Dear Santa: My 2021 Pop Culture Christmas Wish List

I’ve always been split on the concept of composing a wish list for Christmas.

On the one hand there’s no arguing against the ruthless efficiency of the practice; the guarantee against Christmas morning hopes being dashed through the snow. For the gift-giver, having a list to adhere to eliminates all kinds of stressful second guessing and streamlines the shopping process— in that sense, writing out a list of presents one yearns to receive could almost be viewed as an act of Christmas charity.

But something about the exercise has always struck me as vaguely mercenary, something that too starkly reveals the commercialized and capitalist bones of what is supposed to be a warmhearted exchange of goodwill. Sure, your expectations are met, but there is something lost in having set expectations at all, in reducing your loved ones to the role of glorified Amazon delivery worker.

As a child, I negotiated this paradox by rarely asking my parents for anything specific— trusting instead that my strong personal branding would guide them in the right direction, namely towards books and Barbies— but always helpfully itemizing things for Santa, who, I reasoned, had the added burden of a billion or so extra children to keep track of. I did always add the incredibly Canadian caveat that I would be happy with whatever Santa chose to bring me if, for any reason, he was unable to fulfill my wishes, which I hope my mother appreciated while committing her recidivist acts of mail fraud.

If I am to extract what I want from the pop culture -sphere this Christmas, I do believe I will need to once again resort to my old Santa letter style tactics. I can’t just assume that the broader universe of creators, and producers and screenwriters will somehow intuit exactly what my heart desires and deliver it to me. I have to advocate.

Sure, 2021 has already given me more than one jolly man could reasonably carry down a chimney: two new albums from my all-time favorite artist, eight hours of documentary footage concerning my all-time favorite band, a Marvel movie finally centered around the character I cared about the most. In asking for more, I am potentially veering perilously close to Veruca Salt territory, or at least exhibiting the same toxic traits as the fans who demanded a four hour version of a film that seemed pretty mediocre in any format. I promise I don’t expect my every entertainment whim to be catered to— I’m not waiting for a surprise West Wing reboot centered around President Sam Seaborne, for example. I just think it would be nice if my whims were at least considered.

But, if for some reason my dreams are too big and my asks are too high, I promise to be happy with whatever I receive. Because most of the time the best kinds of Christmas presents are surprises.

Please let Spider-Man: No Way Home live up to its hype

I am a recent convert to all things Marvel. As in, this year recent. To have only started paying attention to this expansive universe now, more than twenty movies in, during what is officially known as “Phase Four” does feel a little like becoming a Bulls fan in the 2000’s, but I am determined to believe that good times can still be ahead. As in, perhaps only a scant few days ahead.

Hype can be difficult to quantify, but the trailer alone for Spider-Man: No Way Home racked up an astonishing 355 million views upon its first day of release, which seems like a solid enough indication that this movie will be a significantly larger event than any of its Phase Four compatriots. If rumors are to be believed, anyone who has ever been tangentially associated with any iteration of a Spider-Man movie will be in this movie. Most of their appearances will mean little to me, to be honest, because as I said I’m new to all this, but still I feel a vicarious kind of excitement. Just as I’m also feeling some misplaced apprehension. “With great hype comes great potential for disappointment” is, I believe a famous quote from the first Spider-Man franchise. But hopefully putting anything less than total trust in Marvel will prove to be my rookie mistake.

Please Give Me An Evermore: Long Pond Session, Taylor Swift

It is almost certainly the epitome of greed for me to ask for anything more from Taylor Swift. Over the past sixteen months, the woman has given the world four full studio albums, three music videos, even a short film. By now she is probably tired, and has absolutely earned some rest.

Still, I can’t help but linger awkwardly around her doorway, trying to shift her attention back to evermore. Lost between the Album of the Year -winning folklore and both (Taylor’s Version) reclamation projects, evermore was never given the distinct era it deserved, despite the fact that it just recently became an AotY nominee in its own right.

But this oversight can be easily corrected! In late November of 2020, Taylor released a documentary concert film to accompany folklore, because, it bears repeating, she is an unfathomably productive human being. In between stripped down performances of all seventeen narrative-driven tracks, Taylor discussed the creative process behind each one with her primary collaborators. All of this took place at Long Pond Studio, a secluded cabin somewhere in the woods of Upstate New York— the very same studio she recently returned to in order to record the “sad girl fall” version of “All Too Well”. Were she so inclined, this would have been an excellent opportunity to give evermore the Long Pond treatment. I won’t even demand the insightful chit chat portion, out of respect for Taylor’s time. But I do need to see achingly vulnerable live performances of “champagne problems”, “marjorie”, and “’tis the damn season”, and ideally I’d like to see them soon.

I’d worry that I’m asking for too much, but Taylor has conditioned me to believe there’s no such thing.

