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- One of my favorite movies of 2016 is Toni Erdmann, which is full of madcap genius and a deep generosity of spirit. It turns a fairly ordinary, even archetypal premise—the reunion of an estranged father and daughter—into a deadpan comedy of embarrassment unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Francine Prose writes of the movie, “It’s rare that a film can have one of its characters pose a question that so baldly states its larger philosophical concerns—What does it mean to be human and how should a human being live?—without seeming overly obvious or sanctimonious. But Toni Erdmann gets away with it, in part because its characters are so complex and precisely drawn (we are fully persuaded that this father would ask his daughter that) and in part because the film is at once so understated, so broad, and so funny; in fact, humor and the ways in which humor expresses our humanity and allows us to get through the day is one of Toni Erdmann’s themes … Nothing in Toni Erdmann is predictable, though, as we gradually realize, we have been prepared for everything that occurs by a minor detail or casual exchange that we recall from earlier in the film.”
- I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time watching the Instagram videos of Paige Ginn, who specializes in falling over, very publicly, very painfully. Philippa Snow writes, “Ginn films herself not only in a state of collapse, but also while getting there; in the process she’s gone viral, and somehow succeeded in making, by accident or by design, some of this year’s best and most interesting video work … A body count only really matters when the body counts, in purely capitalist terms, which helps to explain why the news cares so deeply about young, white bodies from upper- to middle-class backgrounds, and so very little about others at all. White male bodies have a great value in the sense that the people who inhabit them make the most money, but it’s ultimately female bodies that carry greater value as bodies, aka de facto objects. Blonde American girl-flesh offers, to the pound—up to about 115 of them, at least—which is why Paige Ginn is the KLF of the Instagram stunt. It takes real guts to say, Here is this object of supposed value, this fictionally delicate thing, being messed up, and here I am doing the damage.”
Why pop culture fixates on the incarcerated Claus.
Let me tell you something you already know: our culture longs to incapacitate Santa. At Christmastime, as the tired “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” apparatus lurches to serve up the same perverse images of twinkling, Old World pageantry, we dream of the captured Santa, the deposed king, thwarted by his own bumbling jollity into reckoning with his parochialism.
Santa represents a tradition at its breaking point. He’s the relic of a broken Eurocentric past, held over by the glad-handing rearguard in smoky backroom deals. Everywhere you look, you marvel at how brittle his grip is on power. You can feel it in the decorations, the imperious gimlet-eyed nutcrackers and gaudy wreaths, the prickly holly bushes with their poisonous berries, the wantonly felled firs, the long wasteful chains of eco-unfriendly incandescent lights. You can smell it on nog-breathed mall Santas, their faces glistening with sweat, their hours punishingly long, the ink still wet on their International University of Santa Claus diplomas. Santa is ripe for abduction—Santa wants to be abducted. This is why pop culture is teeming with images in which he’s out of commission. Read More
- Americans just hate it when you sleep on the job. I learned this the hard way when I installed a Murphy bed in my last office. Boy, was the management steamed! I thought their issue was that I was spending too much time alone—not being a team player and such—so I invited my colleagues to watch me sleep, or even to join me in the Murphy bed if they were so inclined. (It was a queen.) But that only made them fire me! Imagine the joy, then, with which I greeted Bryant Rousseau’s reporting from Japan, where napping in public is not just allowed, but celebrated: “The word for it is inemuri. It is often translated as ‘sleeping on duty,’ but Dr. Brigitte Steger, a senior lecturer in Japanese studies at Downing College, Cambridge, who has written a book on the topic, says it would be more accurate to render it as ‘sleeping while present’ … Sleeping in social situations can even enhance your reputation. Dr. Steger recalled a group dinner at a restaurant where the male guest of a female colleague fell asleep at the table. The other guests complimented his ‘gentlemanly behavior’—that he chose to stay present and sleep, rather than excuse himself.”
- Not dissimilarly, I went through a phrase where the only Christmas gifts I could think to give were dead birds. Not birds of prey or anything gauche like that—just cute, deceased little songbirds, sometimes on dry ice, wrapped in little parcels of tissue and tied with twine. Well, people weren’t having it. My best friend spit in my face. Even my mom asked if I kept the receipt. I was born in the wrong time, I guess, because in Victorian England, people just loved dead birds for the holidays. Allison Meier writes, “The image of a dead bird in the snow is similar to the popular ‘Babe in the Woods’ motif of children who are in their mortal sleep in the forest, and may have likewise been a call to empathy for the less fortunate. John Grossman, author of Christmas Curiosities, told Tea Tree Library that the cards were ‘bound to elicit Victorian sympathy and may reference common stories of poor children freezing to death at Christmas’ … Hunter Oatman-Stanford at Collectors Weekly noted that the birds are often robins and wrens, and that ‘killing a wren or robin was once a good-luck ritual performed in late December.’”
He wasn’t handsome or well-dressed. In fact, he wasn’t dressed. He was the size of an elf, made of fuzzy red chenille. But most striking—considering he arrived in a box of gifts from Vienna in December—was that he had a devilish head with horns and clutched, not a gift, but a bundle of ominous twigs.
Why was my Austrian friend Susanne sending me a pipe-cleaner devil?
“That’s the Krampus,” she told me when we spoke. “Before Christmas, on December 5, the Krampus shows up at houses where children have misbehaved.”
“Why is he holding sticks?”
“Birch switches to beat the bad children.”
Whoa. And then she told me the Krampus drags the really bad ones down to the underworld!
It was love. Read More