Confusion Corner: ’Tis the season for a little irony

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December 4, 2009

2:22 AM

It’s that wonderful time of year again. Not too much of your past week has been wonderful, I’m sure, aside from whatever Blowout festivities you may have indulged in. You even might be reading this in the midst of pancake-related revelry, and by God, I hope you are. But once the various syrups have been drained from your system, you’ll soon realize the dreaded finals week is on the horizon. For this, I have little advice. I’d counsel you that “all things must pass,” but I, for one, know my economics professor doesn’t plan to abide by that particular truism so I’m not sure it’s too comforting.

Should you venture outside the College of William and Mary, even briefly — and I would recommend it, if only to escape whatever corner of Earl Gregg Swem Library you have cordoned off for the week — you’d quickly be overwhelmed by that other specter on the rise: There’s tinsel strewn about the New Town shrubbery; Bing Crosby is blaring from grocery store speakers; Jim Carrey is massacring your memories of some classic holiday story or another, Most chain stores have timidly termed this the “holiday season,” although I’ve always preferred Christmachanukwanzukah myself. It’s a time to celebrate, apparently.

Suddenly every department store clears out the mix of fall decor it’s had lingering for months (God knows what happens to all the gourds from Halloween and Thanksgiving). Overnight, it’s replaced with red and green banners, plastic evergreens embedded with lights; possibly a few dreidels strewn about — and everything covered in snow and syrupy sweet. And not the good kind of syrup, I’d add, like that poured over well-earned Blowout pancakes. No, more like the cloying, sludge-like, liable-to-suffocate-you-if-ingested kind. Think marmalade. And, to add insult to sugar coma induced injury, it all happens to be so perfectly situated to stimulate year-end sales you’d think the holiday was commemorating the birth of Sam Walton.

If you are more likely to gag at the thought of all the nauseating, consumer-driven good cheer, your greatest — and maybe only — weapon to combat it is the age-old one of irony. An old, floppy, ugly-as-hell reindeer hat (seriously, who doesn’t have that sitting somewhere in their garage?) will do just fine. Embrace the syrupy sweetness, if not entirely sincerely. Let it envelop you like a warm blanket, protecting you from the calculated, over-earnest Christmas cheer.

There’s something about irony that’s intensely personal, making it not only the perfect weapon against boldfaced Christmas sincerity, but also quite fragile. It’s a fact I learned harshly at the height of the “snarky T-shirt” era in middle school (full disclosure: my T-shirt phase may have extended far past my middle school years). You had a closet full of shirts, with slogans like “I’d rather be sleeping,” and you thought were clever and witty and oh-so-detached. That is until another kid in your class shows up wearing the exact same T-shirt, your illusions of wit smashed. At the time, it was crushing; irony, no matter how witty, never works on a mass-produced scale.

So imagine my horror, when walking through the Target clothing section, at seeing not only the traditional wool-knit reindeer sweaters on display, but also a set of T-shirts — the memories of snark came flooding back —printed to look like reindeer sweaters. To have put them side by side just seemed a cruel joke. It was like middle school all over again; to have what I thought was somehow mine alone, my inside joke, coldly exposed as something far less clever. There were racks upon racks of them, as if to illustrate that no matter how well constructed your ironic detachment, it can just as easily become another part of the cheesiness, just another oversized tree that stores trot out come December.

I personally felt offended. I stared at the T-shirt rack like a nun who’d just been groped. Surely, to take the one weapon I had against gumdrop-gooey “Christmas spirit” and turn it in upon itself was a low blow, even for Target. Left entirely unprotected, I feared I could not survive another winter.

But then, a beacon of hope appeared — and only from a few aisles down. A TV screen in the electronics section was playing the video from Bob Dylan’s new Christmas album. The man himself was swaggering through a Christmas party, with a slightly slanted Santa hat and a cup of some sort of nog, barreling through a polka-inspired rendition of “Must Be Santa.” The thought of Dylan, surely America’s greatest cynic, staggering through an album full of holiday standards with a barely concealed smirk, instantly revived my spirits. When I learned all the proceeds would be donated to charity, I nearly hugged the TV screen.

Committed not to give a cent to Target, I bought it online as soon as I got home. I wholeheartedly plan on playing the album nonstop all winter break. Bob understands how it is: If you’ve got to wear the Santa hat, wear it just a tad off kilter.

__Kevin Mooney wishes you a very merry, cynical holiday season this year.__

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