|The Gift of the Magi (Made in China)
||[Jan. 5th, 2009|11:24 am]
The Gift of the Magi (Made in China)|
While watching Futurama on Comedy Central a few days before Christmas I witnessed a commercial for Kmart where two parents were happily watching their children open up several lavish gifts including Lego Star Wars kits, miniaturized vehicles you can ride in, and Hannah Montana clothes. The father then has a brief dose of reality and leans over to the mother to ask how much it all costs, establishing the gender role of the male as the money maker and the female as the money spender. Looking at the father as if he just asked her if he was still the king of the castle, the mother gleefully whispered, “Don’t worry, I bought them at Kmart.” The father then resumed his buzz as the family looked richer but became poorer.
I had to laugh at the commercial. What kind of superficial ad was this? It was so cheesy and corny that I couldn’t believe any respectful retailer would run such an ad. While my employer, Wal-Mart, does employ some cliché ads appealing to the inner cheap patriotism in us all, they would never stoop THAT low now would they?
As if on cue, a Wal-Mart ad appeared with some kids sneaking past their parent’s room to get to see Santa Claus and, more importantly, get their presents early. Their covert operation into friendly territory is blown when mother appears through her door with a smile, ruining their reconnaissance and sending the children in a full French advance (retreat). The mother then contemplates that she got them everything and got it cheap because she got the presents at Wal-Mart.
OK, so maybe all retailers resort to such corny appeals to our wallets… that and copy each others advertisements.
While the cheesiness of the ads and the potential copyright issues made me cringe, what disturbed me more was how both box stores portray gift giving. While the parents were happy that their children were gleeful at the gifts they’ll play with for one day and get bored of the next, they seemed more proud of the fact that they bought them cheaper than the rest of who shop at the same store (“NO ONE CAN ESCAPE THE WAL-MART!! Mwu’hahahahahahaha!!”).
This is somewhat true of us as a society. Many of us are more concerned with how much we spent than how our loved ones feel about the presents we got them; however, most people brag about how much they spent and not how little. Let’s face it, does anyone honestly think an 11-year-old girl goes to school sporting the newest Hannah Montana backpack and matching shirt, then brags that her parents spent $5 less than the others? Or perhaps a wife goes to her inner-circle of ‘friends’, shows off the diamond jewelry the husband bought her and then brags he got them 25% off at Zales on Christmas Eve? Yeah, right.
And if you think I’m being misogynistic, guys do this too although we never graduated to jewelry and clothes, our toys just graduated into more electrical and motorized ones. Men love neat things and stuff that they can show off, especially if it came from Sharper Image, Best Buy, or from some random website from Japan they had translated. Men will take their newest toys to the office and wait for most opportune moment to show it off whether it is an automatic back massaging office chair, a self-heated coffee mug, or an ink pen that also has an LED so you can find all the cheek marks on the copy machine. Let us not forget the global positioning satellite (GPS). That’s the device that tells the user where they are at all times despite the fact that not only do males know their current location (regardless if they do or not) but refuse to take directions from a box whose female voice resembles that of another nagging one husbands are all-too familiar with.
So both genders have immersed themselves into the gift receiving and not the gift giving. We all have heard this notion before almost as much as we’ve heard of the dangers of smoking, drinking and trans-fatty acids; however, like that we ignore it all the same and perpetuate the trend further. This year on the Day After Thanksgiving Sale, which we notoriously labeled “Black Friday,” one of our own was killed in New York because customers trampled him to get to a plasma screen. This is what we have reduced ourselves to, all in the name of gift giving during our treasured season of thanks and rejoicing.
Even so, I am not here to lecture you all any further than that. As stated in the previous paragraph, we’ve all heard the same message of give because it is nice lesson from just about everyone. We’ve all read the editorials, seen the pundits on television shriek at what happened to that one Wal-Mart employee, and heard the criticism from ‘proletariats’ Sean Penn, Hugo Chavez and other rich people saying giving more is “patriotic” but won’t give any more themselves. What I am typing for you today is a radical idea that my Mom and I came up with this morning that I’d like to market to everyone.
Some say gift giving came from the original nativity scene where the three (we assume three) wise men gave baby Jesus and his parents three practical gifts to assist him with his upbringing. Theological and historical discourse aside, the presents from the wise men, or the “gift of the magi” as coined by O. Henry in 1906, represents one of the most fundamental and morally pure examples of gift giving. The wise men traveled far, their origins unknown although historians and theologians suspect Persia, to give someone they barely knew, expensive gifts that he would need and got nothing in return for their kindness other than the thanks of Mary and Joseph.
