Attack of the holiday gift guides!

Annual shopping-spree extravaganzas turn otherwise respectable journalists into shills for Santa Mammon.

Published November 19, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

It's holiday time! Not only do we have to put up with this godawful red and green color scheme for two and a half long months, but we must helplessly stand aside while our trusted news sources and entertainment venues and our favorite hangouts are temporarily possessed by that all-consuming lord of the capitalists -- Santa Mammon.

Few, if any, can escape his bellowing cry: "Buy! Buy! Buy, dammit! Buy!"

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Imagine, if you will, the staff of your local alternative news source as a dysfunctional family. In the basement you have the rebellious teenagers, bucking tradition, subverting social norms and crashing the family car; we call them "editorial." In the master suite you have the parents who earn the dough that feeds the brats and enables them to pursue their snotty dreams of journalistic glory -- call them "sales." For the most part, these two factions coexist in a peaceful, though tense, state. Once a year, however, the parents demand that the kids dress themselves up, grab a tin cup and make with the caroling.

The result: The dread holiday gift guide.

Hard-nosed city beat reporters waxing eloquent on the virtues of bed and breakfasts. Pessimistic rock critics raving about the new Frank Sinatra re-release. ("It comes with a bottle of red wine and a Santa hat!") Jaded columnists praising the local sex shops' latest batch of specialty lubes.

Of course, not all alternative weeklies buckle entirely when the holidays approach (as opposed to your local newspaper, which is at this very moment making kissy faces on Santa Cash's fat, sweaty lap). After all, you can't just go from ranting against all things capitalist to touting the glories of Anna Sui's new Eau de Toilette without some kind of struggle. Can you?

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Socialist shopper: Consuming for the good of all mankind

The San Francisco Bay Guardian takes the high road with its consciousness-raising gift guide. Gifts for the spiritually inclined! Make your own, at this "make your own gift" store! Give the intangible: a gift certificate, perhaps? Surprisingly, the Guardian fails to suggest giving to charity or volunteering. But I forgot, good causes don't advertise.

Ohhhh, irony!

"Obey Santa," demands the Baltimore City Paper in a display of so very hip self-awareness. "You will enjoy our HOLIDAY GUIDE of yuletide ideas, happenings, and way-cool gifts." The introduction to this quirky little gift guide (they recommend buying faux East German guard hats) is a veritable parade of conflicted ramblings. Christmas sucks, but it's really great. We hate to tell you to buy stuff, but we're now going to tell you to buy stuff.

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Gift guide? Where do we sell ou-- I mean, sign up?

This technology-focused gift guide is just the first in a line of upcoming gift guides slated to run in the Seattle Weekly. There is no pretense of self-awareness or do-gooderism here. The first gift I read about was a $499 Bose stereo system, followed by a $199 electric self-cleaning litter box. There's even a page listing holiday mall hours. Apparently, Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing are treating the city's urban hipster demographic very well this year. The guide-lovin' Weekly tops off its gift list with "Winter Fun!" This bundle of content tells you, the reader, where to ski, gamble, fly the friendly skies! Buy! Buy! Buy, dammit! Buy!

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Detroit Metro Times

"The real personal trainer" by Liz Langley

While not a gift guide per se, Liz Langley's article on new products devoted to strengthening those invisible, yet powerful pubococcygeus muscles hits just the right note of humor as she describes wondrous products like the kegelcisor, or FemTone vaginal weights. "These are not weights designed to keep your vagina from drifting out to sea or floating off in a high wind. They are little elliptical objects of graduated weight (0.7 to 2.5 ounces) with thin cords attached so they look like tampons or surreally large nightmare sperm." If all product guides read like this, I might find it in my heart to be jolly this Christmas. If Cosmo girls, with their obsession with all things vaginal, wrote like this, I actually might be inspired to pick up that insipid little glossy.

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Missoula Independent, Nov. 11-17

"Soldiers of Misfortune" by Ruth Thorning

On an entirely different topic, this provocative article looks at how budget cuts and an increasing number of retirement-age veterans have created a crisis in the six-decade old federal Veterans Administration. It's hardly a new story, but Ruth Thorning's examination is well worth reading. Instead of just raging against the machine, she stops to reflect on the personal, the local and the national costs of our country's appalling treatment of its veterans.

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Village Voice, Nov. 17-23

"A Real Man" by Norah Vincent

Maybe it's just me, but I can't seem to open a magazine, peruse Publisher's Weekly or read a newspaper without stumbling across yet another published piece written about or by a real, live transsexual. Can someone please tell me what is the point of obsessing over this relatively rare operation? Every account reads the same. He used to be a she, or vice versa. Get it? He or she had therapy, took hormones, got surgery. It was difficult for his or her (pick one) parents/spouse/kids to accept. But, eventually, they did or didn't. The journey was the destination. Love is more important than gender. Now he or she is happy with his or her life. If only society would accept him or her too. This is not interesting subject matter. It's miniseries fodder.

Now, if you'll please excuse me, I have a lot of online shopping to do ...

By Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Christmas Consumerism