Darling”

Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”

Wham!, “Last Christmas”

Elton John, “Step Into Christmas”

The Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping”

Bob Rivers, “The Twelve Pains of Christmas”

The Pogues f/Kirsty MacColl, “Fairytale of New York”

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 5: Ho Ho Ho Yo Joe!

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 5 CoverWait, didn’t we just have an episode of this MONTHLY podcast LAST WEEK?  Well, we survived the apocalypse so it’s time to celebrate Christmas!  And what am I doing to celebrate Christmas?  Well, I’m taking a look at one of my favorite toy lines ever, G.I. Joe!

While I am also a fan of the cartoon as well as the Marvel comic book series and do mention them a couple of times, I decided to stick to the toy line.  Over the course of this episode, I talk about the my five favorite action figures, my five favorite vehicles, and five action figures and vehicles I always wished I owned but didn’t.

You can listen to the podcast here:  Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 5: Ho Ho Ho Yo Joe!

If you want information about each of the figures and vehicles covered in the episode, go to Yojoe.com.

Below the cut are the videos for the sound clips that I played throughout the episode … (more…)

The Animator War

Animator boxSo in every kid’s life there is a moment where Christmas is ruined. Okay, that’s probably being dramatic, but I definitely can say that when you find out Santa Claus isn’t real, the holiday loses a bit of its magic. Coming in slightly behind that is the Christmas when you find the presents.

Now, when you’re a little kid, the idea of Christmas is something that flat-out blows your mind on an annual basis. You write a letter to Santa, maybe even sit on the lap of a parolee playing Santa at the local second-rate shopping mall, and on the morning of December 25, there is a bacchanal of toys. You never questioned where the presents came from, nor wondered about the hours of thought and labor your parents put into procuring said gifts (let alone the money involved)—Christmas just arrived and everything was awesome. Then, around the time you were eight or nine you start hearing from some kid in your class about how he knows everything he’s getting.

I was always perplexed by this kid. I had loved the surprise that came with Christmas morning, so I never understood why he was able to get his presents early. Moreover, he seemed to be bragging about it. Was there something wrong with this kid? Did his parents not love him enough, which is why they stole the magic of Christmas from him at an early age? What he an over-privileged little twerp whose parents gave him the presents so they didn’t have to deal with him? Or, was he onto something?

This last thought didn’t occur to me until I was about ten years old and my sister and I saw a commercial for the Etch-A-Sketch Animator, which was a toy that I swear only the 1980s was capable of producing. The original recipe Etch-A-Sketch had been out for decades, and we, just like every other kid in existence, owned one. It wasn’t a favorite toy of ours or anything, just one of those things you’d play with from time to time because you came across it while you were looking for something else or because it was the only thing available when you were bored out of your mind. But the commercials for the Animator made it seem like this was not only the next level of Etch-A-Sketch, but the next level of awesome. We were both sure that it wouldn’t suffer the same fate as its ancestor.

A device with a basic black and while pixilated display, the Animator had memory for several frames upon which you would draw image after image, which you would then have the Animator play back so it looked like you had drawn a cartoon. The commercial showed a girl animating a horse running and a boy animating a guy swinging a baseball bat. Since my sister rode horses and I played little league, that’s all we needed to know. Almost immediately, we put The Animator on our Christmas lists, which probably put our parents in a precarious situation because they were not the type who would buy each of us our own toy. No, they believe in sharing.

We hated sharing as kids. We didn’t like sharing with one another. We didn’t like sharing with friends. We didn’t like sharing with kids of family friends. We didn’t like sharing with kids who we didn’t even know but whom just happened to be at the same place we were. We weren’t total selfish jerks or anything, but when you’re a kid, morals can sometimes take a backseat to wanting all of a candy bar or wanting a particular toy all to yourself. And needless to say, when we both saw The Animator on our respective Christmas lists, Nancy and I both knew that we would be fighting over the one Animator that would be opened on Christmas Day.

And then came the day we found it.

I can’t remember if we were actively looking for our Christmas presents, or if we came across them by accident, but one day we were in the basement and in the back of my dad’s workshop we found a large lawn and leaf bag that bulged irregularly. We approached it with caution, pulled back the edge and saw two things—the puzzle toy known as Rubik’s Magic Rings, and The Etch-A-Sketch Animator.

From there, it was on. Each of us assumed that we’d be the one the Animator was meant for, so we proceeded to threaten one another with it. If my sister wouldn’t share the last donut with me, I’d say, “You eat that whole donut and I won’t let you play with my Animator.” If I wouldn’t let you watch a show or movie she wanted to watch, she would say, “If you don’t let me watch this, I won’t let you play with my Animator.”

AnimatorNow, you’d think that my parents would have liked the newfound cooperation that came with this—after all, we were sort of not being selfish toward one another—but hearing that the sharing and unselfishness came through blackmail, they obviously figured out something was up. Plus, it didn’t help that Nancy couldn’t, and still really can’t keep a secret to save her life and wound up blabbing about our finding the Christmas present to my parents. I can’t remember if my parents punished the two of us or if it went beyond a conversation wherein they told us they were disappointed in us.

That disappointment definitely registered, although the vocal threats continued because despite knowing there was an Animator in the house, we still didn’t know who it was for; moreover, to my parents’ credit, they didn’t retaliate by giving us the presents early or simply placing them under the tree unwrapped. It went under the tree as planned and on Christmas morning, my sister unwrapped the Animator.

