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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
The Paris Review’s offices are close to a small square of green space called Clement Clarke Moore Park, at West Twenty-Second and Tenth Avenue. Moore, a scholar and theologian, owned the piece of land—he donated a large part to the General Theological Seminary, which still stands there—and indeed, his forebears had owned the estate simply known as Chelsea. And of course, Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” is essentially responsible for our contemporary notion of Santa Claus: “a right jolly old elf,” drawn by reindeer, who arrives on Christmas Eve to swoop down your chimney. Moore is said to have been inspired by a local Dutch handyman—this 1926 New York Times piece explores the creation legend. Read More
- Hemingway sent this postcard to Gertrude Stein from Spain in 1924.
- A new version of “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” has removed all references to Santa’s pipe.
- Just when you think you are too jaded to enjoy any more book arts and crafts … this.
- Happy Saint Crispin’s Day.
- Jonathan Franzen’s essay “House for Sale” has been adapted into a play and opened off-Broadway this week.
- Marilyn Monroe’s bookshelf.
Paul Murray, author of Skippy Dies and An Evening of Long Goodbyes, wrote “That’s My Bike!,” a short story published in the Winter issue of The Paris Review. The story opens with a group of friends gathered at a none-too-salubrious pub in Dublin’s Northside on Christmas Eve. Murray spoke to me from his office at the Oscar Wilde Center for writing at Trinity College in Dublin, where he is a writing fellow.
The last time I was in Dublin for Christmas was in 2007, right before the crash. The Christmas displays along Grafton Street and in all the shopping areas were absolutely ghastly. Everything had blinking lights and moving parts. Is this still the case?
There’s this shop called Brown Thomas, which is the oldest department store in Dublin and it’s very swanky and expensive. Historically, when it used to be called Switzer’s, they had these famous windows with Santa Claus and mice making ballet shoes and so forth, and it was all mechanized, and the kids would go into Dublin and look at the windows. That was something your parents would bring you to do. Then, when the boom came, they stopped having child-oriented windows and started having these really nasty Helmut Lang soft-cyber-porn-type windows with a bunch of emaciated blue mannequins wearing just a giant watch and staring bleakly out of the windows. Everything was about excess and consumption. The idea that children had any part of Christmas was shunted to one side because the store just wanted to get the adults in there to spend money.
And would the adults make pilgrimages to gaze at the watches?
They wouldn’t even stop at the windows, they would just pile into the store. I remember being in there and hearing a couple next to me saying, “I just don’t know what to get her.” And the woman said, “Pearls, you can’t really go wrong with pearls.” And I remember thinking, “Who are you people?” It was beyond parody. And these were people who worked in normal sorts of jobs. Read More
I spent a recent morning at a brightly painted, high-ceilinged coffee shop that serves a modest variety of salads and panini, nursing a pot of white tea and reading a book by the founder of the American Newspaper Repository which featured, in its opening chapters, a severed arm stimulating a college student’s vagina to the point of orgasm, a large Filipino masseuse squeezing fruit juice into an art critic’s anus, an amiable topless woman aggressively sniffing a golfer’s scrotum, and the Russian composers Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin ejaculating onto the feet of a soup-kitchen volunteer. At the table to my left, a man and a woman were holding a conversation in broken French about deep-sea fishing. Most of the people in the coffee shop had MacBooks. “He wanted them all to be on their knees on couches and chairs with their asses up and ready,” I read, “and their slippy sloppy fuckfountains on display. He’d walk in front of them holding his generous kindly forgiving dick, saying, ‘Do you want this ham steak of a Dr. Dick that’s so stuffed with spunk that I’m ready to blow this swollen sackload all over you?’ And they’d all say, ‘Yes Mr. Fuckwizard, we want that fully spunkloaded meatloaf of a ham steak of a dick.’” I was hoping to meet a girl. Read More