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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Wrapping Paper

Does that diagonal hack work? And what connects a cheery Christmas tune with Jeffrey Dahmer? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Wrapping paper! Could that paper be better used on a dirty butthole? How much paper do rappers make? And is the thrill of ripping stuff up worth damaging the planet? Let’s unwrap some Christmas wrapping paper fun facts.

Lie #1: “Guess I’ll Recycle This”

Gifts are more fun wrapped than unwrapped — the suspense of wondering what something is and slowly revealing it is a powerful thing, with a paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology finding recipients were significantly happier receiving the same gift wrapped than unwrapped. 

Despite this, and the age-old cliche of kids preferring to play with the wrapping paper than their actual gifts, it’s pretty crappy stuff. The majority of it is non-recyclable, but a lot of it gets optimistically shoved in with actual recyclable stuff, causing whole loads to be diverted to the landfill. If it has foil or glitter in it, it can’t be recycled. Bows and ribbons can end up blocking the equipment in recycling plants. Paper-based tape is recyclable while plastic-based tape isn’t.

Recycling companies suggest doing the “scrunch test” — scrunch the paper up into a ball, and if it stays balled it can probably be recycled, while if it doesn’t, it’s headed for the trash. About 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper ends up in landfills in the U.S. every year.

If you enjoy the thrill of unwrapping stuff but don’t want to fuck the planet up, there are less wasteful options. Buy recyclable paper and ideally reuse it as many times as you can, or use other things instead of paper. Presenting someone with a gift wrapped in a tea towel, for instance, not only prevents waste, it also means you have something handy for wiping up eggnog vomit as the day progresses. 

Lie #2: “I Have This Diagonal Wrapping Hack, I’m Saving Tons of Paper”

Every so often a cute little lifehack thing sends the internet into a bit of a tizzy. The idea of wrapping items by turning them around 45 degrees and saving paper by doing so gives the world a gently festive hard-on every year or so. 

Can it be true? Have we been doing a very pedestrian thing completely ass-about-face for centuries?

Yes and no. Engineer Dave Van Ess flung himself into the math of it all, and did so, impressively, while slightly drunk (“don’t drink and derive,” he jokes, which is probably fucking hilarious if you can remember what “derive” means in a math context). He concluded that, for any given package, the diagonal wrapping method does not in fact save any paper — however, it does allow for different-shaped pieces to be used, so in a situation where you have a certain amount of paper to wrap multiple objects, combining traditional and diagonal wrapping might get you the most wrap for your buck. There is a downloadable spreadsheet on his Instructables page to work out exactly how much you need. Exciting! 

Lie #3: Wrapping Stuff Up Is the Best Use of Paper at Christmas

What about wiping the shit from your dirty asshole after pressing out a big brown dump, eh? What about that? Shitting can be a festive thing, after all — the Catalan tradition of Tió de Nadal, or “Christmas log,” involves feeding nougat to a hollowed-out log known as the Caga Tió, or “shitting log,” for a few weeks leading up to Christmas, keeping it under a blanket then beating it with a stick until, via some Santa-esque parental subterfuge, it shits out some gifts. 

Catalonia is very into shitting at Christmas — it should be called Scatalonia!!!! (That’s probably offensive.) It’s common for nativity scenes to not only feature the usual figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, wise men and the like, but to also have a dude off to the side popping a squat. This figure is called El Caganer (“the pooper”), usually a peasant cheerfully producing a tight coil of ordure while smoking a cigarette. It’s enough of a tradition that, when Barcelona’s City Council did a display without a shitting guy one year, there was widespread outcry

There is no definitive “and this is why we like statues of fellas laying a deuce” backstory — there are connections with using manure to make land fertile for Christ’s arrival, and thoughts that the contrast of holier-than-thou nativity figures with the none-more-human act of dropping trou is there to remind us of human frailty and vulnerability.

Either way, a guy with a dirty asshole probably has a better use for some paper than using it to wrap gifts in. 

Lie #4: “Rappers Make Paper!”

Some rappers do, but not from rapping. The biggest names in hip-hop earn eye-watering sums, with Forbes reporting Kanye West taking home $170 million in 2020, making him the second highest celebrity earner of the year. 

He’s the only rapper in the top 10 earners, however — Kylie Jenner takes the top spot, and the rest are athletes (Roger Federer, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar) and media multi-hyphenates (Tyler Perry, Howard Stern, Dwayne Johnson). 

How much of West’s income comes from actually rapping, though? He’s a shrewd businessman with his fingers in a lot of financial pies. Most of his money comes from his Yeezy deal with Adidas, and he announced a Yeezy/Gap deal this year that is likely to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars over a 10-year period. Forbes officially called him hip-hop’s second billionaire this year — Jay-Z was the first in 2019, and also makes the brunt of his money from business and entrepreneurship rather than, like, doing raps.

Of West’s billion, just $90 million is in music, from his G.O.O.D Music label and his income from his own music and publishing rights — that’s a fucking shitload of money by any metric, but less than a tenth of his net worth. Physical albums simply don’t sell anymore. While West’s 2004 debut The College Dropout sold nearly three and a half million copies, 2019’s Jesus Is King sold just 109,000. Now, of course, streaming is how most people listen to music, and the money in streaming is pretty shit. To earn the U.S. minimum wage of $1,472 per month, you need your songs to be streamed on Spotify 336,842 times. If nobody listened to a Kanye West song for a year, he would barely notice. He’s not buying tanks with streaming checks, he’s buying them with business money. 

Lie #5: “There’s Probably Nothing Sinister About the Festive Hit ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by the Waitresses”

Okay, nobody’s necessarily saying that, but there’s no reason to listen to the funny, catchy, Christmas new wave classic and connect it to a series of bloody murders.

It’s a really fun song — a word-heavy short story that doesn’t really rhyme properly about a woman planning to spend Christmas alone after a hectic year. It was written and recorded for a Christmas compilation put out by ZE Records, a New York-based label mainly releasing “no wave” music, a kind of avant-garde, irony-strewn offshoot of new wave. It was thrown together in a few days by The Waitresses’ founder Chris Butler, using fragments of other incomplete songs, and was largely forgotten by the band while they promoted other projects, slowly becoming a hit over time. The Spice Girls covered it, it showed up in Glee — it’s part of the Christmas music canon.

Patty Donahue sadly died in 1996 at just 40 years old, but Butler is still an active musician and songwriter, and entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1997 after writing the world’s longest pop song, a 69-minute odyssey called The Devil Glitch. Oh, and he lives in the house in Ohio where Jeffrey Dahmer killed his first victim

Unlike when other musicians have seemingly sought out murder houses for creepy inspiration — Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral was recorded in the house the Manson Family killed five people in, for instance, although Trent Reznor claims he was initially unaware of the house’s history — Butler found out by his real estate agent feeling obliged to disclose the information midway through the purchasing process. 

While Butler has cashed in on his house’s notoriety a little bit, allowing it to be used as a location for the movie My Friend Dahmer and doing the occasional ghost-hunt show, an attempt to sell the door to the crawlspace where Dahmer chopped up the body of his first victim in order to raise money for charity — a well-intentioned but perhaps misguided charitable endeavor — ended up grossing him out enough that he abandoned it. Merry Christmas!

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