Famous Failures takes us on a comprehensive tour of humankind’s most confident leaps in the wrong directions. The column examines history’s greatest worsts, and gives Lasik to our cultural hindsight. In today’s case file, an attempt to stoke the flames of a new holiday tradition backfires when a radical Santa offers a nation stockings stuffed with the hot coals of social Darwinism.
The issue with holiday traditions is that the world doesn’t necessarily evolve to keep those traditions relevant. Where once it was par for the course for a tree to be in the house, for example, now pine trees are shipped and dragged across urban landscapes they have no business seeing in their natural lives, forced like round pegs into the square holes of one-bedroom apartments. The isolationist twenty-first-century mentality reels at the thought of a roving chorus knocking on doors, demanding your attention but without any viral marketing motives or app-based initiatives. Furthermore, who could even pick fruitcake out of a police lineup at this point, let alone eat it?
Such has been the case with the fireplace. A fireplace fixture in the home was once a necessity for surviving sub-zero winters, battling hypothermia, and frightening away wolverines. Now, modern amenities like thermostats, electricity, and wolverine repellant have rendered the fireplace an outmoded antique, the architectural equivalent of an appendix or, at best, a pinkie.
With the distance of generations between today’s humans and the ancestors who crouched over flames to nurse necrotized limbs, fireplaces have developed a rose-tinted romanticism around them, especially in regards to their Christmas season reputations as hubs of snuggling. To ease fireplaces into the new millennium, DVDs are produced year-round featuring one continuous shot of a real-time wood-burning fire, effectively turning one’s HD plasma-screen TV into a fireplace, with minor changes like radiation instead of heat and the irritation of tangled cables instead of smoke inhalation. These DVDs have become so popular over the years that every January a small landfill island is created from discarded discs, pushed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Huntington Beach, and named after one of Santa’s reindeer (as of publication, the count is up to Vixen II).
The “virtual fireplace” market quickly became oversaturated with competitors hoping to stand apart, including noteworthy efforts like Smokey, a family-friendly computer-animated burning wood pile featuring the voice of Pauly Shore; and The Earth-Conscious Fireplace Alternative, featuring one long continuous shot of a solar panel.
Rising quickly to notoriety in this crowded field, Col. Claus’s Yuletide Conflagration was released into WalMarts nationwide in the holiday season of 2008 as per an exclusive deal negotiated with Mississippi native Col. Lester Claus. Col. Claus’s self-started militia organization, The Backcreek County Defense Force, faced a PR crisis in 2003 when they inadvertently destroyed half of Southern Mississippi’s sugar cane crops while attempting to burn an effigy of the Dixie Chicks. To make amends, Claus’s volunteer militia branched off to create a volunteer Christmas party-planning committee, putting on a free winter festival for the community that lasted roughly from Halloween (which they called “The Devil’s Night”) to the Tuesday following Christmas (which they called, “The Devil’s Seasonal Depression”). Claus himself, taking a cue from his surname, presided over the festival as the official Santa Claus. His already-full frame, white beard, and mysterious sack he carried everywhere made him convincing in the role.
As the festival grew in fame and drew visitors from across the country, WalMart extended an invitation to feature Col. Claus Christmas merchandise, which Claus eagerly accepted. Within weeks of the deal closing, Claus’s men produced and delivered one hundred thousand DVDs featuring three hours’ worth of footage of an elegant, atmospheric fire flickering soothingly in a hearty fireplace.
After pushing the series and enjoying healthy Black Friday sales, WalMart began receiving customer complaints by the tens of thousands. Col. Claus had included five hours’ worth of bonus materials on his DVDs, most of which consisted of Claus in front of a flag that read “Don’t Tred (sic) On Me,” detailing his elaborate theories on the true meaning of Christmas, which he and his militia men consider to be a day to remind us of how global Jewish influence causes alternating earthquakes and blizzards, a theorem he calls “The Semitic Snowglobe.” By hour two of his speech, he implicates African-Americans, homosexuals, transsexuals, the Irish, the French, the Swiss, the Belgians, Democrats, moderates, teenagers, African-Americans again, and every Asian country, including several imaginary ones. He called this his “Naughty List.”
After the fireplace footage would complete its runtime, the DVD automatically defaulted into playing its bonus features. Consequently, many family dinners and gift exchanges were interrupted by Col. Claus, in full Kris Kringle attire, loudly beseeching the white men of America to take up arms and perform citizens’ arrests on anyone suspected of concealing foreign-made wallets.
What followed was a frantic and unprecedented recall, costing WalMart an estimated $100 million as they sent employees out into the field to retrieve every copy of the Yuletide Conflagration DVDs from every home within a single night. This face-saving move was code-named, “Operation Reverse-Santa.” Once retrieved, each and every disc was thrown into one large pile in an undisclosed Nevada location and set ablaze. The resulting bonfire was then filmed and released as an apology DVD to any Wal Mart customer interested in a replacement. Interest proved non-existent, so the apology DVDs were also burned.
Col. Claus continued to portray Santa at his militia’s annual winter festival, though the resounding rejection of his fireplace DVD series provoked his deep-seated paranoia and he began moving the location of the festival, sometimes twice in one day, to avoid hypothetical assassination attempts in what his militia deemed “The War On Our Very Specific Version of Christmas.” He ultimately died in 2010 while gift-wrapping a live grenade he intended to mail to the Dixie Chicks.
Eric Stolze hails from Southern Illinois. He studied film and creative writing at Columbia College Chicago and has since landed in Los Angeles. He tries to be sincere instead of cynical and sometimes succeeds. He tries to drink tea instead of coffee and fails miserably. He tries to pursue his passion for writing and directing films… let’s watch what happens.