Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nerd Word of the Week: SantaCon

Santa Lights a Winston (Santarchy)
SantaCon (n.) - A flash mob or mass gathering of persons dressed in Santa Claus costumes, usually for the purpose of performance art or mild civil disobedience. The term is a play on the -Con naming tradition of science fiction conventions. These events are also known as Naughty Santas, Cheapsuit Santas, Santa Rampage or Santarchy. SantaCons regularly occur in major cities during the holiday season, either as a celebration of, or commentary on, Christmas traditions (or simply as an excuse to dress up and act a little nutty). SantaCon participants may distribute gifts to strangers or sing bawdy versions of traditional Christmas carols, while other may simply descend on a retailer, restaurant, or area of town en mass.

Both SantaCon and perversions of the Santa Claus image have a long tradition in speculative fiction. No less a noted novelist than Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk wrote about a Santa Rampage in his book Fugitives and Refugees. William Gibson imagined a supposed Santa battling a sentient, burglar-repelling house in "Cyber-Claus", while both Doctor Who and the Futurama crew have faced off against robotic Santas with rather overzealous definitions of naughty and nice. Of course, Santa isn't always evil. In the pages of the webcomic PvPSanta fends off the Christmas-crushing ambitions of a superintelligent cat each year, occasionally with the help of the superhero team Jingle Force Five. In the same vein, Santa saved the world from alien invaders in the nonetheless horrible cult B-movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. If you're a good little boy or girl, the real Father Christmas will place the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of this flick in your stocking, rather than the stinking lump of coal that is the uncut original.

I bring it up because: Four years ago tomorrow -- Dec. 18, 2005 -- the Auckland, New Zealand SantaCon supposedly erupted in a violent riot that included looting and property damage. The event was organized -- allegedly -- in the online forums of the skateboard magazine Muckmouth by one Alex Dyer, who claimed it was merely an excuse for drunken revelry that got out of hand. Like all Santa legends, the truth or the Auckland Santarchy has little to do with the public perception of the event. As such, SantaCon (or, at least, Santarchy) is developing a myth of its own, one that's far more often naughty than nice.