Now, the three gifts remind me of a famous book written by Catherine Ryan Hyde in 2000 called “Pay it Forward.” In Ryan’s novel, a boy named Trevor did amazing things for three different people and only asked that they pass the kindness on to three other people, who in turn would pass it on to three others and so forth. The whole premise is to pass on kindness for the sake of doing so and hoping it will become contagious. Similar to the message of gift giving, we love the story (especially the film adaptation with Kevin Spacey), but do not emulate the lesson in our own lives. As Jimmy Carter said during his Malaise Speech, we cherish the ideals like a dusty book of patriotism that we only bring out to read on the Fourth of July. Carter also said that we need to stop talking and stop walking but, like the crisis of confidence in the 1970s we, as a people, did not. There is always no time like the present to begin starting anew but we do not. To quote the fictional anchor Howard Beale from “Network,” people cry out, “'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone!” Change always seems so easy until you have to get off the lazy-boy.
So perhaps it is time that I advocate a radical change in gift giving. No, I won’t suggest we all start making gifts because I would be the first to fail since I have the dexterity of a lobster wearing oven mitts. I also will not demand we stop giving… I’d be the biggest victim. I not only work at a store that would be hit the hardest but I’m also one of the largest recipients of gifts and darn it, I still want Tales of Vesperia for the Xbox360!!
What we need to do is to regulate our gift giving and make it matter. We need to make it more personal again so it’s not the time of year that kids can get their toys or where us college students can get our yearly re-supply of Hot Pockets and Axe Body Spray.
Perhaps restraint is the best course of action; however, if there is one thing watching humanity’s response to a disaster or a single episode of Deal or No Deal will teach you, is that restraint is hardly in our nature. By nature we are impulsive and vane, the same characteristics that scientologists look for in potential candidates.
To counter all this, my editor (Mom) and I came up with a fairly revolutionary idea of combining the Pay it Forward method of doing a great deed for three people and the Gift of the Magi, where you give a gift that matters. We would advocate that you give three people one great gift that they need or give them three gifts that they need. It sounded great… at first, but then I realized that I was doing nothing of the sort. I got my little brother Dead Space on DVD, my Dad The Dark Knight on DVD, and my Mom a Wii Fit (although she really wanted this one). My gifts were always of the entertainment variety and I really did not feel like changing this routine.
OK, so perhaps I am just as pathetic, if not as hypocritical, as everyone else. HOWEVER, upon further examination there is one fundamental difference between me and the shotgun gift-givers. I think long and hard about what piece of entertainment to get each person to ensure they will like it and, traditionally, people have loved the gifts I have bestowed upon them. Granted they are shallow gifts like the time I got my little brother a Steyr TMP air soft gun, but he loved it and still harasses the local jack rabbits with it. It’s the simple things in life you treasure.
Now, I know what you’re thinking!
“Good gosh Tim! Britney Spears made another album and it’s called the ‘Circus album?!’”
I know, off point but I had to throw in some horror. What many of you are probably thinking is that even though you shower your loved ones with gifts, you do it with love. This is probably more true than the horrific nature of the Circus album, but basic psychology states that when one is immersed in a sea of many things even the most unique becomes common to the whole.
For instance, I always wanted to get a tattoo. It was nothing flashy or suggestive but a Christian cross with a Templar insignia on my right forearm. It was just the right size, color and price. I planned on getting it when I arrived in North Dakota, almost three years ago, but when I arrived I realized that everyone had a tattoo and I do mean EVERYONE. Almost everyone I encountered, save for us “foreigners” from out of state, sported some kind of tattoo and for just about everything. I even met a nerd couple that each had a matching Transformers tattoo; one had an Autobot symbol while the other had the Decepticon. I’m dead serious.
The abundance in uniqueness in tattoos in North Dakota became so common that it all became white noise, indistinguishable against the whole as it had become tradition instead of exceptional. It also took the fun right out of it.
The same applies to gift giving. We shower our loved ones, or those we wish to suck up to, with gifts and the meaning becomes lost when we do not cherish each gift as an exceptional one. I can remember the Christmas of 1994, the only time I was ever showered with gifts. My parents scrounged and found EVERY Star Trek action figure available, which was at least a few dozen. They found Q, Riker, Picard, Geordi, Kirk, Lore, Locutus, Sela, Morn, Bashir, Guinan, and many more that I cannot remember the spelling of. I found myself surrounded in a fortress wall, built by the very action figure boxes that were now mine… all miiiiine!!!!
I played with them for a day and was back to begging for more the very next day.
So maybe restraint is the best method to bring back the real meaning of gift giving but, as humans, this is near impossible as we refuse to change our ways. I fear that the only real way to force us to change is the impending economic crisis. With jobs scarce and money tight, perhaps people will appreciate when they get more but this is a bad line of thinking.
Either way the Christmas season is over and I wanted to impart some degree of wisdom upon you all during my long and enforced absence. We have another 350 + days until Christmas returns and we should really think about what we give and why as I wonder if this next Christmas will be as cheery as the last. We are about to hit some hard times and I genuinely hope that we can still enjoy our season of holiday cheer.
Be excellent to each other and until next time, party on Wayne!