Like most right thinking citizens, you were no doubt outraged at the news that the thugs at the IRS were planning to go after Hollywood celebrities who fail to pay taxes on the gift baskets they receive as presenters at the big awards shows. What's next for these IRS bloodsuckers, you must have wondered, chasing down amputee Iraqi children flown to the US for medical care to make them pay taxes on their donated prosthetic limbs?
Admittedly, these celebrity thank you gifts are a step above the everyday gift baskets most of us are used to the kind filled with biscotti, fruit preserves, chocolates and other indulgences that you might send to a neighbor as a way of saying, "Sorry for getting drunk and digging up your septic tank with my backhoe." No, the IRS targeted these awards show "swag bags" because they're often crammed with thousands of dollars worth of diamond necklaces, iPods, designer purses, free cosmetic surgery coupons and, for the very top tier celebrities, ready-to-adopt African babies.
Rather than take on the IRS, the Golden Globes and Academy Awards have opted to do away with gift baskets entirely. Under normal circumstances I would oppose this sort of heavy-handed government intrusion on principle (the principle being my delusion that I might someday be on the receiving end of one of these goody baskets), but in this case I see an upside.
My hope is that, much like so many other fads that got their start in Hollywood (see: The "Rachel" hairstyle, Tae Bo, naming children after fruits, etc.), this move by the big awards shows will spark a nationwide trend away from our culture's obsession with compulsive gift-giving.
I can't be the only one who's noticed that you can barely get through an otherwise mundane social function nowadays without armfuls of presents changing hands. Before leaving the house, you have to first ask yourself, "Wait, do I need to bring a housewarming gift? What about a hostess gift? A graduation gift? An office Secret Santa gift? Is it Valentine's Day? Mother's Day? Father's Day? Grandparents' Day? Secretaries' Day? Give Everybody You've Ever Met a Gift Day?"
Lately it's even become commonplace for people to send gifts as a thank-you for gifts they themselves have received. This, in turn, has led to the endless thank-you note cycle from which it is impossible to escape ("I'm writing to thank you for the note you wrote to thank me for the note I wrote to thank you for thanking me for your thoughtful note of thanks.")
Bridesmaids probably have the worst time of it. It's not bad enough that they have to purchase new dresses and matching shoes that, on the Standard Hideousness Scale, typically rank somewhere between "Cringe-worthy" and "Even Dennis Rodman Would Refuse To Wear This." No, today's bridesmaid must also go deeper into debt than a Third World country to come up with, at a bare minimum, an engagement present, multiple bridal shower gifts, a "wishing well" gift, a bachelorette party gift and, of course, a wedding present. That's to say nothing of the gift for the baby shower which, nowadays, at least is often conveniently held at the same time as the bridal shower.
I admit that recently, while helping my wife wrap yet another present for yet another distant acquaintance to acknowledge yet another minor life event, I let loose with my frustration.
"Why can't we just go back to the way things were in the old days when you only had to get presents for people on Christmas and their birthdays?" I fumed.
"But don't you think that would be a little unfair to people who are Jewish?" she asked.
I admit I was a bit taken aback by her question. I tried to keep my dismay at her ignorance to myself, patiently replying, "Um, honey, I don't know how to break this to you, but Jewish people celebrate birthdays too, you know."
I guess my main problem with all the rampant present-exchanging, besides the cost, is that you often wind up having to buy gifts for people you barely know. But isn't the personal touch what makes giving someone a gift so special? Say, for example, that you have a friend with a birthday coming up. After thinking over what might make the perfect present, you recall that he's an avid Beanie Baby collector. Armed with this piece of information, you immediately realize the proper course of action, which, of course, is to end the friendship. I mean, come on, a grown man collecting Beanie Babies?
This is no doubt a good start, but much more work remains. Perhaps, with luck, through this column I can turn the tide against the gift-giving epidemic plaguing the nation. If I succeed, feel free to thank me. But please, no gifts.