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Funbag

The Five Worst Christmas Songs

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sings with Carol Singers from across the country during a reception at the Chancellery in Berlin on January 7, 2020. - Traditionally, children dressed as the Three Kings go from house to house after Christmas and before Epiphany to collect money for charitable projects of the Roman Catholic church. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s new book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about backpacks, prime rib, Enes Kanter Freedom, and more.

Some quick housecleaning notes before you and I get stupid: I’ll be hosting the Funbag next week before heading out on vacation. So you’ll have a special guest host for the 28th, the name of whom I shall reveal in due course (It’s Liz Cook). You’ll also have a guest host for the Christmas Eve Eve Jamboroo, and that’s gonna be the dreaded Ashley Feinberg. If you dare to be part of Ashley’s quest to find out if Mike Pence has a fat hog, email her here in advance of her grand appearance next Thursday.

Now, to the plugs: The Night The Lights Went Out is still on sale everywhere and makes for the rare thoughtful book gift at Christmas. Also, Defector subscriptions are available for just a dollar the first month, and we’re still offering gift subs all the way through to the New Year. And look at that: You no longer have to waste time figuring out what to get people. All you have to do is give me and Defector your money. SO EASY.

Your letters:

Andrew:

Rank your bottom five Christmas songs. My list (I know you care, don’t deny it).

Bruce Springsteen – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
Lou Monte – Dominic the Donkey
Elmo & Patsy – Grandma Got Ran Over by A Reindeer
Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas
Anyone – Baby It’s Cold Outside

I have the Bruce version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” on my annual Christmas playlist, but I have to take it off because I stopped liking it about five years ago. The novelty of him Bruce-ing up that song by 20 percent and doing his whole pre-song shtick wears off quickly. [raspy voice] “Hey Clarence… Clarence you been good this year?” Oh Bruce, you playful rogue, you. Still a good song in any other version, though. The same can’t be said for these five monstrosities.

  1. “Happy Christmas.” The worst. The fucking worst. Everyone dumps on “Wonderful Christmastime” (more on that in a second) but at least Paul McCartney had the courtesy to NOT write a Christmas song so dour and so joyless that I wanna cut myself right from the opening bars. “So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” Kiss my ass, John. You were the fucking wifebeater, not me.
  2. “Wonderful Christmastime.” I hate it just as much as you do. The worst part is how catchy it is. Ever since I got Andrew’s question, “Wonderful Christmastime” has played on an endless loop in my head. I can’t get rid of it. It’s a vaccine-resistant melody.
  3. “Silver Bells.” Andrew gave specific renditions in his list, but I’m trying to pick songs that are irredeemable no matter who’s singing them. I hate that one Beach Boys Christmas song, but then I heard the She & Him version of it and changed my mind. But there’s NO version of “Silver Bells” that I can tolerate. It’s a song specifically designed to irritate you while you’re sweating your balls off in a department store because the heat is way up and you still have your coat on. I’ll dig up the grave of whoever wrote “Silver Bells” (it was two guys) and kill them again.
  4. “The Little Drummer Boy.” “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night” are the two clutch selections if I need a solemn Christmas carol late at night while staring at my tree in a moment of near-holy reverence. By contrast, “The Little Drummer Boy” is a track that even Thom Yorke would find depressing. And the drums on it SUCK. You don’t even get a drum solo. A ripoff.
  5. “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.” I was gonna end this list with “Christmas Wrapping” because I hate it and because the people who like it are really annoying about it. But I’m trying to keep this broad, so lemme finish with “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” a song that sounds like it was written by a commercial realtor and probably was. Even Johnny Mathis can’t salvage it.

Evan:

Can you settle a long running argument in my family? Are there any Christmas movies that are actually good movies on their own? Can’t count any movies that are debatable regarding Christmas movie status.

Oh yeah. The reason A Christmas Story has endured is because it’s perfect. The plot is great. The characters are all dead-on-balls accurate. The kids act like actual lunatic kids instead of gifted cherubs with puppy-dog eyes. And Jean Shepard’s narration is, in both writing and delivery, probably the best voice-over in the film history. Would I watch that movie every year if it weren’t a Christmas movie? Probably not. But I wouldn’t have been like, “This thing sucks!” if it had been a more general coming-of-age tale. I also think Elf is perfect. And I still watch the two first Homes Alone with my kids every year and laugh at Joe Pesci getting his shit ruined, and then I get all choked up when Catherine O’Hara finally finds Kevin and that goddamn children’s choir boots up. Chris Columbus, you fiendish bastard you.

