Monday, December 26, 2005

JINGLE BELL HACK: A hacker takes on Santa

Hacking SantaWarning: The following blog post has absolutely nothing to do with mediation, conflict resolution, or negotiation. I’m posting it because it’s funny, it’s seasonal, and it’s a great example of the capacity of the human imagination to transcend its bounds in pursuit of subversiveness.

While perusing the latest edition of the Boston Phoenix, I stumbled across an article with the irresistible title: "Hacking Santa", about Tulsa, Oklahoma, resident Josh McCormick. Josh was shopping in his local Wal-Mart in search of something to hack for submission to "You Can't Show That in Tulsa!", an avant-garde art show, when he suddenly had an epiphany there in the aisle of Wal-Mart: "One item out of the entire store screamed 'hack me' more than anything else. The $49.84 animatronic Santa Claus."

Josh purchased the five-foot-tall "Animated Singing Santa" ("this singin' Santa's head turns, and he swings his hips while moving his mouth to the words of the song"), took it home, and hacked it. Instead of singing "Jingle Bells", Josh’s Santa now utters phrases like "I can give you free stuff because I skimp on elf health care. Ho, ho, ho!"

Why hack Santa? As Josh explains on his web site,

Aside from an interesting hack, I actually had an artistic statement for this piece. "Who controls Santa Claus?" was the question I had hoped that viewers would walk away with. Today, it is the corporations who mass produce items (such as this) and media companies who tell stories. They have the power to redefine 'public characters' such as Santa and add or change their mythology. They do not directly own, but they control our shared mythology. But what are their goals? What biases do they have? And what limits their behavior? These are questions this piece asks.
You can read about Josh’s act of corporate subversion here, which includes instructions on hacking your own Santa.