Monday, November 20, 2006

“I Want That…”

As much as I try to fight it, the Christmas shopping season is upon us like a professional wrestler on a bargain-basement leotard sale. The no-holds-barred way of advertising is to make your product most appealing, the most fun for as many kids as possible and the least expensive sounding. Go on and try to find another Wetsy-Besty doll that can solve complex Trigonometry problems while it changes itself to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” for under $49.95. Just try. As much as I grit my teeth and cuss obscenities under my breath at the marketing teams of huge conglomerations for their ruthless ability to wad up the airwaves with a relentless onslaught of coveting desire for their products, there’s no getting around their allure, not as long as you’re breathing and watch at least 14 minutes of television a day that is bookended by some kind of advertising. The result of millions, nay billions, of dollars spent on product studies, research and development, prototypes, advertising, product placement and possible subliminal messages broadcast to seeing eye dogs during Saturday morning cartoons amounts to nothing more than the simple fact that Natalie has an ever-lengthening Christmas list, albeit a mental one and it is a complicated process.

Basically it is everything she sees on TV, every commercial featuring some cast-plastic, foam-shaped, fur-lined Made-in-China effigy of a cartoon character provokes the concierge of the Master Christmas List File in her head to shout out, “I want that…” That message is first sent to the neurons controlling the eyes. They confirm that what she is seeing—a commercial for a My Little Pony Corral, Stable and Grooming Center—is in fact something she wants, and the affirmative response signal from her eyes is relayed back to her brain’s Cortex of Possibilities, where a standard list of questions is first reviewed: “Do we have one already? Can we readily get one by merely going upstairs? Do we have the resources to get one of these ourselves?” and if the answer is “no” to all of these questions, a new message, highlighted by urgency, is formed and dispatched to the neurons that control the Main Short Term Memory Filing Center. There cubical-dwelling neurons dutifully scan through file after file of pleasurable thoughts that she could associate to this new item (She could keep all of her My Little Ponies clean and well fed; she could put them to sleep at night in a warm little stable; and she could forever rid the world of orphaned My Little Ponies, which, to her, run unbridled in the prairies of America somewhere and need dire rescuing, for example), and once a list of reasons for having such a toy is assembled, cross-referenced and justified by the Common Reasoning Department, it is organized back into the Master Christmas List File, now occupying nearly one-third of all her current thought processes. That makes it officially on her Christmas List, but one last action by the caretakers of the Master Christmas List File is to send a Go-for-Green message to the Confirmation Order Center, where little neurons assemble a message created from the pool of known English words that would best describe her situation. That uncoded English version of the message is transferred to the mouth (circumventing the Inner Dialogue Editor, which hasn’t been fully developed yet). Then, Natalie announces: “I want that” for all to hear.

I won’t tell you about the rest of the process, but in essence, her ears hear the phrase she just uttered, and the impulse is transferred back to the Call to Action Department of her brain, where they open a new file usually entitled “What are They Going to Do About It?” And then there are neurological agents and investigators that check in on these open accounts from time to time until they are closed by one of two ways: Either, we were told “no” or we have the item firmly in our right hand and it isn’t a false alarm (and false alarms would be having the item in hand but still in the store or holding it, but at someone else’s house, etc.).

All this takes a mere fraction of a second, maybe more if it is an especially confusing commercial, but if it is, she will tell me “I want that” just to make sure it is covered on the list and she’ll weed it out later if, in fact, she doesn’t really want it.

My responses to her announcements have become less and less enthusiastic as we get closer to Christmas and as her list starts to resemble the list of Gross National Products of Taiwan. At first, I told her to “Add it to your Christmas list!” and then explained how she needs to send her list to Santa Claus at the North Pole who will then decide what on her list she has earned for being a good little girl. It is exciting to see the magic of Christmas/Santa through a child’s eyes. Well, though the course of the day, explaining that Santa Claus uses a complex Excel spreadsheet to monitor and average childhood moods throughout the year and ever adjusting the Naughty/Nice list and the amount of presents weighed against that list takes up a great amount of time, so it seems, especially if she is announcing that she wants something at least four or five times per commercial break. After a few hours of lessons on the ins and outs of Santa’s North Pole operation, I grew weary of explaining the same thing over and over again, so I started muttering, half-heartedly at her, “You can’t have everything.”

But she thinks she can, and she usually answers either “Why not?” or “Yes I can.” And I can see it in her eyes, she thinks she actually can have everything, as she is usually busy checking another thing off of her list for Santa’s bag and onto his.

This morning, I probably uttered the phrase, “Add it to your Christmas list,” and “You can’t have everything” 20 or 30 or so times, as she announced, “I want that!” after seeing the commercial for a Littler Mermaid full-sized vanity complete with talking lipstick and eyeliner, Lucky, the animatronic dog that answers to your various commands (as if our real live dog isn’t good enough), Crayola Wonder Color spinning activity center (cardboard box sold separately), Aquadoodle, a water-coloring art system that is guaranteed to not damage bleach-white furniture (Gnat’ll find a way, I’m sure) and a host of other random toys the commercials insisted would be a welcomed addition to the piles of plastic already ensured to clog our landfills two days after the warrantee expires.

So, thanks to big business and television, Natalie has down pat the meaning of Christmas as they would like her to have it: The more presents your parents buy, the more you get to play with and the more money we make…and the more they love you. No presents, no love. “You wouldn’t want your old Uncle Mattel to go broke, now would you?” Of course not, so bolster up that Christmas list kids!

From her point of view… hey, she’s three. She should want everything that flashes lights or shines. I’m 33 and I can’t walk through the entertainment section of Best Buy or the tool corral at Home Depot without muttering under my breath, “I want that.”

The sad part is that I don’t get to author a Christmas list for Santa and roll the dice on the morning of the 25th to see what I get.

In this house, I am Santa.

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