If the most significant event in the world over the Christmas blur was the death of George Michael, then I will eat my shorts. Yes, yes, gay people can do no wrong, and it’s wonderful that the death of a musician is acknowledged publicly (despite his family’s plea for privacy), but how much of this is virtue-signalling and how much is grief? No doubt the Wham! and solo-career discography will be on high-rotation between now and the New Year, and the songs that soured a billion teenage girls’ hearts will fill the airwaves until we can stand it no more, but where were these ‘fans’ following George’s arrest in 1998 for lewd behaviour? Just when the man really needed their support he was dumped by everyone, everywhere. But now that he’s dead, suddenly his fans are everyone and everywhere, but maybe only because being an inconsolable George Michael fan is trending right now in the Twitterverse. Let’s see if there’s a similar outpouring of faux-grief when Ricky Martin hangs up his maracas and retires to the golden gloryhole in the sky. What, Ricky who? Exactly.
Maybe it’s just Australia, but we seem to go all three-wise-monkeys downunder during Christmas. We see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil unless it happens to involve sledging the shit out of the competition at the Boxing Day Test. We just want hot weather, two kilos of fresh prawns, a tray of ripe mangoes, cricket on the telly and for the rest of the world to fu*k off until after the Sydney Harbour Bridge explodes into pretty colours on New Year’s Eve. Also, we’re half-hoping that a few yachts stacked with Rolex-wearing wankers go belly-up at 70 knots in 20 metre seas during the Sydney to Hobart. The only news we want to hear about is the stuff we generate ourselves: bushfires, shark attacks, celebrity wardrobe malfunctions, the Boxing Day sales, and how many children we can drown in our backyard pools — I’m not playing this for laughs: we literally do not care what happens anywhere else in the world except here, and every year I forget how frustrating it is to live on an island populated by people with an island-mentality.
Nobody is talking about the super-typhoon that just hit the Philippines, or the Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea with the entire Alexandrov military choir on board. What about the 1.6 tonne WWII bomb discovered in the middle of a German city on Xmas day? What about the UN Security Council resolution barring further Israel development in the disputed territories? Did things just magically improve overnight in Aleppo? Did you know a rhinoceros killed a 4-year old girl today in Nepal? How are any of these stories less interesting than: “Australia marginally ahead of Pakistan after rain interrupts Boxing Day Test“? So why aren’t we hearing about them? Thanks for nothing George.
Whatever you think of Christmas, demonstrably, for many it isn’t about caring and sharing, except for those strictly within their narrow radius of concern–and perhaps not even for them. Christmas is just as much about suicide attempts, elder neglect and abuse, ancient blood vendettas, feuds and old rivalries, familial spite behind a veneer of dutiful obligation, and pure old-fashioned envy. And why not? What is Christmas if not a grab for even more disposable material junk? Turn up at the parents house in your brand new SUV and naturally at least one of your siblings will arrive in a Mercedes. How many families are embittered forever because Grandma gave one grandson the Lego Ninjago of his dreams, and another a $9.95 box of supermarket chocolates? Who doesn’t have a nasty grandparent who pokes little kids in the tummy and calls them fat, or a widower uncle who seems to enjoy bouncing nieces on his lap a bit too much? Plenty of people have made the point, but perhaps none so eloquently as Phillip Larkin in ‘This Be The Verse‘:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
But it’s not all bad. Christmas means alcohol, sometimes a thoughtful gift, the pleasure of seeing others fake delight at being reunited with relatives they can’t stand, and then the awesome relief when it is all over for another year.