Please let my heart be genuinely warmed by one of Netflix’s Christmas offerings

As an established and respected scholar of the Christmas movie genre, it is my duty to keep up with the latest additions to the canon. Or at least this is my rationale for watching dozens of Hallmark Channel features every year, all of which are mostly variations on a theme— that theme being the chaste, festive love that can only be found in small mountain towns where it is always cold enough for outerwear but never so cold that anyone need fully button their coat.

Over the past four years, in their quest to occupy every square inch of our eyeballs, Netflix has also encroached upon this feel-good space. Their holiday catalogue has a somewhat different feel to it than the Hallmark offerings— they seem to be more deliberately kitschy, almost algorithmically driven towards finding the ideal balance between ridiculous and charming. Hence, titles like A Christmas Prince, orThe Knight Before Christmas. And it might just be because of the Netflix-sized budget they’re working with, and the level of talent they’re consequently able to lure, but these movies often have a less disposable quality to them, and are much more rewatchable than their made-for-cable cousins— an important quality in any film that aspires to one day become a classic.

This is not true for every Netflix Christmas movie, to be clear— one Princess Switch was quite enough for me, and I have not helped myself to any of the franchise’s increasingly zany sequels. But every once in awhile those content chefs manage to combine a few standard and predictable ingredients together in a way that, if not quite surprises, at least satisfies. I am hopeful that there will be one such once in this year’s slate of titles. I mean, Love Hard stars Silicon Valley scene stealer Jimmy O Yang, and A Castle For Christmas involves a castle in Scotland, a scandal-plagued author, and a grumpy Duke played by Cary Elwes, surely these are all reasons for optimism.

Please let Succession successfully land the (private) plane / helicopter

This is one of those wishes where you’re pretty sure you’re bound to receive exactly what you’re hoping for, but you tack it on to your list just in case Santa or your mother or whatever other benefactor you might have needs reminding.

Succession is the best and most brilliant show on tv right now, the saga of a family company that is barely recognizable as a family and often hardly functioning as a company. The confidence with which Jesse Armstrong moves his characters around his elaborate chessboard while never treating them like pawns is the work of a Grandmaster, and the wholeness that each actor brings to their roles as deeply broken people is the only thing that can explain why I continue to root for various Roys, despite repeated evidence that they are all irredeemable.

I have often heard Succession described as Game of Thrones, if it were only about the Lannisters, and while that’s pretty accurate as far as character dynamics go, I worry that it sets false expectations when it comes to the plot. Three seasons in, I don’t expect Succession to shock us with a Red Wedding or an exploding Sept, because with the exception of the season two finale, twists have never been what the show is about. Despite its title, Succession seems less concerned with who will ultimately end up on top of the Iron Throne of Waystar-RoyCo, and is demonstrably more interested in how the different players have each jockeyed themselves for position on any given lap in a race that may never end.

But I feel confident believing that Succession will make a sharp turn sometime in the final two episodes of the season, disrupting the track it’s been on dramatically, even if it never does resort to actually beheading a protagonist. A show that never wastes a secondary character or a tangential subplot or a single syllable of dialogue always has a destination in mind, and as an enthusiastic passenger I cannot wait for them to take us there.

Please put out new music Rihanna

A Christmas wish that, much like a Christmas tree, is evergreen, and one that will likely also end up in a shrivelled heap at the end of a driveway.

It has been five years since Rihanna last put out Anti, and while I don’t begrudge her the billion dollar empire she has built in the interim, with Fenty Beauty and SavagexFenty, I did not originally grow attached to her because of her ability to engineer perfect shades of contour.

The first time I heard “Pon de Replay” in June of 2005 I was in the middle of crossing a street, and I immediately turned around to cross back so I could be nearer to the restaurant from which this wondrous sound was playing. If your music is capable of eliciting this kind of reaction from people, indefinitely postponing making more of it is beyond baffling to me— it’s blasphemous. As blasphemous perhaps as whenever I periodically drop to my knees and mumble, “Oh Rihanna, oh Rihanna, why have you forsaken me.”

This fourth quarter of 2021 has already seen major releases from the two other points of the Pop Star Ladies Born in the Late Eighties Triumverate (Taylor and Adele). Is it really that unreasonable to ask for a hat trick?

2 thoughts on “Dear Santa: My 2021 Pop Culture Christmas Wish List

  1. Brilliant Ainsley, just fantastic writing !!!
    I would pay bijilion dollars to watch President Sam Seaborn. Bijilion. And Josh has to be his chief of staff. Period.


    1. Chief of Staff Josh Lyman is exactly the show I too would want to watch, and approximately the same price I would pay to watch it! Hopefully one day we’ll see it, the good news for us is that Rob Lowe doesn’t age.


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