Channeling Christmas: High-definition nostalgia beyond the burning yule log


by Jay Gabler • COMCAST GETS QUIRKY is the proud headline of a press release declaring that Comcast cable TV customers will be able to enjoy Chrismas karaoke on demand. Further, “to augment the spirit,” Comcast will be broadcasting high-definition video of a yule log burning in a fireplace. “The newly produced version of the Yule Log is filmed in 1080i picture and Dolby 5.1 sound. In fact, the HD version is so vivid, holiday guests may think the television is throwing off heat.”

I don’t understand why someone would spend thousands of dollars on an AV setup that would excel at convincing viewers that it’s not actually there—if I had a big splashy plasma TV, I’d want it to behave like the stereo at Lisa’s house, with a scrolling display that continuously tries to sell itself to you even after you’ve already bought it. But it seems that not everyone agrees with me, and many people want to use their equipment to transport themselves to an earlier, simpler time. Given that this is the case, I have a few more suggestions for Comcast to consider.

The Gift Channel. Remember the days when you could afford presents? This channel streams a 24-hour, high-definition image of shiny presents wrapped and sitting under the tree. Occasionally a child appears and shakes a box, or a dog comes and drinks out of the tree stand.

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The Channel of Dated Medical Advice. On this channel, doctors still smoke, babies still get dosed with brandy, and serious illnesses are treated with induced bleeding. Those were the days!

The Commercial Exploitation of Children Channel. You may think that kids’ TV today has too many hard-sell commercials, but it used to be a lot worse. Baby boomers will remember that in the 50s, many kids’ programs had sponsors who made damn sure their young viewers knew who was paying for their entertainment. Remember Little Orphan Annie’s secret message to young Ralphie in A Christmas Story, set in the early 1940s? A 1950s episode of Superman ends with Perry White getting angry that his reporter is pausing for breakfast when the news can’t wait…until Clark Kent informs his editor that in fact, Sugar Smacks are the news. (White smiles and sits down to enjoy a bowl himself.) Don’t you miss that? The possibilities for this channel are endless: Dora the Explorer already endorses a ride at the Mall of America…why not have her take viewers on an exciting odyssey through Kay-Bee Toys? We know Bert to be an oatmeal aficionado…why not make it clear that he’s enjoying Quaker Oats? Developers could even put Bob the Builder merrily to work razing foreclosed homes in the name of progress.

The Pre-Recount Channel. You never thought you’d miss those obnoxious Coleman and Franken ads, but it’s hard not to get nostalgic for the days when we all thought that, one way or another, someone would actually win our Senate race. Tune in to this channel to watch Norm take out the trash, and you can pretend it’s October all over again.

The Homogenous Holiday Channel. Among the tens of thousands of Comcast subscribers, there are surely many who resent the “War on Christmas.” On this channel, alternate holiday traditions would be back to being stops on a Disney World ride and viewers would never be asked to spell “Kwanzaa” or abide Eid or hear Raffi sing the Dreidel Song. (Actually, a lot of Jews might tune into this channel for that last reason alone.) Of course, even in a world with only Christian holidays there might still be some tensions…Comcast would just have to be sure that any debates between Catholics and Protestants would be handled in a Fair and Balanced way.

Published on 12/19/08. Photo by Telstar Logistics (Creative Commons).