Saturday, December 23, 2006
Airblowns by Deirdre Colligan
The first time I saw one I was both transfixed and offended. A large plastic, inflatable snow globe, easily 8 feet tall, containing an oversize (also inflatable) snowman swayed ominously, complete with fake snow circulating around inside it's clear plastic dome on currents of air being noisily pumped into it. It was constructed to simulate, at a gargantuan scale, those tasteful little glass Christmas decorations that replicate a picturesque winter snowstorm descending on small lit up villages or iconic holiday figurines, when gently shaken. (Admittedly, those too have a genre of counterparts and souvenirs who have gone off the map tackiness-wise, but I still find the Christmas versions charming). But this one was poised in the entranceway of the Weschester Bed Bath & Beyond, welcoming shoppers weeks before Christmas, even before Thanksgiving, as I recall. I paused for a minute to look at it more closely, trying to figure out if it was a store specific display, until I noticed that a large price sticker adhered to the base of its inflatable "snow globe" structure read "$79," marked down from $139. I was startled by the fact this was available to anyone with less that a hundred dollars, a drop in the bucket in the scheme of middle-class American Christmas shopping. But equally surprising was that it was on sale so EARLY in the season, suggesting that the store had somehow expected these to be flying off it's shelves so quickly that they necessitated being on sale in November.
At that time, I hadn't seen a single one of the monstrosities peppering anyone's yard and smiled to myself, thinking, "Who would buy one of those?" But in an almost creepy foreshadowing of the changed landscape of suburban holiday front lawns, when I was exiting Bed Bath and beyond with my purchases, I noticed children drawn to the thing magnetically, mesmerized by the swirling snow and cartoon appearance. The parents, on their way into the store, were not sufficiently worn down enough to purchase one, but I could see it happening, after an hour or so of needing to placate any kid subjected to hours of Christmas shopping. In other words, it was just a matter of time and slashed prices. To my, and apparently many others' horror (see NY TIMES article below), less that two weeks later these things were tilting silently back and forth on what seems like ever other front lawn in suburbia. There were at least three in my parent's neighborhood, and on my walk to the train station every morning, I spotted two more. One morning, I observed, one had been deflated on a front lawn, and I secretly reveled at the idea that a child, or some irate neighbor had punctured it, ending its short life well before Christmas. But walking home that evening, after it was already dark out, the creature (a Santa Claus, it turned out) had been magically resurrected and was glowing, swaying along with the hum of its airpump. I wondered if these things are visible from outer space.
Finally, several days before Christmas, I was driving with my best friend up the Saw Mill Parkway from New York City late at night. The yards visible from the highway were populated with these glowing nocturnal lit up Christmas creatures by the dozens, presumably for our, the passerbys', benefit. We laughed and talked about how hideous they were, feeling a twinge of snobbery having been raised by parents whose holiday decorations were far more understated and, in my opinion, tasteful. She suggested printing signs and and duct taping them over the inflatables heads that say, "THIS IS TACKY!" or "PLASTIC TAKING OVER OUR NEIGHBORHOOD!" We didn't realize that this was actually a larger cultural issue until I came across this article in the New York Times:
Turns out the things are called "Airblowns" and that a lot of other people appreciate them as little as we do. And, on the flip side, a whole world of consumers are excited by them or at least have been swayed by their "plug-in and go" decorating appeal:
"...the inflatables have brought the notion of Christmas self-expression to another plane. Now, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, that televised triumphal march that inaugurates the season, can live on in miniature for weeks at a time, swaying and bobble-heading across the front lawn of anyone willing to pay the electric bill — maybe a thousand dollars if you keep them inflated all the time, less if you leave the skins of your Christmas characters sprawled on the ground most of the day, their crumpled faces staring blankly at the sky or the sod, depending."
So it seems like these holiday companions or here to stay, for a few seasons anyway. I am secretly hoping, their appeal will peak or they will get so large and obnoxious and will be up long enough to be violating all kinds of zoning laws. Or, they will suffer from a rash of Airblown backlash and like papering houses at Halloween, the new delinquent Christmas activity will be the deflation of the Santas, reindeer, and plastic Christmas globes by the hand of any spiteful neighbor or restless teenager. Or at the very least, they will die a slow death, Christmas by Christmas, due to their owner's obscene electric bills. Until then, I suppose they will continue to be born over and over again in front yards everywhere, with just the flip of a switch.
Posted by John Zahl at 5:49 PM