Being ten years old, I probably was not able to mask my disappointment. I knew that I would get to play with the toy—like I said, sharing was house policy—but I was disappointed because she had won. I did not get the prize and I would be forced to be at the mercy of someone else for black and white pixilated animation fun.

Okay, that’s totally melodramatic because Nancy was never that diabolical.

We had our fair share of fun with The Animator. Sometimes we created the animations that were in the instruction book and sometimes we had fun making words appear and disappear, but most of the time my friends and I would animate a hand giving the middle finger. That, in our minds, was using the toy to its fullest potential. Predictably, after a year or two, it wound up being lost to the back of the toy closet as we got interested in other things and eventually was either donated or sold at a yard sale when we were teenagers.

As for Christmas, I’d like to say that this was the moment that changed everything, but it really wasn’t. Oh sure, I’d spend the next few Novembers and Decembers sneaking around to find presents, but for the most part, we had the same sort of Christmas morning. But gradually, the element of surprise dwindled as my parents began a tradition of taking us to the mall on Black Friday (this was before Black Friday became a spectacle of animal-level greed and trampling deaths) to buy clothes that would go under the tree on Christmas Day, something which seemed to always cause my mother to sigh, “Oh well, no surprises this Christmas.” But I honesty never felt that whatever Christmas was about was ever ruined.

Ho Ho Ho, Ha Ha Ha!

My car is quite possibly the most annoying place to be during the month of December.  That’s because I listen to Christmas music almost non-stop.  I have an entire CD wallet full of CDs that I bust out between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a preset on Sirius for holiday music.  Now, this may seem like a far way to go to listen to the sounds of the season, especially when there is a regular radio station that plays non-stop Christmas music, but the station near me plays a pretty bad selection.  Everything on Z-95.1 is too inspirational or the same bad Sinatra (or Sinatra impersonator’s) rendition of an otherwise okay song.

Especially missing is the humor.  Oh sure, they’ll play “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and some stay-at-home mom with the fashion sense of an elementary school art teacher will call in a request for “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” but those songs aren’t very good and even if I did like them, it’s not worth listening to Dan Fogelberg to get to them.

When I was younger, the local deejays would run the occasional Christmas song and not a 24-7 holiday barrage that we have now, and while they played their fair share of traditional Christmas tunes, some of the rock stations (I was particularly attached to WBAB, the classic rock station that was one of the very few my radio actually picked up) would find the time to play something out of the ordinary.  WBAB is the reason I’m so familiar with The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” and The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” but it’s also the reason I am familiar with Bob Rivers’ Twisted Christmas tunes and other warped material.

So, if you are being forced to suffer through little brats singing about hippos, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra playing the caroling of bells as if it has explosions, or versions of “Do You Hear What I Hear” that are so epic you expect to hear Gandalf shout “You shall not pass!”, may I present five songs that will provide some relief. (more…)

Toast to Innocence

[A quick note:  this is actually something that I posted on an old blog of mine about four years ago; I decided to repost it here because while I was getting a post ready on Christmas songs, I remembered this and thought it was worth the repost.  I’ll have another, all-new post before the weekend.]

So I’m driving to the most depressing Food Lion on the face of the earth and I have Z 95.1, our local “Lite Rock” station on because they’re the greater Charlottesville area’s source for “All Christmas, All the Time” every holiday season and I hear that song about drinking a toast to innocence. Turns out it’s “Same Old Lang Syne” by soft rock god Dan Folgelberg. I don’t know why it’s on the holiday playlist but someone out there likes it.

Anyway, it’s been going through my head and while this particular commentary had me laughing my ass off, I still couldn’t help but look up the lyrics to break them down. And analyze them. Because it’s what I do best, right?

Same Old Lang Syne

Okay, so by looking at the title, I can see where this might fit into the holidays because “Old Lang Syne” is the song sung at New Year’s, and the phrase, according to Wikipedia, means … literally as “old long since”, or “long long ago” or “days gone by”. So perhaps there is some theme of reminiscing of days gone by or remembering things from long ago, which is what you tend to get from your average soft rock song.

Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
I stole behind her in the frozen foods and I touched her on the sleeve
She didn’t recognize the face at first but then her eyes flew open wide
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse
And we laughed until we cried

So we start out in a grocery store. The guy’s shopping for some peas or something like that, which is pretty interesting considering that the guy in the song is supposed to be Fogelberg himself and at he was a pretty successful musician in his day. But people have to eat, so maybe he was standing in Waldbaum’s in his leisure suit with a wide-collared shirt, gold chains and classic soft rock beard looking over a shopping list going, “Okay, got the chicken and the Potato Buds. They were out of cheddar, so I got swiss cheese. Shit, I forgot the paper towels. Oh well, I’ll get them on my way toward the register.”

He’s doing his shopping and he sees and old flame. But not just any old flame. A LOVER. You’ve gotta emphasize the word LOVER because it is quite possibly one of the dumbest words ever. There are only two ways I can accept the use of the word LOVER. The first is if you’re talking about someone you are screwing around on your wife with. That’s technically a LOVER. The second is if you’re Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch in that SNL sketch where they play that creepy couple who says “My Lover” a lot. (more…)