Marvelous, Mockable Martha At this time of year, there's no escaping the Goddess of the Glue Gun

November 05, 1995|By Jean Marbella

There is a place, far away and no doubt very exclusive, where the holidays are all green velvet and gold mesh ribbon and sage-infused roasted turkeys and real plum pudding. The citizens spend their days gilding pine cones instead of standing in line at the Toys R Us, no one ever spills red wine on the good linen tablecloth and everything glows in the golden light of hand-rolled beeswax candles.

This is Marthaworld, and as long as you abide by the rules, you can live there. But the rules are daunting. No frozen turkeys with a pop-up button. No last-minute Isotoner gifts. No stick-on bows, plastic wreaths or recipes from the back of a Jell-o box. Nothing that doesn't reek of excruciating good taste and hours of handiwork involving antique silk fabric, an endless supply of freshly sheared pine boughs and/or No. 22 florist wire.

The rest of the year, you might be able to suppress your longings to enter this precious, rarefied world. But come the holidays, you have no choice.

Martha Stewart rules.

'Tis the season to worship at the altar of the Goddess of the Glue Gun, throw yourself at the feet of Our Lady of Good Things, commit your soul to the Queen of Crazed Domesticity.

Go ahead and laugh. Feel superior to those of us who slavishly hang onto her every mandate. Look down your nose at her middle-brow appeal, her faux WASP flourishes, her manipulations of our insecurities. You may think you are too smart or too busy or too sophisticated to fall into her cult. But Martha will get you, someday, sometime when you least expect it. You will find yourself actually gilding a pumpkin, or not just planting a window box but actually constructing one first. I know. I resisted as long as I could, but in the end, I surrendered. And you know what? It's been much easier since I stopped worrying and learned to love Martha Stewart.

There is freedom with surrender. And, with Martha, you can't go halfway. It's all or nothing, and increasingly, "nothing" is simply not an option. She's everywhere. She's somewhere beyond ubiquitous, approaching omnipotence.

There are her books, more suited to the coffee table than the kitchen counter, filled with luscious photographs of meals, gardens and homes you can only dream about. There is her eponymous magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and her television show, also called "Martha Stewart Living." It's my Sunday-morning ritual, as reverent an experience as going to church.

You enter the House of Martha in Westport, Conn., and watch her go about her ministrations with beatific serenity and unshakable faith in her beliefs. It's both Shaker and Puritan, all perfect design and endless tasking, pruning shears to be sharpened and oiled, mantels to be swagged, bulbs to be forced, chaos to be ordered. More recently, Martha has started Martha by Mail so that you can order peony bushes just like Martha's and cake-decorating supplies just like Martha's. And her next frontier: cyberspace. But contrary to rumors, she has not stenciled her particular entrance ramp to the information highway. (Although watch for cookie cutters based on her icons.)

Martha is nothing if not initially and instantly mockable, the easiest laugh since Marabel Morgan. She is Susie Homemaker on steroids, running amok and creating more and more work for us all. She blithely flies in the face of reality: We have less time these days, not more, to cook, bake, clean, garden and otherwise Martha-ize.

Inevitably, she invites parody. Last year, two of her Connecticut neighbors issued the magazine Is Martha Stewart Living? On first glance, it looked just like the real thing. Inside, it followed the beloved formula: Martha's calendar, wherein she reminds herself prune the roses, and, oh yes, also "Return from Sikkim." There were several stories, such as the almost believable "Handmade Condoms: A fitting gift for the '90s."

I must confess I had a laugh, just a tiny one, over this: The parody nails exactly why Martha brings out the claws in many women. There's a sort of implicit competition in everything Martha does, as if life is one big Pillsbury bake-off and she's going to leave you in the dust. Even as she's instructing you on how to make a flakier pie crust or how to dig an asparagus trench, there's this subtext: Don't even bother, you'll never do it as well as I.

But in the end, the parody doesn't quite work. True to form, the real Martha is funnier than any faux Martha. How can you satirize someone who grows patches of organic grass just to put under her Easter ham? Who raises chickens for their pastel-hued eggs . . . which then inspire her to create a line of house paints that sell for $75 per 2.5 liters? And who erects a gingerbread house so elaborate that, should you try to duplicate it, you would need an architect to draw blueprints, a building permit from City Hall and a licensed electrician to wire every room?

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