December 27, 2004

Debunking a Christmas Meme

I just remembered something that I was ranting about to the ever-patient Butcher's Wife on Christmas Eve, namely the annual whining about the "dread" instructions "Some Assembly Required". This is a meme that has reached a saturation point equivalent to the panic in which Dee Cee residents love to indulge at the slightest hint of a snowflake within a hundred mile radius. In fact, what set me off was an article in the usually sane Wall Street Journal marketplace section about the supposed hardships people face trying to figure out the assembly of their (mostly children's) presents and the efforts of companies to placate their customers with more "user-friendly" instructions, including the use of words of one syllable wherever possible.

I hate this carping, hate it, because I think it represents not reaction to a genuine problem but instead simply decadent, self-indulgent, morale-sapping whining. People, what happened to that Frontier Spirit? Where is the American Can-Doism? What became of good old-fashioned Yankee Ingenuity? Do you think our grandsires, the Greatest Generation, who stormed the beaches at Normandy, would have started kicking their little heels and pounding their little fists because their kids' "Beauty and the Beast" play castle required them to figure out how to insert tab A into slot B? Do you think our parents who faced down Ivan and brought the Soviet Juggernaut to its knees would need counseling to overcome their feelings of anxiety because the printed instructions that came with their new stereo system are in three different languages and actually require them to, gasp, turn over the freakin' page? Of course not! And what would they think of us now? Think they'd lost the war, that's what. Think this country had been reduced to a gang of socialist Euro-weenies, they would. This makes me ill.

I've had to put together many toys and other presents in my puff, often times with instructions that were vague or otherwise unclear. I've also had to overcome instances where pieces did not fit together as they should. But I have never, ever had any trouble doing this. There is no problem here. All it takes to overcome these glitches is a little common sense and (on occassion) a bit of creativity. It does not require an orgy of panicked self-pitying helplessness.

In short, I don't want to hear any more of this nonsense. Don't make me start taking names.

UPDATE: Yikes! As The Colossus points out in the comments, Lileks was on about this today. But this is what I'm talking about. Did he wilt? Did he cave? Did he collapse Denathor-like under the oppressive weight of the thought of the Dark Manufacturing Lord's wrath? No! Rayther, he remained calm, cool and collected and stuck to his post. Well done, James.

I'd also note that Lileks' crisis centered on a couple of (temporarily) missing pieces. I sometimes finish a project with pieces left over. These I collect together and place in The Box of Many Things. No do-it-yourselfer should be without one. In a situation like James', it can really make the difference.


How 'bout a little Handyman Cheesecake?



Yips! to the Enlighted Cynic for the link.

Posted by Robert at December 27, 2004 12:26 PM

Lileks was talking about just this thing today in the Bleat. He couldn't find a couple of pieces the instructions called for. He did persevere and get through it, though.

Posted by: The Colossus at December 27, 2004 01:37 PM

Shssssshus! I am the King Uncle of Christmas because I can put together anything!
(just need hammer, screwdrivers, rubber cement and a bag of "here, now shut up" chocolates)

Posted by: TC@LeatherPenguin at December 27, 2004 01:44 PM

I remember everytime my Daddy came home from the bar to put our Xmas gifts together, I ended up going to the hospital with a broken limb.

While I am all for the "can do" spirit please people, don't drink and assemble. 1 beer=Japenese makes sense. 6 beers=kid is on ass with broken arm and Yu gi Oh tyke bike is in pieces.

Posted by: Wittysexkitten at December 27, 2004 02:25 PM

I had my first encounter with "some assembly required" on Christmas Eve. My twenty-one month old Future ROTC Scholarship Recipient was sound asleep and Mrs. Llama Military Correspondent suggested it would be a good time to assembly the wagon. The red Radio Flyer has evolved much since my childhood. Gone are the medal bed and splinter-producing wood rails, replaced with molded plastic with flip-up seat backs, seat belts, and cup holders--everything a two-year old would need except antilock brakes, sat nav, a .50 caliber Desert Eagle, and a five-CD changer. Fortunately for the future generation, Mrs. LMC's reading of the directions combined with a little LMC brute force and ignorance saved the day.

Posted by: LMC at December 27, 2004 02:51 PM

Spot on!

Have you noticed how those doing the carping are usually that generation between "The Greatest" and the one who has delivered and maintains the greatest communications tools in the history of mankind? (Yes, I mean the ever-whining boomers - the same ones spending the social security money I'll never see again.)

When I was growing up in the 1970's and 80's, I was usually asked to put together someone's toys, and was dissapointed if I didn't get to assemble my own (usually). If you want to know where that Pioneer Spirit and American Can-do'ism is today, start here: Compared to these guys, MacGuyver is a punter!

This is the America we are regaining. Forget about a handful of government sponsored rocket scientists putting a man on the moon. We've got high-energy physicists and laser engineers in the basements and garages of America...just working and waiting. What do you REALLY want for Christmas next year? Find one of these people and ask - they'll build it.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by: MRN at December 27, 2004 03:06 PM

Unfortunately, one of the disadvantages of plastic construction is that you can't use WD-40 on it. To me, a project just isn't really a project without the unique smell of whatever goes into that stuff wafting up your nose.


Posted by: Robert the LB at December 27, 2004 03:09 PM

MRN - Absolutely, yes. The "goddam Baby Boomers" theme is one never far below the surface of my thoughts. And thanks for the link!

Posted by: Robert the LB at December 27, 2004 03:14 PM

A little WD-40...for a fellow addict.

Posted by: MRN at December 27, 2004 03:28 PM

As a lifelong afficionado of legos, model airplanes, pewter gaming figures, et al, i laugh in the face of Japanese Instructions! My Kung Glue is more powerful than theirs! HA!

But thanks, you just gave me something to blog on -- namely, how eerily good at assempbling stuff my 7 year old nephew is. The kid cracks open a legos set and has it assembled in about 5.3 seconds. Just freaky.

Posted by: Brian B at December 27, 2004 05:39 PM

Born in '56 I guess I am on the cusp of 'boomerhood'. My Christmas toys were, like many of my friends, erector sets, tinker toys and lincoln logs. Some of them got Heath kits. We grew up learning that boys put stuff together and took stuff apart.

Posted by: Mike F. at December 28, 2004 09:23 AM

You forgot the DIYer's bestest friend: a massive roll of Duct Tape, in the Update!

Posted by: TC@LeatherPenguin at December 28, 2004 12:25 PM

Tip for the ladies: a little WD-40 dabbed behind the ear works better than Chanel.

Posted by: Ted at December 28, 2004 05:12 PM

Just to be contrary, back then, things had bigger peices and were constructed more simply.

I use a _lot_ of free software (linux, perl, postgresql, apache, et cetera) and love good documnentation (not one syllable, but full).

Posted by: Josh Narins at December 28, 2004 05:39 PM

ceiling fan

Posted by: ceiling fan at January 25, 2005 07:29 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?