Puzzling Super-Ironic Corporate Holiday Greetings

12/27/2006 01:00 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I know a lot of people who are funny for a living. And almost all of them send me funny Christmas cards. Some are silly funny ie: my friend who always poses with a cut out of a rabbi. Some are ironic funny ie: My friend who sent a Xerox of an irate harangue he received from his manic depressive paper carrier. Ditto for my friend who sent a photo he took of a real Santa stationed at the Scientology Center under a sign that reads "The L.Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland."
All of these people correctly assume that I share an appreciation for the humorous content of the cards they have sent. I have worked in the humor business for almost three decades. I am not easily puzzled.

But this year I received a couple of Christmas greetings from television show conglomerates that are so awash in ironic intentions that many days later I still am trying to figure out what they are trying to say. That is how ahead of the curve and funny these people are; they have sent holiday greetings that are, to me, incomprehensible.

The most puzzling one came via Fed Ex, in a padded envelope. full of sheets of packing bubbles. Inside was a mirror, in an aluminum frame. On the surface of the mirror is a frosted white semi transparent realistically rendered painting of an open mouthed tiger, growling. It looks like the kind of a bar mirror that you might find in a certain kind of rec room where there would also be a pool table and a lot of joke plaques about golf. In the corner of the mirror is the name of the trend setting entertainment conglomerate who sent it. Nowhere is there any additional explanation.

The day I opened it, I just stared. As of today, I am still trying to figure it out. It looks to me, no matter how I try to slice it, like the kind of thing that I would walk right past at a flea market, never even looking down to see how much it cost. It's not aesthetically pleasing . It also isn't obviously funny. That leaves only one other thing it could be: incredibly hip. But here's the rub: I don't get exactly why.

As I examined it further, I noticed that the mirror was broken in half. By now I was so confused by it that I started to wonder if the break was intentional. Perhaps the crack was part of the joke, adding yet another ironic layer, while also providing a dead pan comment about how these crappy bar mirrors always have a crack in them. Unless the crack was underlining the further irony of how anything you pack in packing bubbles always arrives broken anyway.
So confused was I by this gift, I decided to ask reasonably zeit-geisty friends of mine for an explanation.

"Puzzling and inaccessible is just a safer way to go than clever." Said a cartoonist.
" Maybe its a reference to Siegfried and Roy, the broken mirror reminding one of the dangers of bringing entertainment to the public," suggested a comedian.

"No. Here's what it is, "said a rock musician, "It's like a recording by the Osmonds, or a black light poster. Its an example of what I call 'shit worshipping'."

The mirror did come with an accompanying card; a posed sentimental photograph, in glowing amber tones showing an unidentified generic snowy haired elderly couple sharing a warm hearted seasonal moment by the fire place and the Christmas tree. Maybe a little too warm hearted. "Happy Holidays," the card says, in ominously small letters, though clearly the subtext is "We all know that the corny sentiment of this imagery is so totally out to lunch it requires no comment."

Maybe by now you are thinking "Merrill, what is your problem? You are lucky to have a big TV conglomerate send you something free for no real reason." And you're right. It is always nice to get gifts. Even those you can't fathom that are either intentionally or unintentionally broken and therefore have to be thrown away.

Its just that I plain old don't get why any corporate marketing executives would decide to go to the trouble and expense of special ordering and mass mailing a Christmas gift made to look like a neglected unsaleable thrift store item. Unless its a big misfire, perpetrated by real life version of the guy that Ricky Gervais played in The Office; someone who thinks that everything he says and does is hilarious, despite all evidence to the contrary. But even inside of that scenario, at some point he had to be presiding over a board meeting where various gift ideas were being proposed. "No, no, we've done interesting, useful and amusing year after year after year." someone must have argued, " I got it! This year let's do useless and hideous!!"

I suppose I am also forgetting to take in to account that bad frosted bar mirrors might just have blossomed in to the hot new collectible. It gets harder and harder to keep up with where that line is drawn between things you throw away and things you put in to a display case.

In the last analysis, I could be the one who is way off base here. Maybe the tiger mirror IS hilarious to everyone but me. Maybe every other person who received one is laughing their incredibly hip butts off every time they look in to it. Maybe I am the only one who doesn't get the joke. And therefore the joke is on me. While I'm waiting to find out, I won't glue the mirror back together.
There is also the possibility that a lot of people find a painted bar mirror to be a thing of beauty. In that case it is a terrible misfortune that mine arrived broken. (Unless the broken aspect of it only enhances the inherent, if incomprehensible beauty.) (Or the hilarity. See explanation above.)
But ultimately I think the bottom line may be that when a corporation decides to do irony, the ironic result is that the cool detachment that a living breathing funny person brings to an ironic statement morphs in to the condescending snarky smirk of a Dick Cheney. Corporations can be many things. Intentionally ironic may not be one of them. Maybe that's why irony is so rampant these days. Its one of the last remaining arenas in which the individual can still beat the pants off the corporation.