“Toys are hereby declared illegal, immoral, unlawful, and, anyone found with a toy in his possession will be placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon!”
You might recognize that decree. It comes from Burgermeister Meisterburger in the Christmas special “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” He is literally the reason why kids cannot have fun things.
Unfortunately, life seems to be taking its cues from art. As others have noted, the Huffington Post released a video pointing out what it saw as “problematic” aspects of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” In no particular order, the video highlighted: Clarice’s dad rejecting Rudolph, Donner covering up his son’s defining feature, and Comet banning Rudolph from the reindeer games.
Maybe the video was satire. After all, like most morality tales, you have to wait until the end to get the point. And, at the risk of spoiling the movie, Rudolph’s “different-ness” explicitly saves the day. Christmas Day, to be exact.
However, you can’t really tell whether it is satire or not. This is an example of “Poe’s law,” which claims that — on the internet — no satirical video can be distinguished from a sincerely-held position in the absence of some sort of specific indicator.
The confusion around Rudolph exists because other traditional parts of the holiday season are being called into question. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a flirtatious duet, and a product of the era in which it was written. To a modern ear, some of the lyrics carry meanings which did not exist in the 1940s. “What’s in this drink?” was a way a single woman could abdicate responsibility for socially-questionable choices, such as spending the evening at a suitor’s home. The idea of alcohol as “the devil’s drink” was still alive and well; prohibition had only ended 11 years earlier.
But, today, “what’s in this drink?” conjures up connotations of date rape. That led a Cleveland radio station to (temporarily) ban the song. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation did the same.
Meanwhile, closer to home, one of our great modern traditions kicked off last weekend. A convoy of trucks, troopers, veterans, volunteers, and others departed Downeast en route to Arlington National Cemetery. “Wreaths Across America” has achieved national recognition, through volunteer service and donations, to discharge a noble mission at the headstone of every American veteran: Remember. Honor. Teach.
Yet, as trucks were loading up, the Portland Press Herald ran an article calling the operation into question. Why? Because the founders of the charity run the wreath-making company that supplies the wreaths.
It isn’t a secret. In fact, because they had extra wreaths left over one year, they drove them down to Arlington. That was when the idea for Wreaths Across America was born.
The article carefully did not accuse the founders of the charity and owners of the wreath business — the Worcester family — of actually doing anything improper. But the article cribbed liberally from critics of the organization, such as “CharityWatch” claiming the connection was “outrageous.” The essence of the complaint stemmed from Wreaths Across America paying Worcester Wreath Company $10.3 million for 1 million balsam wreaths.
The cost, $10.30 per wreath, doesn’t seem terribly outrageous. The men and women who make the wreaths need to be paid for their effort, and even if they were hiring high schoolers, the automatic minimum wage increases at the state level hits charities and businesses alike. Health care isn’t getting cheaper, and electricity costs are going up again. In short, from all the evidence we have, the criticism is much ado about nothing.
Yet that has not stopped our modern Burgermeisters from stomping on Maine charities, old songs, and classic Christmas stories like Rudolph alike. Fortunately, in “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” the townspeople ultimately rejected the petty tyrant’s silly rules and overturned the toy ban.
Hopefully life will continue to imitate art, with Rudolph, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and Wreath Across America all still with us next Christmas.