Preserving Holiday Traditions and Family Traditions Today for a

I recently fell for the clickbait title: “This Amazing Ad Takes a Bleak but Loving Look at Christmas in the Year 2117 – A post-apocalyptic tale of togetherness” and read their analysis of a creative video ad by the German company, Edeka. The article focused on the human fear of an AI takeover and its consequent apocalypse. It also questions many of the story discrepancies from this perspective.

The video is set in a bleak post-apocalypse urban setting where there seem to only be robots. A team of robots are “marching” in form when one of them looks to the side and gazed at an old movie theater. He is enamored by a poster depicting a Christmas family meal. He wants a closer look, so he breaks away from his team, hides behind a car, and sneaks into the abandoned movie theater.

At the movie theater, our robot protagonist finds a decorated Christmas tree, an old newspaper article showing the humans fled the cities, presumably because of the robot takeover. He goes to the back to find the film and plays it. The film shows a heartwarming scene where an ordinary family with a father, a mother, a son and a daughter celebrates Christmas over a nice meal at home. The father gives the daughter a wrapped present and she gives him a big hug in gratitude.

Excited, the robot steals the Christmas tree and tries to renact the scene from the video with mannequins. Even though he had the tree and the right number of mannequins, the experience didn’t live up his vision. So, he decides the key ingredient he’s missing is humans. He remembers the newspaper article which showed mountains in the picture of fleeing humans. Our robot deduced that the humans must be hiding in the mountains and runs off to find them.

A great distance later, the robot discovers a lit cabin in the woods. He knocks on the door and a grizzly man opens it. He’s on guard, but his young daughter is not. She’s part of a newer generation. The robot hands her a gift, the star from the Christmas tree. She accepts the gift and they welcome him to their home. He is seated at the dinner table and observes the warm interactions of the family. The father tells a story of his encounter with a bear. The children laugh. It’s perfect.

The little girl returns his gift with her own: a heart-shaped sticker, which she sticks on his chest. Our robot has a heart. The video ends with the statement: “without love, it’s just a feast.”

To me, the abandoned city setting and the return to nature means the author condemns urban life. The city is where robots live. They’re militant, marching in orderly lines, and scouting for enemies between marches. The city is a cold and desolate place of rules and regulations. By escaping to the mountains, the humans in the cabin have abandoned the city for a more natural lifestyle. Their home is big, warm, and happy. They don’t turn away the robot when he comes, but are open to his intentions and accept him as a convert.

Therefore, rather than view the story as a humans vs robots sci-fi narrative, I see it as a metaphor for today. Some people are like robots—maybe the government, maybe the Wall Street executives, or maybe the corporate employees and factory line workers who live bleak, routine lives. These people are lonely, but not for each other’s company, but for a warmer presence they cannot find in their environments. They’re lonely for love, family, and the warmth of acceptance.

The humans who fled and abandoned the cities are the wise ones. They got away before they could turn into robots. Perhaps robots can turn back into humans, too?

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What I learned from China and a roll of toilet paper

I was sitting in the dining room of our West Los Angeles airbnb apartment when I noticed a roll of toilet paper on the dining table.

What the heck” was my first thought, and I proceeded to call out my Chinese husband on his “error”.

Why is the toilet paper in the dining room? We have paper towels, napkins, and tissue boxes…so why bring the toilet paper out of the toilet?

Return culture shock
By the second time I noticed this, it occurred to me that this was normal in China. Even though we bought tissue paper and paper towels, sometimes we would resort to toilet paper in the house. At many offices I worked, my colleagues had toilet paper in their desk drawers or placed on the pantry dining table. I’ve even seen college students bring out a huge roll of toilet paper from their jacket pockets to unroll enough for a sneeze while out walking.

All of this was pretty normal because toilet paper is more economical, you can buy it in bulk, and it’s a daily necessity. In comparison, you could go without tissue paper (Kleenex), paper napkins, and paper towels. Toilet paper is obviously a practical person’s go-to-paper.

Yet here I was, a few weeks back in the US, and already judging my husband for using toilet paper the “wrong” way. It’s one of those things that I used to think makes me feel more “civilized”, and now that we were back in the West, I felt a need to return to our old ways.

Dreadfully uncivilized
But, wait, why does it matter if toilet paper is on the dining table? The same reason why there are coffee and tea cups, coffee mugs, water glasses, glogi glasses, shot glasses, beer mugs, whiskey glasses, red wine glasses, champagne glasses, and the list goes on–capitalism.

If you use the wrong glass, you’re uncivilized. If you use the wrong fork, you’re uncivilized. If you use the wrong plate, you’re uncivilized.

…See where I’m going with this? There’s no practical purpose in these “rules”. If you learn about etiquette, you might learn of some convincing reason, like how the aroma of wine stays within the glass longer or enters your nostrils better, but is it practical? No, it just sounds fancy. You can drink wine from a plastic cup, the bottle, or even a barrel as many of us might’ve discovered in college.

Designating specific types of paper for different purposes is just like having a whole aisle for “liquid coffee creamers” at the supermarket (only in the US!). You don’t need such variety, but product designers and marketers will tell you you do in order to sell you more stuff.

Revolution a Privilege
We can look at China’s cultural revolution and shake our heads at her supposed backwardness, shaming the nation for its cultural loss. Or, we can look at China’s cultural revolution and recognize the revolution for what it is: a revolution.

In the West, there are cultural norms, rules that dictate what is civilized and what is not. If you’re uncivilized, you’re backward, uneducated, and even, savage. These are colonial terms that many still throw around to establish class differences. If you’re poor, you didn’t take etiquette classes as a child, and missed out on valuable lessons from your private tutor. Poor people are always uncivilized.

China in that sense is like a blank slate. Rich Chinese can be of any class, like the infamous tuhao. They have the power to revolutionize society on their terms, rather than follow the age old lead of the west, where they will never be revered as equals. Young Chinese are free to educate themselves and pick and choose their values and build their own cultural identity. Is this not enviable?

Maybe I can too. I took a piece of the toilet paper on the dining table and wiped my nose. Huh. Why was this a big deal again?

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