In The New Christmas Canon, The A.V. Club looks beyond Rudolph’s nose and Zuzu’s petals to highlight entertainment from the ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s that’s become a seasonal staple—or deserves to.
There’s some truth to the stereotype that dudes are apt to be lousy givers. Especially when intended for a significant other, guys’ gifts are often marred by a variety of pitfalls. They’re too effortless (“I’ve already gotten her these earrings in cyan, periwinkle, sapphire, teal, and turquoise—do you have them in azure?”), too selfish (“I just figured you’d want to see my favorite band, too”), too demeaning (“Consumer Reports rated this as the best toilet brush out there”), too over-confidently crafty (“Damn it… well, I guess I should have used a few more nails after all”), or too problem-solving (“I noticed the strap on your bag was loose, so I got you a 10-step leather restoration kit!”). It’s this general male cluelessness that converts Saturday Night Live’s digital short “Dick In A Box” from a shallow, one-off gag into a classic of Christmas comedy.
Ranked by Rolling Stone as the third-best SNL sketch of all time, and winner of an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics, “Dick In A Box” went viral for more than simply pushing the limits of crass content on network late-night. The bit propelled its subjects, moronic old-school R&B balladeers Andy and Raif (played by Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake), to multiple follow-up appearances on the show; helped solidify The Lonely Island (which largely developed the idea) as a stand-alone comic act; launched internet memes and T-shirt logos and countless pop-culture references; and created a mainstay at costume parties for years to come. But its December 16, 2006 premiere meant that “Dick In A Box” was first and foremost a holiday song, and in that context it takes on its larger, men-mocking meaning.
The setup: Samberg and Timberlake, two indoor-sunglasses-wearing crooners riding indefinitely on the coattails of Color Me Badd, are sharing special moments in yuletide tableaux with their girlfriends (Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig), who are similarly trapped in an early ’90s time capsule. The atmosphere having been appropriately set, the duo breaks out a little serenade to accompany their Christmas gifts. “So just sit back,” Samberg instructs, “and listen.”
With that seductive command, an instantly catchy, throwback, horns-punctuated midtempo jam begins to soundtrack a rapidly unfolding nightmare. Wrongly approximating how to combine romance with class, Samberg and Timberlake aggressively rub roses and feathers in their girlfriends’ faces and gently caress their jawlines. Furnishing their ladies a full feast for the eyes, the two posture and pose and stroke their goatees.
The presents themselves are based on a premise borrowed from Diner’s infamous penis-in-popcorn scene, yet still so absurd (and unexpectedly raunchy) that few watching it live could see it coming. But the humor of a dick in a box (with wrapping paper and a bow, of course) isn’t just that it’s gross and silly, or that guys seem perpetually obsessed with their own sex organs. Rather, it’s a pinnacle of terrible gifting that globally implicates all kinds of masculine holiday mistakes.
Primarily, it’s a crude epitome of the egotistical present: A gift that stems from the innate belief that the giver himself is the greatest thing his girlfriend could ever receive. Most items that fall into this category are a little less obvious, but have the same motivation; for example, the sports lover who gets his girlfriend a jersey for whenever he wants to go to the game probably presumes, on some level, that his companionship alone is so treasured that all she could additionally want is to accessorize it. Similarly, the joke pokes fun at chauvinistic presents, those that imply a woman derives the most pleasure from providing it for her man. This might include that pearl G-string that she’s never expressed any interest in adding to her wardrobe.
Now, “Dick In A Box” certainly wasn’t intended to be piercing criticism or heady exploration of gender dynamics—it assumes this line of thinking is amusingly ridiculous on its face. In these idiots’ world, women are actually titillated and aroused by the welcome surprise of another chance to relish their boyfriends’ anatomy. The hilariously starry-eyed, lusty reactions of Samberg and Timberlake’s girlfriends (though Wiig could perhaps stand to have a little less feather) only further illustrate how detached the singers are from relationship realities.
The video also takes aim at other glaring missteps in holiday giving. As is evidenced by the chorus—packaging up their own members for Christmas is in lieu of diamond rings, fancy cars, and luxury houses—Andy and Raif are transparently cheap. That’s not to say a gift has to cost a lot to be worthwhile, but the idea should have independent merit without having to disingenuously dismiss pricier alternatives as meaningless or superficial. In other words, she may enjoy an IOU for breakfast in bed and a massage, but her level of excitement (whatever it is) won’t likely be significantly boosted with an explanation that a pair of designer boots she’s fond of wouldn’t be heartfelt enough.
Lastly, Samberg and Timberlake’s antics target shamelessly lazy presents. As is evident from their cursorily choreographed shuffle-dancing throughout the video, these are dudes who are satisfied with half-assed effort. And a large part of why the two are so passionate about their concept is that it’s so easy—so simple, in fact, that they can sing how to do it in about 20 words (“One, cut a hole in the box / Two, put your junk in that box / Three, make her open the box”).
Altogether, this perfect storm of narcissism and thrift prompts Samberg and Timberlake to ardently promote their design to all “fellas out there” as the ideal gift for any holiday (or any other time a dude might want to draw attention to his cock). It’s this broad suggestion to the rest of their gender that clarifies the farce is not just about these two buffoonish guys, but guys’ buffoonish tendencies overall. Ludicrously dumb Saturday Night Live characters can endure for a lot of reasons, but the self-absorbed imbeciles of “Dick In A Box” have lasted as Christmas icons by capturing the essence of male stupidity at a time of year when it is most conspicuous.