The only way outta town tonight is Santa Claus. Kris Kringle. The Man in the Red Suit.
Couldn’t think anything but bad thoughts Sunday when I heard it in the other room: “Santa Clause is Coming To Town.” Clay-mation or stop-action-mation or however they made those cool Christmas specials featuring lights and snow and joyous elfin jesters back in the day.
This was the original, the story of how it all began, the story of the Revolution in Somberville and the War Against Toys.
Kris a subversive young man with extremely bright red hair, is raised in the woods by rebel elves called “Kringles.” Kringles are artisans, craftsmen, who reject the authoritarian regime of nearby City of Somberville. They and their leader, a woman known as “Tanta,” teach Kris readin’ writin’ rithmetic’ and how to make toys.
And get this: Kris makes friends with animals in the woods, develops this noble savage/Rousseau/Sioux medicine man thing with squirrels, birds, rabbits, reindeer and a little penguin who looks remarkably like the universal Linux logo (is this where Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman got the idea?) They teach him to run, jump, think and LAUGH like an animal. He grows up and sets out to distribute the Kringles’ toys because – because the Kringles want children to enjoy them.
So the Man in the Red Suit saunters into Somberville, a dark ghetto full of depressed, oppressed, repressed white people (well, not EXACTLY white: looks like a shtetl out of a Shalom Aleichem story, real Fiddler On The Roof stuff) run by this mean old Nazi, the Burgher Meister Meister Burgher, who prohibits toys or fun of any kind. It’s A War Against Toys.
But Kringle manages to corrupt the children and their pretty, young, extremely red-haired school marm, Jessica, by getting ’em all high on fun. He melts the icy heart of the Winter Warlock with the gift of a toy Choo-choo train. He even gets the Burgher Meister off with a psychedelic yo-yo until one of the Meister’s henchmen reminds him he’s breaking his own law, so The Man In The Red Suit splits and —
— commercial break. Grim reality, so called.
This woman says to me, “You’ve got a yeast infection.”
I say, “No way.”
She says, “Yeah you do, and you use greasy, gooey topical creams.”
“You’ve got a yeast infection and you cover it with cream to hide the shame of your stanky cooter. Admit it. It’s okay.”
But there’s a way outta this mess, she tells me. I don’t need to rub this wretched, thick cream on my itchy labia if I just swallow this little pill. Don’t smear. Swallow.
“Wait a minute, Lady, what’s in that little pill?”
But poof she’s gone, and some old fart with a face like a scrotum tells me he can cure my hemorrhoids with – guess what? – a little pill.
“Hold on there, old-timer. What’s in that little pill?”
But back to the story:
Something obviously subversive about a guy (in red, no less) sneaking into a town full of oppressed repressed and depressed workers who work morning to night every damn day till the weekend during which they work on looking busy, and the Burgher Meister says so.
“You are a radical unt a non-conformist!” the Meister barks, to Kringle mit heavy Deutsche gutturals.
Musta been written by lefty Jews, this Christmas special, what with the dark-haired ghetto folk lorded over by a fat German autocrat, and red-haired, red-suited Kringle, like the slap-happy fool we wish Schindler had been, distributing colorful, hand-crafted artifacts created solely for the health and enjoyment of children — for free! Kringle actually shouts out joyously, “I love my job!” ARREST THAT MAN!
And the authorities sure try, but Kringle’s got a whole support network, including Jessica, the school-marm; the now kindly but impotent Winter Warlock (no more magic powers what’re they saying here about wickedness and power I’m confused); the children; the animals and the Kringle elves who make the toys and actually ENJOY their work and were only sad because no one else could enjoy the fruits of their labor until Kris became their fence, their middle man, their bag man (literally) to distribute PRODUCT.
Of course he ends up in the slammer — how can he not, with that nasty burgher king and his goons always on his case? But he busts out by feeding the reindeer these magic seeds that make them fly (can we get in any MORE drug culture versus authority references here? I don’t know whether to refer to a Oliver Stone’s NIXON or Euripides’ THE BACCHAE).
And there’s all SORTS of subversive goings on: rebel kids on the circuit leaving their doors open (and getting caught); kids hanging stockings for Kris to stuff with toys at night (and getting caught); Kris climbing down the chimneys cause the doors have all been locked (and getting caught).
