Posts Tagged ‘Santa Claus’

Bentham and Foucault might have been interested in the panopticon but every December we get a view of  true social control in the form of an overweight man at the North Pole. Santa Claus (or Sandy Claws, as he is sometimes called) is just the latest in a long line of beings whose sole purpose is to control children through fear (Krampus is another example, as is the Belsnickel, as Dwight demonstrated on The Office). Recently, though, Santa has been doing his spying by proxy (giving him more time to bully young reindeer).

In Santa’s place are his elves on the shelves, a team of small elves who began taking up residence in people’s homes in 2005. These elves observe the behavior of children and then fly back to the North Pole to report their observations to Santa each night. The magical ability to do so begins when the elves are named (before this point they are apparently in some sort of coma during which they can be sealed in boxes and sent to stores around the country) but the elves are in danger of losing their magic if touched. Upon returning each night, the elves hide in a new place and children delight in finding them each morning. Apparently, some of the elves also like to get into mischief, making them both spies and hypocrites.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

If you have continued reading, prepare yourself for a shock. The elves are actually inanimate objects with neither magic nor the ability to report to Santa Claus each night. Instead, adults in each household are responsible for moving the elves around (thus touching them and ruining any magical potential that they may have had). As you can imagine, this creates quite a bit of work for these adults, to the point that there are posts dedicated to dealing with the fact that they forgot to move the elves. The elves have also been copied in various ways. Telling children that Santa can see them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake and knows if they’ve been bad or good seems much easier, especially since adults are likely to run out of creative places to hide the elf after about the third day.

Assuming that the intention of Santa, Krampus, the Belsnickel, and the elves on the shelves is social control, it seems that the elves would be both the least effective and the biggest pain in the ass. Imagine if the prison designed by Bentham made it possible that prisoners could be observed at any time unless they touched the prison wall, in which case a door came down that cut off the potential view of the guards. There might be no escaping Santa’s creepy spying or the Belsnickel’s judgment, but if I was a kid and I wanted to get away with bad behavior you can bet that the first thing I would do is touch the damn elf.

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I have always considered A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to be the holy trinity of Christmas specials. (While I later developed an appreciation for the other Rankin-Bass animated shows, I am steadfast in my belief that Frosty the Snowman is absolute shit.) Over the years my affinity for these specials, and Rudolph in particular, has been challenged by my knowledge of sociology. This doesn’t stop me from watching it each year, but the sort of joy I receive from it now comes as much from mocking it as it does from nostalgia (and quite a bit more than the joy I receive from believing it is any sort of good storytelling). Here, then, are some semi-sociological thoughts (and questions) I had while re-watching Rudolph on TV the other night:

  • For having a very distinctive appearance himself, Santa sure isn’t very accepting of differences in appearance.
  • Based on the four food groups that Buddy discusses in Elf (Candy, Candy Canes, Candy Corns, and Syrup), they really do need a dentist at the North Pole.
  • Other than Rudolph and Hermie, Clarice and Yukon Cornelius are about the only non-assholes in the entire movie.
  • Why doesn’t Yukon Cornelius’s tongue ever get stuck to his pick axe?
  • Which is worse for a kid, the threat of being eaten by an abominable snow monster, or whatever might happen on an iceberg with a strange man?
  • My favorite gender stereotyped line, spoken by Donner when Rudolph’s mother (a.k.a. “Mrs. Donner”) and Clarice want to help him find Rudolph: “No, this is man’s work!” They show their respect for his wishes by waiting a few minutes before setting out on their own.
  • On the Island of Misfit Toys, what is wrong with the girl and the scooter? Some have speculated that the girl has emotional issues. She does smile a lot and cry a lot. Maybe she is manic depressive. Some are apparently misfits on the outside, some are misfits on the inside.
  • Given the talking toys, do Rudolph and Toy Story exist in the same universe?
  • When everybody thinks that Yukon Cornelius has died, this only reinforces the belief in gender stereotypes. As Sam the snowman says, “Well, they are all very sad about the loss of their friend, but they realize that the best thing to do is to get the women back to Christmas Town.”
  • Has anybody watching Rudolph ever actually been sad about the supposed death of Yukon Cornelius? I doubt it. Regardless, he is believed to be dead for less than a minute of screen time, so the sadness wouldn’t last long.
  • Santa gains a lot of weight very quickly. That can’t be healthy.
  • To all of the kids who have wondered how Santa gets down their chimneys, the answer is that HE DOESN’T! The toys are delivered via umbrella and then eat the cookies themselves. (Do toys eat?) The ends of the umbrellas must also double as lock-picks for houses without chimneys.
  • Where I grew up, Rudolph went down in history like Columbus, not George Washington, Abe Lincoln, or whatever historical figure people put into the song where you lived.

What can we take away from all of this? Rudolph lives in a world of bigoted, sexist assholes. They hate him until they need him to help them out. In this way, Santa is like the captain of the football team who bullies the smart kids in school until he needs help with his math homework. I wonder how Rudolph was treated when they didn’t need his help to get through a terrible storm…

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