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Do You Hear What I Hear?

December 4, 2011

Oh god: The annual assault on the senses begins

Why am I always the only person annoyed by things others take completely for granted?

While opening my front door earlier this evening, in the hopes of convincing the cat that he really does want to go out, I was forced, once again, to ‘appreciate’ Christmas muzak filtering loudly across the neatly vacuumed lawns of suburbia. Some years ago, a manic neighbor decided that we should all participate in the annual wonder of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and hundreds of other Christmas carols as they lift in irritating crescendo from this guy’s front porch stereo system, reaching their screechy pinnacle of volume on Christmas day. 

The day after Christmas, mercifully, Mr. Noisemaker turns off the free, repetitive, unasked-for concert, because Christmas, as we all know here in middle America, where consumerism has been raised to a fine art, shuts its doors definitively on December 26th, when we move into ‘end-of-year’ sales in the hopes of squeezing whatever possible profit still remains from the Season of Excess. Christmas, whose meaning exists solely in relationship to healthy sales, officially ends when you stop making a profit on candy canes.

We have begun our sad decline into the last days of America, which I predict will end on New Years’ Eve 2032, when America will be up for grabs in an online e-bay bidding war, which will of course be won by China, owner of most of our Treasury bonds

Before America is finally sold on that dark day, however, we are going to be forced to listen to idiotic neighbors blare Mr. Christmas Lights and Sounds of Christmas from their front porch to ‘entertain’ the cul-de-sac audience. Now, where this audience is, I don’t know. It’s the 4th of December, it’s 38˚; everyone’s indoors. There’s no one out there to entertain with your excess and lack of taste, not even my cat, who sniffed the air and twitched his tail in high dudgeon, telling me in no uncertain terms he doesn’t like muzak or near-freezing temperatures, thank you very much.

Though you might think that my cat and I are unfriendly curmudgeons who lack appreciation of Christmas music, in fact, I am responding to a much larger issue reflected by the state of mind of America in general, as seen through the behavior of people who live in cul-de-sacs and want to impress their neighbors through acts of unnecessary excess. 

In The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream, John F. Wasik warns that suburbia represents an unsustainable lifestyle, wherein the habit of entertaining others through spectacle (think: faux old-world fountains; Hawaiian ponds stocked with koi; tennis courts, and other large architectural marvels intended to amaze) means we have ‘upgraded’ our lifestyle without having to leave home. Who needs to see Rome when you’ve got the Trevi fountain in your front yard?

In cul-de-sac heaven, foyers were transformed from mere vestibules to grand portals of paradise. Private spaces became statements of pure ego and the subjugation of nature. Why venture out into the wilderness to see a waterfall or hot springs when it could be produced in your very own shower or bathtub?

Following this ego-driven logic, the cul-de-sac mentality attains its purpose when, during the competition the days after Thanksgiving have become, extravagantly-lit houses are capable of being spotted from space. “Upgrading one’s lifestyle … meant producing a spectacle, something that would entertain you and your friends … owners wanted to project the image that their home was a must-see.” Also known as ‘house lust,’ this “nearly loony infatuation with the image homeowners hoped to create” has taken over the burbs, if my neighbors are anything to go by.

One of the problems with this mentality is that it betrays a fragile underlying ideology based on an almost religious belief in ownership, and the insecurity that comes of being a country comprised of homeless immigrants. Ever since Jimmy Stewart articulated this myth in It’s A Wonderful Life, that the desire for his own home is buried ‘deep in the race,’ Americans have bought the “sacred goal”—the dream of home ownership, with all its egoistic excesses—hook, line and sinker. 

This is a non-sustainable lifestyle. I'm warning you now.

In the ongoing, spiraling crescendo of insanity that the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas sales has become, each year brings a new twist on the old desire to bedeck one’s house with ever-grander illuminations. The bar is set higher and higher, and, at some point, muzak-for-all was added to the annual front-yard Macy’s extravaganza that has become the cul-de-sac Christmas.

As long as America overspends recklessly, with no thought for the future, it will continue to devolve.  As I write this, muzak fills the cul-de-sac, presumably entertaining the squirrels and backyard dogs, since normal people are indoors where it’s warm. I imagine the squirrels’ furry heads beating in time to the rhythm of “O, Come All Ye Faithful,” an animated Chip and Dale musical going on outside my front door—although it has to be said, most squirrels have trouble with the English language. You’d have better luck with Border Collies; with the intelligence of 12 year-old children, these dogs can more reliably be trained to understand Christmas lyrics.

I expect muzak is part of this extravaganza, don't you?

When I moved into the cul-de-sac, some ten years ago or more, I came because my parents, raised in a more innocent time, promised me that only quiet, tired, boring old people live in suburbia. This was a truth they devoutly believed. Times have changed, though, and suburbia is now implicated in creating a new dimension of crazy-making behavior. People here are in almost total denial about too many things, only one of which is how annoying they are, and how spendthrift their endless desire for more.

They forget that suburbia contains the hidden word ‘urban.’ Here in suburbia, we in fact live in the cheek-by-jowl urban landscape, making the lyrics of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and its plea for world peace all the more poignant, when you live in a land of ego, excess and greed.

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