And every time THE MAN tries to crack down, the network of rebel thrill-seekers grows until Kris – who grows a Che Guevara beard and changes his name to “Claus” after a wanted poster names the clean-shaven Kris Kringle PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE – is welcome among fellow travelers and creatures of the woods like Che himself among the peasants.
Santa and Jessica marry outdoors amid trees decked out with sparkling trinkets galore. They exchange vows and gifts among their friends – animal, vegetable and mineral – before god, but they don’t say which god, and it’s implied by the ceremony we’re dealing with Dionysus or the Green Man or some polytheistic party god/goddess, not pissed off Yahweh or his Hippy Son (nice guy, but so damn serious – all those issues with Dad, I guess)
Cut to yet ANOTHER commercial:
“You’re depressed,” a somber but not-too-blue lady (might scare consumers if she looks too bummed) tells me.
“Not anymore, man. Santa Claus is COOL!”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Millions of Americans are depressed.”
“That’s cause they work too much, play too little, and have to deal with a farbisseneh like you! Beat it.”
So she goes on to tell me how I can stop being depressed by asking my doctor to prescribe me a dandy little pill.
“But what, I ask you, what IS IN THAT FUCKING PILL?”
Poof she’s gone and a guy comes on singing about how he’s so happy (must have taken a fistful of those pills: he’s wearing a tie and in the middle of an office-suite labyrinth of corpse-gray cubicles) cause he bought this PDA (personal digital annoyance) palm pilot thingy to help him organize his work and be not twice but thrice as productive – DOING WHAT? WHAT ARE YOU MAKING? TOYS? AT LEAST THE FUCKING ELVES CAME THROUGH WITH PRODUCT! – and he bought it on Ebay right before the digital gavel closed the bid. He beat the competition so he could get a good deal on this pain-in-the-ass gadget he plans to use to help his employer beat the competition. Gadzooks! Get away from me you freak, get off my screen before I turn zap yer ass with the remote –
–but back to Christmas. Santa and his posse realize Somberville’s just too hot with the TEA (Toy Enforcement Authority), so they start this free commune in the North Pole where they make toys all year round and Santa revs up his sleigh on Christmas eve and distributes hand-crafted playthings among the good children of the world. He has this “naughty and nice” clause – it’s why they call him “Claus” – but its only a formality. As long as you don’t pout and whine all the time and instead use your energy creatively to buck authority, you’re cool with him. You may not get a super-electronic “KILL TERROR” computer game like you wanted, cause that’s not his thing – Santa and the elves are into craftsmanship, the personal touch, everything handmade – but you sure as shit won’t get a lump of coal.
Finally the narrator – who’s Fred Astair by the way, Hollywood’s own Nijinsky tippy tap tap tapping his holiday rendition of the Rites of Spring – tells us that though Santa’s not an outlaw anymore, and the Burgher Meister and his crowd died away and were replaced by a more liberal administration (we’ll see how long THAT lasts), there are some folks who still hate Santa Claus, and damned if they didn’t cut to:
A HARASSED SALESCLERK in a department store getting yelled at, poked and prodded by adult CONSUMERS who want SERVICE, like, IMMEDIATELY
and THEN to
A CIGAR-CHOMPING EXECUTIVE in his depressing office through the window of which we see a horrible sooty filthy goddamn factory with smokestacks burping toxic smoke into the pure pink lungs of Christmas. And this guy, who’s obviously stacked (no pun), but miserable, says, “Who can think of Christmas in a world like THIS?”
I mean, who wrote the script for this baby, Herbert Marcuse?
Man what a lesson, what a show! I remembered the first time I saw “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” (goddamn!) thirty years ago. I was working on this wood-burning set my parents got me for Hanukah – of course – and it seemed so apropos, the craft I was working on and the craft of the elves, and even now, remembering, I could smell the sweet smoke rising from the wood when once again-
cut to a commercial for yet another little pill to stop my farts from making noise or god knows what, and yet another adult dancing — like a puppet, not a pagan — through the isles of some department store, Stuff-Fer-YOU, or whatever, and the stuff was a bunch of doohickeys with which to thrill your kids, if you can afford kids, and the batteries are not included and there’s no guarantee they won’t be obsolete two days outta the box and say, you look DEPRESSED, anxious, stressed – what you need is this little ol’ pill that’s GUARANTEED to burn that Holiday fever right outta yer Yiddisher Kupf…
Oh Youth! Oh Santa — get me outta town!
ADAM ENGEL believes in Santa Claus but not the little pills Big Pharma hustles on TV. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.