Pop Xulture Newsletter # 9 – Ghosts of the Holidays. 12/10/22
Hey Friends! It’s been a while since I updated you on the haps. I’ll fill you in below and then an exclusive draft of a special holiday article.
Since my last Newsletter, I published “Cole Burgett’s The Lost Son: The Horror of an Unabsolved Homecoming” on Christ and Pop Culture (CAPC). The review was of the limited audio series, The Lost Son, which is reminiscent of classic horror radio shows. It may sound familiar since I gave you an exclusive interview with Cole Burgett on making his series (here). I’m currently writing an article for CAPC on the new movie Violent Night, which I hope to have published next week.
My co-hosted podcast: “Thoughts Beyond Thought” released “Episode 6 | The Furthest Point of Existence” at the end of October and “Episode 7 | Meditation” a few weeks ago (11/28). Both are interesting but the meditation one kicks off a (sporadic) series on spiritual practices. Our plan for the rest of the year is to release Episode 8 (which is about stress and superabundance) and then do an end-of year bonus episode. That will be fun because we’ll intersperse bloopers from throughout the year.
Lastly, I published an exclusive for you on the craziness of the music industry 40 years ago. Concisely titled “1982: Music’s Incredible Year - How the Industry Changed Its Tune & Struck a Chord,” the piece explores three major changes to the music industry, one revolutionary album, and an incredible amount of famous songs to come out in one year. I wrote it in preparation for my upcoming 1982 vs. 2022 article for CAPC (out at the end of the year).
Below is my first piece ever published by a magazine. That makes it sentimental but that I got to write about the holidays and my grandma’s passing, elevate it to a special place in my heart. You may enjoy reading the final, published article “Ghosts of the Holidays” before you read below and see how it started.
First, I’ll give you the pitch I initially sent in to CAPC (and when they didn’t accept it I sent it on to numerous other magazines). Eventually, Love Thy Nerd picked it up and the story morphed into the article following the pitch.
Pitch (sent out October 2019):
A person’s free time is valuable but increasing sensory overload and indecision restrict our fulfillment in both our relationship with God and our entertainment consumption. Beginning with the triple entendre of seasons being quarters based on weather, groupings of TV episodes, and epochs of our lives, we’ll look at our subconscious expectations around the immediacy of media and why God’s economy doesn’t work like that. Our impatient culture doesn’t heed “in due season we will reap” but as in The Last Crusade, our Father has sown clues throughout our timeline, we just need to reap. Nostalgia, especially for the 80’s, reflects an obsession with time as seen in classics like Back to the Future, modern classics like Stranger Things, and potential classics out this October like Joker and the Watchmen reboot. Finally, we reapers will receive pro tips on how to be decisive, exercise the demon of FOMO, and find true contentment…or the Holy Grail.
Article Draft 1: Ghosts of the Holidays
The seasons are changing. New TV seasons are flooding across our screens. Oh, you thought I meant seasons like summer to fall? Yeah, that too. But the advent of new TV seasons is just as “fall” as pumpkin spice. Changes in temperature and trees clue us into the holidays. But holidays can be hard. Like a renewed favorite show we pray for joy and comfort but often, like a new pilot, the holidays are a gamble.
The holidays cause introspection. We hope for It’s A Wonderful Life, but often deal with Christmas Vacation. We despair about the past, can’t live in the present, and are worried about the future. Let’s allow Nightmare Before Christmas’ precursor, A Christmas Carol, guide our way. We’re going to take the horrific tours with ghosts of our past, present, and future, and then look at some small changes we can make to become happy little Scrooges.
The Ghost of Isthmus Past
In every incarnation of Charles Dicken’s beloved Christmas story (yes, including Scrooge in the Hood), we’re initially introduced to wealthy selfish jerk Ebenezer Scrooge. We’re reminded of ourselves, definitely before we met Christ, but sadly if we’re honest, we can still be like that. No wonder. We’re surrounded by a society of Jacob Marley’s proclaiming self-service and “take care of number one.” If we struggle with the past, it’s in one of two ways: haunted or immortalized.
Marley commits B & E, haunting Scrooge with all his past sins. Sometimes we hide our skeletons in the closet, sometimes, like SkekMal in The Dark Crystal, we wear them around. Either way, the past can make us we feel like we’re stranded on an isthmus, a strip of land surrounded on all sides by the churning tide of trouble.
For others of us we want to relive the glory days, but as Lucy in While You Were Sleeping says, “I just don’t remember it being this orange.” The Ghost of Christmas Past is often portrayed as a kindly woman showing Scrooge all the goodness he once had, and what he gave up. Doesn’t it seem like more of our loved ones pass away around the holidays? Or maybe we’re just so much more aware of it because the holidays are that jolting reminder of painful anniversaries and yet another year has passed without our loved one.
Whether haunted or immortalized, like Scrooge, we realize we’re painfully lonely. We’ve never been surrounded by more people and noise and entertainment but that doesn’t substitute a loving community. It’s not until we realize looking back only takes our eyes off of our current path.
The Ghost of Christmas Present(s)
[I was unsure what direction to go here so I fleshed out two options]
But what if our current path ain’t all sunshine and rainbows? Our society is constantly demanding we justify ourselves. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows us other people who are happy and we ask why do we run the gamut of emotions every day yet happiness is one we rarely feel? Sometimes we’re asked to justify our importance or status. Often we’re asked to prove we’re present in the present.
