Tubridy vs. Hughes – who will make a better Santa Claus?

CHRISTMAS is synonymous with consumerism, let’s just take that as a given before we begin. Wrapped up in the story of Christ’s birth is the necessity for parents to appease their own tiny screaming messiahs, but rather than asking for peace on earth for all men these toddlers are looking for moving pieces of plastic assembled by Asian children half their own age.

The question surrounding the commodification of Christmas is not a new one, nor is that depressing Christmas episode of the Royal Family, but around this time both crop up on our televisions. As is common practice, TV molests our eyes, brainwashes our children and creates a fantasy so rosy and unblemished it makes your own life look terrible by comparison.  TV turkey doesn’t exist. Attempting to emulate it is futile.

As a result, we as Christmas consumers flick to the Late Late Toy Show where, in a very Irish way, the otherwise subtle emotional trickery of Marks and Spencer’s and John Lewis are supplemented with refreshing honesty. The show is upfront, honest and at times pretty damn amusing. It’s a show about toys, to be watched by kids so their parents understand what their tiny balls of inarticulate screaming and inexplicable jam stains want for Christmas. It’s honest, and even if the honest truth is pretty deplorable it’s better than having children believe that Coca Cola should be in any way connected with happiness (corn flakes ads are fine, as they probably aren’t that bad for you).

The show is a staple of our lives in Ireland, and when we see that it’s ‘that time of the year again’ we reach for the cheque books, count the pennies, or in my own case, pawn anything that isn’t nailed down to buy expensive soap that your mother clearly doesn’t need. But it’s the thought that counts. The ‘Toy Show’ evokes a host of emotions that can only really be understood by the Irish people. We laugh and love the ‘John Joe Brennan’s’ whose love of clocks makes us forget the recent economic black hole that appeared below us. We adore the PC audience banter and innuendoes that are so embarrassing your sherry filled granny giggles, and racist-robot-from-a-not-so-distant-past Pat Kenny aside, we enjoy the presenters trying their hardest to care about machines that make lipstick taste like skittles.

The Late Late Toy show is as much a staple for us as is the ads, the lights and the crushing failure that comes with cooking something we only ever see once a year. But this year a contender has arrived on the scene.TV3’s Alan Hughes will be presenting ‘Showpal Christmas Toys’ and it will air half an hour before the start of Ryan Tubridy’s terrible Christmas jumper. For a man whose challenge segment on Ireland AM has seen him eat crackers, hot chicken wings and be beaten in a bike race against a child, the prospect of selling toys to children will be a walk in the park. But what risk has he taken here? An attempt to break the hegemony that RTE holds over Christmas toy fetish-ization may leave some casualties. Ryan Tubridy is after all taller than Alan Hughes and thus closer resembles a Christmas tree. However Hughes’s resemblance to a Christmas bobble could be a serious threat to Tubridy.

The truth is that although the earlier timing of the TV3 show could see some of the ‘Toy Show’ audience tune in, it will only be for those ‘Toy Show’ fans who spend most of their year Google imaging pictures of Santa watching reruns of last year’s show who physically go into withdrawal if something Christmassy isn’t within their line of sight. Or just out of curiosity, I’m not totally sure.

What I am sure about is that the obvious attempt to undercut the Toy Show will not succeed. We are too emotionally invested. The ‘Toy Show’, as ironic as it sounds is the only place where Christmas does have some heart. Amidst all the glitter and (I would presume) children’s vomit backstage from nerves, there’s a collective acknowledgement that nothing can live up to the superficial image created by consumer culture, and that there is something charming, even endearing about the shambolic scramble toward TV Christmas, which ends in complete and utter failure each year.

Eoghan Regan