The Xtreme Ant Farm wasn't news around our house. We've been hip to Xtreme entomological agronomy for many months. In fact, the ant farm is on the Christmas list that we mailed to "Santa, North Pole," and is probably being processed right now.
So when The New York Times ran a story this week, we nodded along. The traditional ant farm, the paper noted, is just "a thin plastic box that houses little more than sand and a crude barn." But the Xtreme Ant Farm "resembles a city out of Buck Rogers, with two plastic domes connected by a street-luge speedway. The larger of the domes contains a multicolored skateboarding park, ant-sized, of course; the smaller dome has a similarly festive BMX biking arena."
When the ants get tired of Xtreme biking, there's a climbing wall with tiny hand grips.
Christmas is just like everything else. It's got to be massive and major, positively huge and Xtreme, or it doesn't register, doesn't count.
A Christmas movie can't just open after Thanksgiving and hope to delight the kiddies. What are you, naive? There are months of pre-release publicity across multiple media platforms. The trailers and the TV ads; the hypey features, interviews, and profiles in every major news outlet; plastic toys in the Happy Meals and prizes in cereal boxes; and all the rest.
And if a movie doesn't "open wide" the first weekend, it's a dud. This is what happened when The Polar Express first opened last month. Despite all the noise generated around that movie—Tom Hanks plays multiple roles! Look, here he is semi-naked, putting on the high-tech gear!—its initial box-office couldn't compete with The Incredibles. A superhero family—now that's huge. The Polar Express instantly got tagged a loser, a filmic leper. Never mind that a lot of kids in a lot of cinemas watched the movie that first weekend, totally enchanted, and didn't seem to notice how "wide" it was opening.
Be massive or be dead. And we're not just talking about Christmas movies. Children's cartoons and toys have been completely taken over by the ethos of hugeness. Cartoon story lines aren't just adventures, they're about immediate threats to the entire planet, or—better yet—the universe. Life itself is always at stake, and everyone is screaming and operating large, superdestructive weapons. The characters, including kids, can't just be people. They're bionic or androidic or cybernetic or genetically altered—or else they're incredibly witty sponges.
Kind of makes you wonder what ever happened to good old Charlie Brown. Actually, he's part of the gigantically sensational Peanuts Holiday Collection, a three-disc, six-episode boxed DVD set that's an Amazon.com best-seller, and (therefore) worthy of our children's attention.
Same goes for adults. A book or a piece of music doesn't matter, not really, unless it charts. A TV show must have glimmers of blockbusterness, a hope of being the next Desperate Housewives, or it risks cancellation. Every reality show is an effort to top every previous reality show. Even the science and history channels, once so quiet and studious, are all bulked up and driving Escalades. On the Discovery Channel, you can now discover Monster Garage.
The Wall Street Journal reports that there are now so many incredibly rich people in the world, 100-foot yachts have become declasse. To really stand out among the rich, you need at least 200 feet.
And to be a star governor and a presidential contender, it's important to be a superstar action hero married to a Kennedy. Otherwise, who would notice you?
Among the endless extreme sports, a new one was added this year: extreme ironing, in which one irons garments while, say, hanging from a sheer cliff face.
Baseball's steroid scandal is discussed as a Betrayal of Our Values, the shame of the nation. Who's kidding whom? Getting large, literally and figuratively, is what it's all about in America.
Even the language seems to be on performance-enhancers. The end of the year always brings the predictable media roundup of new words that have recently been added to the tongue: This year's star was "blog." New phrases are terrific, until they die of their own ubiquity. Remember "You go, girl" and "yadda, yadda"? Now it's "bling-bling," "da bomb," "dialed in," anything "nano," "hooking up," "bring it on," and, for what seems like the 500th straight year, "the tipping point." I ask you: When it comes to the tipping point, have we not passed the tipping point?
It all sort of makes you want to troop out into the woods alone, reject the whole schmear, like old Thoreau. For ideas on same, I picked up Outside magazine this week. It was the DELUXE YEAR-END ISSUE! and the cover touted stories on "Five-Star Heli-Skiing" and "Naked Ice Climbing," plus something about Tom Brokaw. But it was the holiday gift guide that pulled me in. What better way to escape the gaudy, over-the-top madness of our holiday culture than to get back to nature? Spread across two full pages was the mag's primo gift idea: a limited-edition copy of Lance Armstrong's own carbon-fiber "Livestrong Madone SL" bike, with 22-karat gold inlay. The price, $10,000, includes "an autographed poster of the Man riding the original model into Paris this past July."
And if you don't have time to ride your gold-encrusted bike, the ants will just love it.
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