Thursday, December 16, 2004

Light(er) Fare

On my way home from work tonight, I passed by some really bad Christmas displays in various yards around town. Inflatable lighted Santas and snowmen seem to be all the rage this holiday season.

One thing that I've noted over the years (but for which I have absolutely no empirical evidence): holiday decorations seem to track the national mood. I first recognized this phenomena when my wife and I moved into our current house. In 1985, Ronald Reagan was President and was finishing up the initial year of his second term. His big business powerbase had been consolidated in his second campaign, and they were being aptly rewarded. Workplace attitudes had decidedly swung to the oligarchs from the workers -- the saltmines were open for business again. "Do more with less" was the mantra, Michael Hammer was the Harvard Business School guru of the moment, and "kaizen" was the buzzword of the corporate day. The screws had just begun to turn on America's workforce.

Anyway, my wife and I noticed that the township had no real holiday display, there was no lighting on the main street, many, many houses weren't decorated at all, and it was a generally un-holiday atmosphere driving down the street.

In the 90's, as we shook off crypt keeper Reagan and embraced an attitude of "don't stop thinking about tomorrow" during the first Clinton term, the lights were emerging in my town. The streets were decorated. Houses started sporting rather tasteful displays of lights and holiday cheer.

During the Christmas season in 2000, it was apparent that something odd was happening. The owners of one of the most highly decorated homes in town scaled back their annual display. The township decorating contest wasn't held that year. And in various yards, plastic lighted nutcracker soldiers started sprouting in the yards of homes that had previously been more subdued in the trimmings of the season.

Over the past couple of years, the quality and quantity of displays has decreased dramatically. The lighted angels hanging from the township streetlights are missing bulbs, and in some cases are hanging askew on their street poles. Tasteful window candles and white icicle lights have been displaced by blowup grinches, $9.99 white wire reindeer, or tremendously overdone blinking (and sounding) multi-colored gaucheness.

In other words, tacky.

And as I drove down the street, it dawned on me that "tacky" really fits the current national mood like a glove. We're being governed by an administration loaded with (the political equivalent of) backwoods hillbillies engaged in Hatfield / McCoy-style vendettas, snakeoil salesmen, and tent revival ministers. So maybe it naturally follows that the most decorated season of the year, in 2004, reflects the Mayberry-ization of America.

As an example of this profoundly disturbing trend toward animated neon elves, I offer - a compendium of tack decorating from around the country. I'm sure that each of us can identify a little bit of our own hometowns in the pictures shown on the site.

Where's Martha Stewart when we need her most?