By the way, I watched the new Home Alone with my wife and kids the other night, in which Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper are the new robbers, only this time they’re a suburban couple hard up for money and need to break into a nearby McMansion to steal back a doll that might fetch them $300,000 on eBay. Then a porky little British kid fucks them up for an hour before they all realize that it was just a big misunderstanding. It’s a kinder, gentler Home Alone, which is exactly what you don’t want from Home Alone. What you want is a charming punk kid treating a couple of poor people like GI Joe dolls he can set on fire using a magnifying glass. THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT.

Also, the new kid sucked. Total dipshit. They thought that making him British would distract me from the fact that he’s not Macaulay Culkin. They thought wrong. It ain’t easy to find a great child actor and this movie is proof.

Michael:

Mid-pandemic, I underwent an MRI. I was having bouts of vertigo but thankfully, whatever was causing it wasn’t physically in my head. Instead, it was perhaps a manifestation of the anxiety I was later diagnosed with. Surprisingly, I found the experience of the MRI oddly relaxing. Lay, still, don’t move, listen to (in my case) jazz. Does this make me a weirdo?

No. I hated getting MRIs because I have a mild cause of claustrophobia, so getting an MRI feels like I got shoved into a morgue drawer while still alive. I also have a lot of nervous tics where I scratch my face a lot, so asking me to hold completely still for 15 to 90 minutes is more than my willpower can bear.

But if you don’t have either of those … let’s say quirks … and the tech isn’t asking you to hold a stress position in there the whole time, then I can see how you might find the MRI experience pleasant, especially if they can drown out the banging noises when you’re on the inside. You don’t have to do anything. You can just chill. You MUST chill.

More important, I like any medical process that moves my treatment forward. If I’m getting an MRI, that means I’m not waiting to get an MRI. I’ve made it through all of that red tape and finally reached the main event. I feel the same way anytime I get wheeled into an operating room. We’re taking tangible, physical action to fix whatever the fuck is wrong with me, and I like that feeling. The American health care system is so fucked that it’s a genuine joy and relief whenever I get ACTUAL care and I’m not just being charged $300 to have a general practitioner tell me I have to lose weight. When I get an MRI, they’re gonna see inside my body, identify what’s wrong, and then steer me toward the appropriate treatment. All of that is good, right up to the moment where my insurer tells me they’ve changed their minds and won’t cover it.

Jerry:

The Corona palm tree Christmas Ad has been airing since 1990. It probably cost three dollars. It may be the perfect commercial.

It is! It makes me happy, that ad.

Kevin:

Enes Kanter Freedom is clearly some CIA psyop stooge. Does he keep this up even after he’s done playing? What is even the end goal here?

Enes being CIA is a longstanding take harbored by the Defector staff. My wife is Armenian, so I’m very on board with Enes’s “Turkey’s government is evil” policy. I also know plenty of people who came to America from other countries and see this country in a much, much more flattering light than its own citizens do. This really IS a kick-ass country in certain, extremely limited ways, and sometimes you need a pair of fresh eyes to be reminded of that. So I’m sympathetic to Enes in certain ways.

I also think he’s gigantic shit-for-brains who is either too stupid to know that Tucker Carlson et al. are using him for their own ends, or he’s just high on all the attention he’s getting from them, or both. The CIA theory is way more fun to consider, but in the end every cool conspiracy theory I flirt with ends up revealed to have the dullest, least climatic explanation behind it. Thus, Enes is not a sleeper agent but a rock-brained scrub turned all-purpose wingnut.

Bill:

For Christmas Day dinner, my wife’s family tradition has always been to make prime rib. Apparently a few years ago, there was an incident with the cooking and it came out too dry. (Neither my wife and I can recall when this actually occurred). My father-in-law is trying to substitute stuffed pork chops, but neither my wife nor her brother are having it. As a former Chopped champion, do you have any killer prime rib recipes or tips we can pull out to keep this tradition going?

I like that someone thinks the antidote to dry prime rib is to eat pork chops: the driest meat that ever existed. I’ve cooked pork chops correctly, mind you. Bone-in. It doesn’t matter. They always end up looking better than they taste. I have no use for pork chops anymore.

Prime rib is another matter. To prevent it from getting too dry, all you really need is a meat thermometer. I used to treat using meat thermometers like asking for directions while lost, but I shed most of that macho pride a while back. Now I use a meat thermometer for any big cuts of meat, especially turkey, prime rib, and anything sitting in the smoker. A quick Google search of “[meat name]” + “Internal temp” will take you where you need to go. After that, you can find any recipe that appeals to you and you’ll be in good hands.

I’ve made prime rib for Christmas. If I had my druthers (I don’t), I’d make it every Christmas. I buy a whole rib roast from the store. Then I rub it down with a shitload of salt, pepper, chopped rosemary, and orange zest. Maybe a little sugar to get a crust on the outside. Then I sear the roast in a pan on all sides, and then toss it in the oven until the inside is done. God, I’d kill for some prime rib right now. Maybe I should make one for me and me alone. Merry Christmas, Drewbear.

