WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2020
An exceptionally stupid tradition: To his credit, Stephen Kurutz ventured way out on a limb of his Christmas tree.
Kurutz was meeting a challenge. At the most famous newspaper in Our Town, he'd drawn the assignment of reviewing Melania Trump's Christmas decorations.
At a time of widespread Covid death and corresponding political turmoil, it wasn't clear why any serious news org would be wasting everyone's time reviewing Christmas decs. But by now, this was a Yuletide tradition.
Kurutz found himself charged with the task.
Authoring a profile in courage, the gentleman rose to the challenge. Defying expectations, he said the first lady's tinsel and baubles actually weren't half bad.
He also dared to mention the works of the commentators in our town who have come to be known, though mainly in the future, as The Werewolves of Christmas Past. Shaking a dust of snow from his tree, Kurutz penned such remarks as these:
KURUTZ (12/3/20): The bold aesthetic choices that drew so much flak and snarky memes in Christmases past are noticeably absent. There are no blood-red trees, as there were in 2018, which various news outlets called “creepy” and “deeply haunted.” There is nothing akin to the icy, underlit branches of 2017 that turned the East Colonnade into what some likened to a barren, dystopian landscape.
Even outlets that have been harshly critical of Mrs. Trump’s take on the holidays couldn’t work up the energy this year.
In such passages, the Timesman almost seemed to criticize the observers who had described earlier decs as creepy and deeply haunted. He almost seemed to dismiss such analyses as "snark," even as he engaged in some possible snark of his own.
In fairness to Kurutz, past reviews of the Christmas decs hadn't always been glowing. In 2018, the Christmas dec review at Vox had described a new journalistic tradition. Double headline included:
Melania Trump’s White House Christmas decorations have become a horror meme yet again / Your new holiday tradition: A Very Scary White House Christmas!
The White House has decked its halls for the holidays. And just like last year, its trimmings look more frightening than festive at first glance.
If you were one of many people who thought last year’s White House Christmas display was bizarrely ominous, moody lighting and barren tree skeletons looking like the backdrop of a horror movie—well, then, I can’t wait to hear what you think of the 2018 holiday look.
Perhaps determined to continue signaling disregard for her critics, Trump has repeated the idea of horror-tinged White-House decor in at least one corner of the place, lining an entire hallway with blood-red Christmas trees that immediately reminded gawkers on social media of fun holiday movies. Like Stanley Kubrick’s Christmas classic The Shining!
Horror movies and Handmaid’s Tale references reigned, but even the more whimsical takes on the return of the Evil White House meme tended toward darkness.
The horror meme response illustrates just how embedded the divide between the Trump administration and the public has become
As it did last year, the Evil White House Christmas meme speaks to the broader polarization between the public and the presidency, and the sense that the White House itself has become a visual representation of what many people view as the real-life horror being carried out by the Trump administration.
Since Donald Trump took office, it’s become commonplace to comment on his administration through horror memes...and now it looks as though turning the White House Christmas display into an annual grimoire is slowly becoming an unexpected tradition.
"Culture reporter" Aja Romano included oodles of tweets from the gawkers on social media. Their posts compared the 2018 decs to scenes from The Handmaid's Tale and The Shining, but also of course to Carrie.
The culture reporter explained the reason for this "unexpected tradition." All around the streets of Our Town, criers were finding new ways to sound off about the Trump administration's frequently gruesome policies.
When they saw the Christmas decs, they thought of little else. Romano added a bit of mind-reading; she said the first lady might be repeating the previous year's "horror-tinged decor" to show her disregard for the viewpoints of our town!
That was Christmas 2018, and a new tradition was busy being born. Last year, our favorite headline from the works of the werewolves appeared in the Washington Post.
It topped a piece by Robin Givhan. Here's what it actually said:
The Washington Post, 2019: Melania Trump’s Christmas decorations are lovely, but that coat looks ridiculous
Seriously! That's what the headline actually said as the trashing tradition continued.
In his review in the Times, Kurutz indiscreetly mentioned this widespread prior conduct. But later, for some undisclosed reason, he began to dream peculiar dreams about the work of the werewolves this year:
KURUTZ: Even outlets that have been harshly critical of Mrs. Trump’s take on the holidays couldn’t work up the energy this year. Consider this tepid headline from Mashable: “Melania Trump unveils her final White House Christmas decorations and they’re fine.”
The website gave grudging respect to Mrs. Trump, and seemed almost disappointed not to carry on the recent holiday tradition, undertaken by much of the media, of skewering the White House Christmas design choices.
Even Mashable had come around, Kurutz strangely said. He linked to a very short Mashable post which had instantly offered this:
CONELLAN (11/30/20): It's the very last year of Melania Trump's Christmas decorations in the White House, before the Bidens take the reins to the sleigh, and that means it's the last time we'll be gifted a weird, cheesy trailer with Melania thoughtfully, earnestly, pensively wandering through the newly bedazzled halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (despite reportedly giving zero f**ks "about the Christmas stuff"). [Our asterisks]
The part about giving zero farks remains to be explained. Let it be said that Mashable's full review of the decs had appeared that very same day. As we noted yesterday, the headline it carried said this:
Mashable 2020: Melania's f*cking Christmas decorations, ranked [Their asterisk]
We'll only suggest that this review continued that new tradition. The piece had been penned by another "culture reporter." This particular culture reporter is five years out of college.
The werewolves have prowled the streets of our town for the past several years. Despite Kurutz's peculiar claim, they were out in force this year.
Nowhere did the beasts prowl more than at the Washington Post. Amazingly, four of these creatures emerged in the pages of that famous paper. Tomorrow, we'll show you what they said about the decs this year.
As we do, we'll turn to the audience, just as the Stage Manager does in Wilder's version of Our Town.
"Could this be why we aren't well-liked?" That's the question we'll pose to the werewolves, and the werewolf-enablers, of our own very dumb town.
Tomorrow: Zevon's reporting trip