By Max Burbank
Like many modern American Jews, I learned everything I know about Christmas straight from what seemed to be the most reliable source available, Rankin and Bass. Jesus aside (a footnote at best, having a non speaking role in only one Rankin Bass Special, a late entry at the end of the Animagic era, “The Little Drummer Boy”), Christmas revolves around worship of the life and deeds of the man/god Santa.
What do we know of this “Jolly Old Elf?” Is he a reliable vessel for our Children’s faith? What are his labor practices? If he and the Christ Child had a no rules cage match with Superman and the Tooth fairy, who would win?
To examine Santa’s character, I have decided to view the Rankin bass Christmas works not in the order they were created, but in the chronological order of their story lines. For purposes of this article no reference will be made to the ‘crossover’ work of the late ‘decadent period’ (where Santa is at best peripheral) or Frosty the Snowman, a pale imitation of Burl Ives' “Sam the Snowman” and a fat, lying bastard.
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (1970)
Here we learn the root of Santa’s multiple issues, his abandonment as an infant. Raised by a foster family of Elves, he will suffer complex questions of identity throughout his life (see Cher, “Half-breed"). In this light, the compulsive rejection of the rule of law (see ‘Bergermeister Meisterberger’) which lands him in jail is no surprise. Rather than serve his time and allow the possibility of rehabilitation, he instead turns to the Dark Arts (see ‘Winter Warlock’). A brief nod is given to Judeo-Christian Ethic when the Warlock looses his powers because he has become ‘good,' but by the end of the hour his abilities have inexplicably returned. Santa, having dragged a local school teacher into his delusions of grandeur (see Sissy Spacek, Badlands), convinces her he can see children at all times, and must judge them as ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’. With his common-law bride and Elf gang (see Bonnie and Clyde) Santa ‘goes on the lam,' fleeing quite literally to the ends of the earth. Only the Bergermeister’s death avoids a Waco-like siege at the North Pole. Now Santa’s cult of personality calcifies into legitimate religion, which is certainly nicer for the Elves and Reindeer than the vat of grape Kool-Aid Mrs. Claus was almost certainly mixing up.
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
Santa, in the grip of psychosomatic illness, cancels Christmas. Having achieved psychological domination of the world’s children, he now abandons them, symbolically becoming his own Parents on a scale befitting his megalomania. His actions constitute passive-aggressive punishment on all children for failure to ‘believe’ in him. Only when fealty is established (as demonstrated by the bestowing of gifts upon Santa by what appear to be the animatronic robots from the “It’s a Small World” ride) can Christmas take place. Santa’s usurpation of the holiday (the concept that he has the authority to ‘cancel’ the celebration of Christ’s Birth) is now complete. This episode’s overall darkness of tone (See The Empire Strikes Back) is mitigated slightly by the show stopping “Heat Miser” “Snow Miser” numbers.
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Santa’s power continues its decline (as shown by his rapidly fluctuating weight, a sure indicator of Body Dysmorphia). Abandoning the ideology of his youth, he becomes a primarily secular authority. Crabby, irritable, old and above all thin, he drifts easily to the role of supporting character. His management style can be seen in the brutal sweatshop mentality of the toyshop, which values only conformity and is unable to embrace the diversity embodied in Hermey, an openly gay Elf. His social values are reflected in the neo-Teutonic ‘Reindeer Games,' forbidden to Rudolph (see Schindler’s List) whom Santa only accepts into the fold once a way to exploit him has been discovered (See X-men). Santa is again seen as willing, perhaps even eager to ‘cancel’ Christmas. His excuse this time is Weather, demonstrating that either his will or his magic have become weaker than the Oath of the U.S. Postal Service. Those who see Santa’s inclusion of the ‘Misfit Toys’ as a sign of ethical growth will be dismayed to learn that Rankin/Bass added this scene in 1965 after an intense write-in campaign. (See The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass, Rick Goldschmidt, Tiger Mountain Press) The psychological import of Santa Hot-rodding around the North Pole on an oversized Norelco electric shaver is really anybody’s guess, but was obviously disturbing enough to be cut from modern broadcasts.
Ape Culture and all associated pages are