Here's what's going viral: A supposedly authentic image of a young child's note to Santa, asking for the toy he wants for Christmas. The twist? Instead of telling Santa what he wanted directly, he wrote out a 179-character (yes, we counted, give or take for childlike handwriting) URL to an Amazon page.
Cute! And kind of terrifying, if a child actually wrote it. Here's the Amazon item in question:
Between you and me, though, this note wasn't written by a child. Follow this link down the rabbit hole to Reddit, and you'll find a user who's made a lot of karma following out of posting funny images. And he seems to have gotten it originally from contributing The Onion writer Zack Poitras.
Here's Poitras' full, original satirical piece, in which the requested products get more ridiculous as the URLs go on, like links to Orbitz international flights and night vision goggles from BassPro:
Clever! Indeed. And actually, the article's viral potential was increased immensely once it was dissociated from the original source, because it appeared to some to be the genuine article.
Why'd it go viral? Pretty simple. It plays with the viewer's perception of technology and how it's affecting our children, as well as hits and subverts that nostalgia cortex in your brain that BuzzFeed is constantly trying to hit.
On the first point, it's pretty simple to see what the image accomplishes — it's not so different, for example, from the viral "I Forgot My Cell Phone" video that went viral on Youtube earlier this year.
As Cyborgology's Nathan Jurgenson writes, the video works on both an aesthetically and philosophically pleasing, superficial level (Look at how quaint things were before cell phones!), but also has a more problematic subtext:
"The sentimental sappiness of this trend on display in this video is the fiction that people are not connecting anymore, that people are robots rather than human, that we’ve lost experience in the moment … but I am the special exception."
There's some of that at work here as well: Viewers of this image don't just look at it and think it's cute (though that's a large part of its appeal). They're also imposing themselves into the narrative to think that their childhood wasn't like this, that children these days are intrinsically different and thrown into a confusing world of technology before they quite know what's going on. As Jurgenson wrote about the "I Forgot My Cell Phone" video:
"... Much of its popularity is the result of the larger narrative that we’re trading-the-real-for-the-virtual which is largely untrue and instead functions to make those sharing the video sure of themselves as a very extra special person."
There's a kernel of truth behind both viral posts: Just like it is, in fact, sometimes better to leave your cell phone at home, it's not unrealistic to think kids might be sending Amazon links to Santa (as they likely do with their parents). But the larger narrative is still nostalgic reflection about a supposedly better, or at the very least, more quaint past that didn't really exist in the first place. Christmas gifts have always been about commercialism and pumping up lagging end-of-year retail sales.
But there is something that would genuinely bother me about this image if it were real: the abandonment of any pretense that Santa's the one building Christmas gifts for kids in the first place, and instead, at best, acting as some sort of delivery middleman for corporations hawking holiday deals. Either he'd be a very smart kid, or it'd be another small indication how far America is taking consumerism — something that actually affects us, for better or for naught or for worse, in the real world.