Anyone who doesn't understand why the suicide rate is so high over the holidays has never been subjected to yuletide media. It's bad enough to feel hopeless during the previous 11 months—once December hits, you have to deal with the oppressive notion that glassy-eyed human happiness and teeth-gritted goodwill is an American mandate. I like Christmas as much as the next sap raised on television-and-department-store nostalgia, but it's difficult to function in a culture that demands on lobotomizing you with mechanical merriment.
Do we really yearn for sanctimonious glee in our seasonal entertainment? Anyone with a modicum of taste can tell you that A Charlie Brown Christmas stops being fun the second Linus starts quoting scripture; it's better to hang with the impulsive beagle and insubordinate little kids who'd rather dance to Vince Guaraldi than re-enact the Nativity. And The Year Without a Santa Claus? No one gives a lump of coal about the lazy fat man's renewed Christmas spirit—it's all about the showstopping surliness of Heat Miser and his icy brother Snow.
Man, would I pay good money for those boys to pop Clay Aiken's thermometer. Earlier in the year, I denounced American Idol's Velveeta-ization of our national ideals. My efforts were rewarded by being placed on some kind of unholy e-mail list that drops letter bombs like this: "NBC is putting on Class instead of Trash. With the world going crazy, I thought I would tell everyone about a voice I discovered. This voice seems to help when I need to get away from the news of the day. The Voice is Clay Aiken's!" Yep, apparently Idol's runner-up was going to save us all with his holiday special.
Always one to look danger in its mealy little face, I tuned into A Clay Aiken Christmas and was assaulted by the sight of the moussed laboratory mouse standing near faux frosted windows while Aryan children in sweaters listened to him pummel defenseless carols to death. (He wasn't alone in the bloody ambush: Will & Grace's Megan Mullally showed up to attack "I'll Be Home for Christmas" like Scarlett O'Hara vowing never to be hungry again.) The fact that Clay is indelibly unintimidating is exactly what makes him so terrifying as a cultural icon. I'm glad there's a performer my 10-year-old goddaughter can enjoy without feeling alone in her virginity but, geez, Miss Aiken is so unthreatening that Barry Manilow (another guest on the special) seems the Marquis de Sade in comparison. At least ol' Bar once contemplated orgasm on "Could It Be Magic," even if it took the Donna Summer cover version to seal the deal.
Clay opened the special with the ultimate sacrilege: the wuss version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the most heartbreakingly frank Christmas song ever written. The Judy Garland original opines, "Someday soon/we all will be together/if the fates allow/Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow." Neuter vocalists like Clay always end up singing instead, "Through the years/We all will be together/If the fates allow/Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." The Garland version recognizes that admitting to holiday melancholy makes our fleeting moments of joy that much dearer. Aiken's bleating replaces reality with high-pitched mush. I'll take a blue Christmas any day.