It is very difficult to be still and enjoy what we have now. Thinking deeper about the need for community and our pervasive loneliness can lead us down a very dark hole. But when we’ve crawled to the bottom of that hole we find the roots, and when we address the root causes we stop worrying about the storms happening up on the surface. Checking devices is ultimately a fear of solitude. It’s a fear for both the get-as-much-done-and-redeem-the-time personality and for the veg-out-every-night personality. There are aspects like FOMO, avoiding awkward people and conversations, and waiting on an answer but at the root of it all is the fear of solitude. What will we find when we look at ourselves in a mirror with no distractions?
Because we’re so unpracticed at it we wouldn’t like what we saw. A tired shell of an Auton who buried their dreams in a shallow grave years ago. And that’s unfortunate because that’s not you but you’re so out of practice that you don’t see what Jesus sees. When you come out of the dark it takes time for your eyes to adjust to the Light.
In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster says, “The fear of being left alone petrifies people,” but that “Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude.”[i] All three of these fears of the Present (missing happiness, our importance and being present in the present) have their root in loneliness.
There is a current misconception that emotions are irrational, but they have a cause. The reason may be elusive but there is always a reason. Western culture has born the extraordinary power to work oneself from poverty to prosperity. But with great power comes great pressure. Pressure to get the promotion, pressure to be #bestparentever, pressure to seem like you have it all together.
We kill ourselves to throw a party but we’re so busy with the agenda and getting the right photo that we miss the real-time moment. Often, we’re physically present but mentally checked out.
All three of these stresses have a common denominator. Loneliness. As the giant second Ghost drags Scrooge around, he realizes his lack of companionship and pervasive loneliness. Most of the glances at our phone, many of the social media posts, and quite a few of our outbursts have a root in faking confidence and messaging that we are indeed loved.
But what if our current path ain’t all sunshine and rainbows? The Ghost of Christmas Present showed Scrooge his acquaintances who were happy even though their social position was low. Scrooge’s shock at this made it obvious that he had never heard of “work/life balance.” Nowadays, we know the importance of a healthy “work/life balance,” but I think we stop short and don’t address the quality of our personal time.
For over 55 years the whole premise of Doctor Who is that the Doctor constantly travels forward and backwards in time. Talk about someone discontent in the present! But in the 2013 Christmas special titled, “The Time of the Doctor,” the hero finally settles down. The Eleventh Doctor creates a stalemate between all of his enemies and a rift in time and space where his lost countrymen wait. The rift is housed in a little town called Christmas and only his presence protects our universe. For the first time in his life the Doctor must figure out what to do with his free time.
It is assumed that when we finally have a moment to breathe, we’ll do all of the right things, we’ll do all of the fun things, and we’ll be fulfilled and all of the tireless drudgery that came before will all be worth it. But after the clothes are washed and the other infinite chores are done, when we finally have some time to enjoy our fandoms and family time, do we really enjoy them?
The habit of watching multiple things at once seems like logical multitasking but is actually a series of distractions permanently damaging our brains.[ii] It makes us indecisive which affects how we spend our free time. Consequently, our relationship with God and our entertainment consumption suffer, perpetuating a discontented cycle. Our time and how we use it is valuable. So, why do we let it slip into the past and expect our future to be any better?
The Ghost of Disomus Future
[“Disomus” is a monster having two bodies but one head. We can be that way about the future.]
In 1988’s Scrooged Bill Murray’s selfish character Frank is very successful but misses his ex-girlfriend Claire. Claire works at a homeless shelter to which Frank gives some advice, “Scrape them off Claire, you wanna save somebody, save yourself.” In typical Dicken’s fashion Frank is visited by apparitions finally falling into an elevator with the Ghost of Christmas Future. The Grim Reaper-esque figure shows Frank what would happen to Claire if she followed his advice. She sits in a posh restaurant while demanding that the waiter get rid of some street urchins at the window.
We look excitedly towards the holidays as if the present will be fulfilling but when we return to work we’re bummed. When I ask people how their holidays were I receive a variety of responses. Sometimes simply “fine.” Other times “I stayed local” or “I didn’t go in debt.” Is that how someone 100 years ago would have answered? This is cultural but I think it is a significant description of who we are today.
If everybody’s workin’ for the weekend does that mean they’ve planned for success, or are they going to wing it? Our lives are unfulfilled because we’re distracted. Scrooge was distracted from what really mattered…and he didn’t even have a smartphone.
One of my favorite films is Back to the Future. But in characteristic 80’s fashion the perfect ending is a cool Dad, a 4x4 truck (I still dream of it!), and a bully for a slave.
Planning for the future and worrying about it are two vastly different things. Often, we don’t dream big enough, only thinking of 401(k)’s and staying active in retirement. Every person has an innate desire is to live forever. The Fountain of Youth and Holy Grail, zombies and vampires, collagen and botox...kale. Whatever puts eternity in our hands.
[END EXCLUSIVE ARTICLE CONTENT]
I hope you enjoyed the exclusive, but please have some grace because when I re-read through it, I see where I’ve grown as a writer (and the need for an editor!). I hope some portion of it helps you to not only survive but enjoy the holidays. I’m also working on another Newsletter I’ll put out in a couple weeks covering some of my favorite pop culture things I’ve consumed this year. I appreciate you reading!
Thanks, in Him,
-Chris (the Bearded Wonder) Fogle
[i] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 2018, p. 96
[ii] “How Staring At A Screen Changes Your Brain & Causes Brain Fog,” https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/can-screen-time-cause-health-issues; “20 Ways Your
Cell Phone Harms Your Health,” https://bestlifeonline.com/cell-phone-health-risks/