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Music: Charlatans: Who We Touch (2010)
Sleigh bells can ring all they want, but after watching all this extra television over the past two days—all my ‘rents favorites, from Star Trek films I’ve never seen to a humongous heap of Ancient Aliens bullshittery, I’d just like to shove a string of them up into the obviously vacuous cavities of the HGTV “stars.” Even watching the nauseatingly cute kittens play on one of my mother’s favorite shows, So Cute, could not quell the seething resentment I developed today while enduring HGTV programming. Perhaps tomorrow one of Ted Turner’s cable stations will be playing Christmas Story over and over and over so that we might drown out the Syfy channel (why is it spelled that way?) and that pedagogy of envy that is dubbed “Home and Gardens Television.”
Now, because I ate too many collard greens yesterday, I found myself making like royalty as the television droned on in the neighboring room. Reaching for something to help pass the time and whatever else needed to pass, I grabbed the first rag on the rack. Mothereffer! it was HGTV Magazine. I marveled at its tantalizing cover titles: “75 GREAT GIFTS: Super easy shopping”; “fun & festive! 128 cute, clever, colorful holiday ideas”; “3 AMAZING FAMILY KITCHENS: Everyone wants to hang out here!” “Love your bed; 22 instant style tricks”—I know one: make it!—“The most popular house color?” and “Very merry ideas from the stars.” I note HGTV calls its own hand-picked show hosts “stars,” although I daresay none of us knows these folks names. (I make some up; “Canadian Eyebrows” is a guy who helps people turn their extra space into income property; “SuperQueen” is some guy who does color, but really, I’m not sure what that guy really does; and then there is Egypt—ok, I guess I do know her name).
The enticer title on the rag that effectively cooks-down HGTV’s appeal is the one about the kitchen: “Everyone wants to hang out here!” I flipped through to find the article, which I never located, but I did note the magazine is basically a catalog of things to buy; lots of pictures and prices, but very little to actually read. The logic here is buy shit, get recognition from friends, lovers, and envious others (you know, because envy is love). [Insert Fight Club‘s introductory monologue about Ikea here]. Stainless steel is not stainless steel, but the signature of a higher class-bracket too.
As I’ve noted in past years, this time of year is difficult for many of us because of falling short of the idealized “family” featured on television or roving through big box stores together, foisting their undisciplined fertility on everyone else. A number of my friends are back in Austin, “orphans” as they affectionately term themselves, hobbling together. Some are alone tonight, or will be tomorrow. I know just as many people celebrating Christmas in ways that are not represented in the national imaginary as those who are. “3 AMAZING FAMILY KITCHENS.” Because the only kitchen that is amazing has a bloodline.
As an only child, my family holidays are very small affairs . . . not a lot happens. Television happens. And cooking—some of which I do; tonight I made Brussels sprouts that did not come from a freezer bag. As I stood in the kitchen prepping the sprouts my mom mused about having our traditional, extended family gathering away from her house again at my aunt’s. The extended family used to alternate the festivities between my grandmother’s, my aunt’s, my cousin’s, and then our house. But my mom’s sister has two children, who in turn produced more children, and then those children are now producing their own children. And so my aunt has a bigger house and so many folks are already staying there.
And she has a larger, more socially and centrally located kitchen.
You see the personal subtext here, so I won’t trouble you by making it plain (and no thanks, you can keep your kids, I’m sure they’re great, really). I would only observe a similar ideology is afoot with HGTVs solutions for getting and receiving love and actually practiced holiday traditions: accumulation. More is always merrier.
And when that ideology underwrites the holiday, those who have fewer—whatever is—are forced into guilt. I’ve always thought Halloween was so joyful compared to Christmas (with the exception of those 12 and under): Halloween, a holiday about death, celebrates life; Christmas, a holiday about fertility, mourns who is missing or who failed to do X (albeit usually secretly).
We also all know that, whatever the spirit of the holiday is said to be, it’s probably better realized with a real human connection, with laughter, with the genuinely given and received hug than how expertly the flowers on the dining room table are arranged. Which is why my friends’ meetings as “orphans” in Aus-Vegas may have it more genuinely than the majority of families forging a tradition pre-packaged by the “stars” on HGTV.
Music: Ester Drang: Rocinate (2009)
Blissfully distracted with a visiting friend, I really haven’t had the time to digest the news over the past few days. My paper didn’t come today, so I turned on CNN and caught the closing segment of Candy Crowley’s program, which she described as “the rhythm of tragedy.” The segment was a montage of presidential addresses concerning shootings and mass murders over the past decade. It was powerful and disturbing because Crowley offered no framing other than the idea that president’s remarks on Friday participate in a “rhythm of tragedy”—and the montage rolled out the pattern starkly. I was struck by the phrase because of its accuracy in capturing the public performances of mourning that we have become all too familiar with: a strong, affective pattern that strikes or beats the body, a public dance of astonished helplessness followed by a refrain of nationalism.
My reaction to the rhythm over the past many years has usually been astonishment followed by irritation at the drumbeats of the mainstream media, pounding the narrative of “tragedy” into a Hollywood melodrama (usually with audio leads featuring somber French horns). I’ve been terming the MSM packaging “the maudlin machines” and it looks like I’ve been complaining and critiquing the “rhythm of tragedy” for over seven years (e.g., there’s this post about Katrina coverage, and this post about the Virginia Tech massacre . . . and a lot more). So, let me not repeat the melody, because even I have tired of my own song (you know the lyrics, the ones about gun control and mental illness). This well-wrought essay penned by the parent of a child with mental illness conveys my impulse to “action” much better and more starkly than I ever could, and I encourage folks to read it.
The fact that 20 first graders were the targets and that, apparently, each of them were shot multiple times, however, adds another layer of astonishment to this rhythm that is asynchronous. In the president’s speech on Friday, he “lost it” when describing the victims and their possible futures, tapping into an ideology of innocence and the hope of potential that most of us accept as a core tenant of adultness (“The Greatest Love of All,” you know). Not all ideologies are bad, and while the notion of “innocence” is problematic, I cling to the projection of a better life for future generations. The pain of projection here has do to with what parts of our own imaginings of the future are extinguished with the death of children. And for me, reading my friends with kids struggling over how to talk to their children about this makes . . . I don’t know, I can only grasp the cliche: it’s heart breaking.
A friend described the horror of this massacre as “unspeakable,” and I think that about hits the mark: what the fuck?” would be my most accurate sentiment as I digest the news today, slack-jawed and stupid. Unspeakable in the sense of, “what the hell can I say?” I want to say something—so I have—but that something too easily succumbs to the rhythm of tragedy, this wordy perseveration—to be critical of the media, to pound yet again on the necessity of taking mental health seriously, to do something about the easy access to weaponry (even though that would not apparently have helped in this case). The rhythm and the ampersand cover it over and up.
Peering into the rent, just for the moment, just for now, the best response just seems like I should reach out and hold someone’s hand and shut-up.