Conflict isn’t necessarily an inherent outcome of human co-existence. Maybe, under perfect circumstances, given an abundance of freely available resources and top-to-bottom social justice, we would all exist in a state of blissful cooperation. Maybe, granted complete freedom from all other concerns, every interpersonal relationship would be defined by openness, kindness, trust, and generosity. I couldn’t tell you if this is the case, because we have never had a chance to find out.

As it stands, life on this planet kinda sucks. We are all of us just trying to eke out an existence in a society that pits us against each other, most of us squabbling over jobs we hate and prestige we can’t find to make ends meet, while the ultrawealthy laugh themselves to sleep on their gold-plated private sex islands. You are going to end up hating people — possibly mutually, possibly not. The fact of the matter is, you are going to find yourself in situations where you are forced to spend time with, and possibly even give gifts to, people that you just straight-up fucking loathe.

Luckily, for this situation, there are joke gifts.

Sure, you could get something meaningful. You could attentively listen to them throughout the year, noting what they say about their interests, gleefully latching on onto the phrase ‘wish I had one of those’ with the terrifying swiftness and security of a giant squid latching onto a deep-sea fish. You could use this information to give them something delightful that they either didn’t know that they wanted, or knew they wanted but for some reason had not allowed themselves to purchase. You could thrill them, displaying the sort of thoughtfulness that makes them feel seen, listened to, and cared about. You could foster a beautiful friendship based on this one disarmingly kind and intimate act. You could create something lovely.

But no, that’s exactly what they would want — that piece of shit.

There are no hard and fast rules for what constitutes a joke gift, but we all know one when we see one: A heavily discounted ‘as-seen-on-TV’ gadget that absolutely does not work. A pair of hideous socks. A book that objectively sucks. A toy version of something the person actually wants. A custom made t-shirt made that reads ‘I’M GREG FROM ACCOUNTS PAYABLE AND I LOVE TO GARGLE PROBOSCIS MONKEY BALLS’ in 512pt Times New Roman. Basically, a joke gift is anything that elicits a brief, begrudging chortle, followed by an insincere and unconvincing thank you, which is, in turn, later followed the recipient yelling ‘KOBE!’ and spiking it directly into the bin.

What makes the joke gift so perfect is how it wastes the time of every single person involved. The giver of the joke gift wastes their time finding, buying, wrapping, and giving this gift. The recipient of the gift wastes their time pretending to be glad this happened before transporting it temporarily back home and starting it on its long journey to landfill. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to witness the gift exchange wasted their time taking part in this nightmare pantomime of generosity. And, of course, the criminally underpaid child labourer who assembled it while choking on chemical fumes wasted their time constructing it.

That you have ended up in a position where you feel compelled to give this person a gift likely means that, despite your deep and tantalising hatred for them, you cannot just tell them to fuck off. Flipping them the bird on each hand and telling them to eat your whole ass is not on the cards. While almost nothing is as satisfying as doing exactly that to someone who pisses you off, the joke gift offers to you the same rapturous expression of contempt with a microscopically thin veneer of plausible deniability. ‘Haha mate,’ you say. ‘Just choking your chain mate, just having a laugh.’ It is, inarguably, the perfect crime.

What the joke gift really says is that you had the time and resources available to, perhaps, purchase something that would make the recipient actually happy in some fashion, but chose not to. Instead of enriching their lives in some fashion, you chose to spend your money pointlessly adding one more tiny piece of trash to the already insurmountable pile of trash that is choking the world to death.

Through giving them something that has no utility whatsoever, knowing it will only be forgotten and discarded, you have given the gift equivalent of waiting until they fall asleep, sneaking into their bedroom, and whispering ‘Fuck you, Greg’ directly into their ear.

Image: Netflix