HALFTIME!

David:

Packers Twitter is fond of pumping up Matt LaFleur as one of the elite coaches in the NFL. Not surprising, I mean if you go by record it’s hard to argue. But he went for a field goal in the NFC Championship game last year. Where do you land?

Matt LaFleur is a good coach. His profile is enhanced immeasurably by the fact that he’s NOT Mike McCarthy, and I can count on LaFleur occasionally doing my team a favor by taking a bad timeout or going away from something that’s working on offense. But two NFC title games in a row is two NFC title games in a row, and Green Bay is all but a mortal lock to reach a third a month and a half from now. No matter who your QB is, you have to be good at your job to pull that run off.

I’ve watched this sport for long enough now to know that every coach fucks up game management from time to time, but the good ones have both the weeklong preparation and general leadership skills to compensate, over the course of a full season, for those fuckups. LaFleur is one such coach. God, I hate handing it to the Packers. I hope Aaron Rodgers stabs LaFleur to death because he made a stray wisecrack about his haircut.

Michael:

Is the front pocket of a backpack the pocket closest to your back while wearing it or the pocket furthest from your back while donned?

The latter. Come on now. If I said, “Look in the front pocket” and you looked in the main compartment of your backpack, which isn’t even a pocket, I would smack the shit out of you.

Tim:

Is there any massively popular pop culture artist or franchise where the only thing you like is the generally most hated part of the catalogue? I only really want to hear “Rollercoaster of Love” and Dave Navarro era stuff from RHCP. And I’d gladly buy a ticket to see U2 perform Pop in full, but not much else.

[WARNING: Boomer content ahead]

I’m with you on U2. I think Pop is one of their better albums. They were trying to do something different with Pop, but they didn’t go the full Metal Machine Music and write songs specifically designed to piss listeners off. All of the same songcraft was still in there, but with some new toys and ideas added to the proceedings. Then U2 came back after that album bombed with “Beautiful Day,” everyone went apeshit for it, and they haven’t bothered to experiment since. They settled right into being an adult contemporary band for Volvo drivers. It’s a shame because they were already millionaires many times over by 1997 and could have gone as far afield as they wanted, and because Radiohead came along three years later with Kid A and proved that if you’re a truly great band, fans will follow you into weird new places. Instead, U2 decided to make the same boring album over and over again.

I touched on this a week ago when I was writing about Interstellar, but a lot of modern pop culture is judged in direct relation to the hype that precedes it. I loved Interstellar because, watching it at home years and years after its release, I didn’t expect much from it. That’s a much different way of consuming it than if you were a Dark Knight fanboy who saw Interstellar on opening night and expected your life to be fundamentally altered as a result (related: I watched Dark Knight Rises a year ago and liked it WAY more than I did on opening night). Everything in those circumstances is designed for you to end up feeling let down. Same shit with Pop, which came not long after one of the biggest albums of the 1990s (Achtung Baby) and was backed by the most expensive tour in history to that point. These are all works of art that often age well because the burden of expectation stops applying to them after they’ve come and gone. No one’s gonna give a fuck if I like Pop NOW, which means I don’t feel any social pressure to like or dislike it. That’s the ideal place to be for consuming art.

I also thought the newsroom storyline of the final season of The Wire was hilariously accurate even though everyone fucking hated it; I only like Invisible Touch–era Genesis and “These Dreams”–era Heart; my favorite Anthrax song by far is from the John Bush years (“Only”); and, as I already noted a few weeks ago, I liked The Rise of Skywalker. Not more than the rest of Star Wars, but still plenty. The Defector commenters got all diaper-y about that last one. I’ll live.

Andrew:

I know all the major sports have streaming services now but they mostly suck with spotty quality and blacked-out local games. As the owner of a subscription based business, do you think sports will eventually transition to the streaming model?

Yes. Amazon takes over Thursday Night Football exclusively next season, and you know that’s just an opening salvo in their attempts to get a bigger share of NFL games. All of the NFL’s current rights agreements run through 2033. After that, I don’t know if broadcast television will even exist anymore. I don’t know if AMERICA will exist anymore. We might all be dead from the Parallax Variant, which is fun to contemplate.

The point is that the media landscape almost certainly won’t look the same as it does now. The iPhone was only invented 14 years ago, mind you. A lot of shit can go down in the next 12 years, and will. By 2033, the NFL will have 40 teams. Mac Jones will have eight Super Bowl rings. You won’t have a phone, or a TV. All of your entertainment and news will be streamed directly to a pair of smart contact lenses you wear all day long. Roger Goodell’s nephew, Bud, will be commissioner and his first order of business will be to crush the union and make all games available via smart contact hologram. AmaTes will then pay the league 20 billion space credits to create this technology and then beam it directly to your retina. The Vikings will still be chokers.

