Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Skyrim, Wincredible & a Brutal Cage Fight: Christmas Time in the Midwest

Three Themes of Christmas in the Midwest
The snowflakes begin to gently fall on the highway in front of me as I make me drive from St. Paul to Minnetonka for work. Today I leave a few hours early because I've got some Holiday shopping to do, and only a few days left to do it. It is always the frantic few days before Christmas when I still have all my shopping to do that I really start to get int the Christmas spirit. I even turn on the Christmas tunes in the car. On my way down I-494 I pass three huge and notable billboards. The first is:

Skyrim the billboard! For those of you unaware Skyrim is a fantasy video game that has surpassed $650 Million in retail sales. Over 10 million copies have been sold. People all across the world are entering and experiencing this massive game with dragons, werewolves and all sorts of adventures. I have forbidden myself from all time sink video games, because I have too little time as it is. I do admit to spending time learning all about the game, and being interested in it, even if I myself do not want to spend the endless time or money playing it.

The second billboard said: WINCREDIBLE! This billboard showed a very happy fellow that seemingly just won a lot of money at the casino. Mystic Lake Casino to be specific.

The third, and probably most attention getting sign of them all was a big black screen with illuminated vibrant red text advertising: BRUTAL CAGE FIGHT! It continued to tell you when and where.

Video games, Gambling and Violence! The three themes of Christmas in the Midwest apparently. Nothing festive or holiday like at all on all three billboards. Simply an invitation to enter a fake world, the illusion of winning money, or the chance to watch people bash each others face in. In an effort not to be hypocritical, I want to be clear that all three of these things I have enjoyed in my life; video games, gambling and violence. Having said that, I am still surprised and bewildered that these are the floating images in the sky during this holiday season. The billboard signs make me both sad and happy.

The Glorious Toy Isles

The huge non-holiday signs did not damper my rare holiday spirit, as I was off to get gifts for my little nephews. This meant I get to browse the toy isles. For anyone that has ever been with me in a department store knows that I have an uncontrollable urge to browse the toy isles. I do not buy much, but I love toy culture. Today, I have both an excuse to browse those isles, but also to buy things. Oh happy day.

If my shopping strategy was a little more scheduled and organized I would probably try to buy all of my gifts from local artists like sock creatures, wood carved animals or figurines made of sculpy clay. If I was really planning ahead I could make all the gifts myself. But, procrastination sends me to the mall instead. And part of me loves it. I love crowds of people, and isles of toys. I even enjoy trying to navigate the crowded isles and listening to the kids yelling: "I want that, and that and that and this!"

Just getting to browse the Star WArs toys, Hot Wheel cars, and Pokemon puts a smile on my face. It reminds me of being a kid, and I still love all these things. Even if they aren't part of my personal mythology anymore.

However, walking down the halls of the mall I have to ask the question:

When did Christmas Start to Stink?

The Christmas stink, which may actually be more appropriately called "mall stink", is the most extreme and upsetting standing between the Ambercrombie & Fitch store and the Pretzel Time store. The gas cloud of cologne mixed with the doughy smell of the pretzels is enough to turn my stomach fluids to cottage cheese. The smell fight is so disgusting I have to stop and admire the horridity (i know its not a word, but its needed here) of it all. Every single food shop is shooting their smells like missiles into the hallways trying to lasso me in as I walk by. For some reason; maybe because I rarely visit malls these days, or because each store has their scent cannons turned up to level 11, or maybe I have just become over sensitive to the smells, or maybe because all these smells are intermingling to create a nasty hybrid monster smell: everything is just gross. Good thing I can weave from one side of the hall to the other avoiding the smelliest of the shops, while on my search for the perfect toys.

Capitalism Greed
I am a abnormally fast walker to start with, and an even faster walker when I only have 60 minutes before work and a list to complete. I enjoy the tables of young teenagers laughing and flirting with each other, the families and kids traveling in packs all linked together holding hands, the kiosk worker who is flying some airplane around the mall trying to land it on the fountain, it is this hustle and bustle of the holidays that I really like. But I feel like a fraud. For those of you who know me, or read this blog: I am an activist, I am part of the Occupy movement, and I am basically a hippie (or at least hippie in training). Peace man!

The receipts that pile up in my pocket make me feel guilty. The economy is terrible, unemployment is way up, and many people have lost their homes or jobs since last Christmas. I have been fortunate enough to find work wherever I go, although underpaid and under appreciated; I still have work and a little money to spend. Wandering through this maze of capitalism that we call a mall makes me both sad and happy. To me, the American consumerism model is not a sustainable system and I know that I am pouring my hard earned money into the pockets of the 1% and not into my community where I should be putting it. I can find solace in the fact that the rest of the year I am pretty good about spending my money at farmers markets and buying from self represented artists, but during my annual holiday lapse, while fun, it is against my beliefs. I know I can do better.

Snowflakes on the Plush Doll
I rush out of the mall with a bag full of toys, I feel guilty and satisfied. I zigzag through the cars that fill up the giant mall parking lot. As I do, I notice that a perfect snowflake has landed on this tiny little plush animal. The stuffed animal has HUGE anime eyes and the snowflake sits delicately on its fur. I stop right there, almost unsure if the snowflake was real. I admire its miniature delicate beauty. It is magically perfect, and sitting completely in the center of this little creatures forehead. A third eye. As the little snowflake melts away, it seems to also melt away my anxiety for the holidays and even melt away a bit of my guilt. It reminds me of how incredible the small things are, and how little time we have to enjoy them. It makes me both sad and happy.

Happy Holidays.

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The Toymaker said...

We try to keep Christmas simple and non-stinky. Though I am always amazed at how much planning and effort goes into debugging the Christmas plans.

We don't give many gifts. I prefer to give gifts through the year. Kids are the exception.

We don't send Xmas cards. I love getting them but we don't send them.

Christmas cookies... I just bought some and they are delicious.

Our big family get togethers are potlucks. I'll go to the local Carniceria and buy beans, rice, carnitas and tortillas. There is something cool about standing in line waiting to order your stuff with the other families.

So I say pick the things you like, forget the rest. Ignore the billboards. (They'll still be there in January.) And stay far, far, far away from shopping malls.

Big hugs, MSW

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