Saturday, December 10, 2011

it's beginning to look a lot like

Today is SantaCon in San Francisco. Earlier in the week, I'd read that this was going to happen, but promptly forgot until biking just now past the groups and clumps of people dressed in Santa costumes, or at least Santa hats, heading...where are they heading? They don't even seem to be moving in the same direction. Maybe it's over.

(Pocket definition of SantaCon: People dress up in Santa costumes and go bar-hopping. Lots of people. There are official bar stops and routes. Then they get drunk and peel off as their sobriety/tolerance levels dictate. This is not unique to San Francisco, and it's only quite recently that it's become a big-deal thing here.)

All of this raises a lot of questions.

Why is this happening? is, at the most superficial level, the easiest of my questions to answer. SantaCon started in San Francisco, and it started as a weird prank. Now that flash dance mobs are everywhere and all the time and unimpressive, it's harder to imagine how a sudden and unannounced appearance of a group of Santas might have felt in, say, the 80s. But SantaCon used to be culture jamming, and now it's just pub-crawling and public drunkenness. More on that later.

Why Santa? Some quick theories would be, in no particular order:
1) It's funny/ironic to deconstruct/dismantle/demythologize/you-get-the-picture the childhood arbiter of Goodness by putting on his signature uniform and getting publicly drunk.
2) Santa is supposed to be unique, so again it's funny/ironic for him to suddenly be multiple.
3) The costume, or some version of it, is readily available on the cheap.

Why public drinking? or, Why is this happening, part 2? Now this is where I start to get confused. Because I'm not really sure what this is really about. As in, I'm not sure why it's fun to dress up as Santa and go bar-hopping with a whole lot of other people, some of whom you know and some of whom you don't, also dressed as Santa. I'm not sure why that is the thing one would want to do with one's Saturday afternoon.* We can look at some of the obvious answers: People like drinking, and even more when they're with their friends. But what is the specific appeal of the crowd? This, for me, is the most intriguing part. I tend to not enjoy large drunken crowds. It is a guarantee that some people will get too drunk. They will vomit, maybe near you, maybe on you. They may get pushy. The bars will all be crowded because you are bringing a crowd.

Now my central problem lies, I suspect, where it so often does: a failure to understand the appeal of doing something because a lot of other people are doing it. I think I've always been a contrarian, and mass culture and its seeming desire to get me (and everyone) join in has always gotten my back up. This may just be a fancy way of not calling myself an elitist. I'd like to think that's not all there is to it, though. The strongest feeling I have when viewing SantaCon (which, yes, I'm using as a stand-in for a lot of things right now) is not superiority, but confusion. I have a fundamental distrust of things that say, "If you do this thing that other people are doing, it will make you happy," that there is an objective "happiness" that we can all work towards, at the same time, in the same fashion, and that once we get there, it will be the same for all of us. I just don't think that's true. Nonetheless, that seems to be the messaging that most people receive and act on.

I know this is getting long, but I can't help but feel that this is also related to my confusion around beauty, and the ways in which most of us most of the time work so hard to change our appearances to chase after an abstract beauty. And then some people end up not looking like people anymore. They're going after the Form "Beauty," which is presumably something they've seen in a magazine, on TV, in films, etc., but it's not what they actually look like and then people end up looking generic and interchangeable.

I want people to be encouraged to pursue an individual idea of happiness, an individual idea of aesthetic. I guess I'm that much of an idealist/hippie, I guess I'm that naive. But I think it could work.

I invite your comments.

*I have friends who were at SantaCon today. I'm positive. And I'm positive that they're people I like and think are awesome. What I'm trying to say is that I'm not so much interested in criticizing SantaCon as I am in trying to understand it.
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