Friday, December 23, 2005

From NPR Today: "Bah, Humbug!"

As I was tromping around the neighborhood this morning on my daily workout, I decided to switch my headset radio to NPR. After all, it's December 23 and NPR often has some entertaining Christmas fare. (One year "All Things Considered" put on a wonderful historical bit about Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and its impact on Christmas celebrations then and now.)

But today I was to be disappointed. With evident pride, the NPR morning anchor announced a reprise of reading from his "Santaland Diaries." Apparently this has become something of a much-requested NPR Christmas season tradition.

I had heard Sedaris on NPR before (his voice and delivery style are distinctive; he reminds me a little of Truman Capote), but had never heard his account of his experience as Crumpet the Elf. Apparently Sedaris, as a starving writer, had to take a job as an elf in a Santa Claus display in a New York department store.

As I sailed along on my workout, surrounded by my neighbors' Christmas decorations, I was treated to Sedaris's story, told in a flat monotone that dripped contempt for his experience as Crumpet. NPR listeners were treated to biting observations about the sad weaknesses of some parents who abused their children, accounts of gay flirting among the elves and Santas (including Sedaris's excitement over another elf hitting on him), stories of horribly ill-behaved children and other generally depressing, cynical commentary. If it qualified as satire at all, it was of the most Juvenalian kind.

I became more and more depressed and amazed as the story unfolded, but I kept listening because I wanted to experience the full phenomenon of what at least a part of NPR culture seems to have become. If you're of a mind you can listen to the whole thing here, but I don't recommend it as a way to put yourself in the holiday spirit.

I don't know what I found most depressing this experience: The piece itself; that NPR was playing it on December 23; or that the piece is apparently so popular with the NPR audience that it is replayed as a classic.

I'm serious about this. Yes, mean-spirited social commentary is part of our society; I accept that. But two days before Christmas, on publicly-supported radio? And it's an audience favorite.

Oh, well, I'll try to light some candles here and stop cursing the darkness. NPR is not monolithically anti-Christmas: Here's a reading of "A Christmas Carol" by Jonathan Winters that's worth hearing.

This will definitely not be my last Christmas post!

And have a great December 23!


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