So yes, sports will be migrating to new platforms in that future.

Ben:

You’re out doing errands, stop in Starbucks, and see a celebrity you actually like. They are courteous and polite, etc. You want to commemorate the event, so do you:

1) Ask for a selfie

2) Ask for an autograph

3) Ask if you can take a selfie while they do an autograph

4) You sadly, are too old for any of that shit and instead chat for a minute or two and gush a bit about their work?

I would never ask for an autograph, unless it was to sign a book (like mine, which I will happily sign for you) or something else I already own and use, and even then it’s unlikely I’d ask for one. But an autograph on like a cocktail napkin? Fuck that. Autograph hunting is strictly for kids. Anyone else who asks for one is a pervert. Fuck am I gonna do with an autograph, anyway? Frame it and stare at it like some loser who has nothing better to do? The selfie is the better move. I have a photo of me and Snoop Dogg that I keep on my computer desktop, I cherish it so.

PICTURED: Two tall drinks of water, blunt

But that photo came from an assignment, which means I wasn’t just some fanboy walking up to him cold. I was a reporter skirting journalistic ethics to indulge myself. Totally different and much cooler. So ultimately, I’d probably take option No. 4 for Ben’s question. I’d shake hands with Joel Coen or whoever and be content to treasure the memory. I got to shake Bob Mould’s hand this year. No artist has ever meant more to me. That handshake was enough, and always will be.

Unless we’re talking about Justin Jefferson. If I spot Justin Jefferson out in the wild I’m gonna ask him to teach me to Griddy and then ask a nearby a documentary crew to film it. Then I’m gonna ask him to sign my boob.

Nick:

I don’t understand why people clown so hard on long movies. If a movie is great, what’s wrong with spending as much time in that world as possible? Obviously this mostly applies to “fun” movies and not, like, Titane. But at the end of Return of the King I was like “Yes. More endings. Give me as much of this shit as you can. Fucking show me Aragorn’s baby again. Show me Sam working in the garden when he’s 150.” If the movie sucks (like, uh, the Hobbit movies), then cutting 45 minutes probably won’t make a difference. As a movie re-lover (?), what say you?

Insultingly long movies have been a thing ever since Kevin Costner made The Postman in 1997. So I’m used to movies being overindulgent, and three hours for a movie is a fraction of the commitment I need to binge-watch a serialized TV show. I can just break that shit up over two nights and be fine.

I only have two hang-ups with current epics. The first are tentpole movies boasting that extended running time, because the majority of them don’t earn it. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is two-and-a-half hours long for absolutely no reason. They just crammed in as much ornate, empty mythology as they could so that they had plot threads to recycle for the next shitty sequel. Also, no long comedy has ever earned it. Judd Apatow can’t decide which Paul Rudd ad lib he likes the most, so guess what? He puts all of them in there. Those are the three-hour movies I have a beef with.

Otherwise, it’s like song length: certain songs/movies earn the extra time, and others don’t. I’ve had three-hour movies fly by and I’ve had 90-minute movies drag on forever. It’s all a matter of quality, so I don’t hate the padding as much as I used to.

Chris:

My teenage son knows absolutely nothing about sports but is developing his own fashion style. He asked my wife for a basketball jersey and hat for Christmas, and specifically wanted stuff from the Kings because he liked the colors and design. We live in Michigan, and he is going to be walking around repping a terrible team from a market no one cares about and he has no connection to. Do I need to talk to him about how bad his choice is in case someone asks him about it?

Our own Patrick Redford says that repping the Kings is actually smart and will pay off in the long run. Also, have you met the Pistons? Even Pistons fans don’t like the Pistons. To that end…

Email of the week!

James:

I’m a Jets fan. I long ago reached the point where I cannot bear to watch my actual team. I still enjoy watching other teams play, however, on NFL Sunday or at any other time. My wife is an agnostic Giants fan who wants to sit through whatever dog puke game is on television, which means she wants to watch every single Jets game, if that’s what happens to be on. I can’t even bear to be in the same room as the Jets anymore, but I recognize that I’m the insane one in this situation. Not my wife, who has a healthy attitude towards football watching. After all, it’s just a game. 

But how the fuck do I cope? I feel like it’s % unreasonable to ask her to NOT watch football at this time. It’s Sunday afternoon, in the winter. Yet: I cannot escape the goddamn Jets!!! Do I just, like, run errands at this time? (incidentally: fuck Rex Ryan forever for getting me into this dogshit franchise to begin with).

Let’s all start a GoFundMe to get poor James Sunday Ticket. No one should be at the mercy of the regional broadcast overlords. They’re forever cruel.