11/06/2007

The White in Santa's Beard is the Coke, His Belly the Can

Hooray for Slickdeals! A few weeks ago, I signed up for a handful of FREE magazine subscriptions. One was Entertainment Weekly, a magazine I thought Cassidy would enjoy. As is usually the case, I become hooked like a trout. Then I see this blurb.



First of all, I don't spring for the usual dribble from Hollywood's mouth. Sure, here's the occasional You, Me, and Dupree, but I like my films more artsy. I know most people love that garbage, so I don't criticize it. However, this reeked of ad-creep.* Look, I laugh at little people too..



... but this is ridiculous.

Let me start at the beginning. Christmas is a holiday celebrating Jesus' birthday, right? Not really. First, a melange of Christian, harvest, and pagan holidays combined into one all-inclusive day. How did this get started? Well Christians wanted to convert pagans, so they just decided to throw Jesus into the busiest holiday time in Europe.

Saint Nicholas lived around 300 AD, under 5 feet tall and with a broken nose. As an infant, he was so holy that he fasted from his mother's breasts 2 days a week. And when he found out a couple was going to have to work the street corner to make ends meet, he threw money into their windows and chimney. According to some customs, he even employed a pack of demons to deliver goods, and Saint Nicholas himself was said to torment naughty children in their sleep. The lesson was, if he liked you and you were nice people about to whore, then you hit the jackpot.



Meanwhile, in Germany, there was a legend about the Norse god Odin. He was said to have rode his flying horse onto rooftops so his horse could feast on hay voluntarily left in children's shoes. In exchange, Odin dropped some candy in the shoes. Odin was an old guy with a beard, and people have always loved both money and candy, so you can see how the two icons got mixed up after some back and forth conquering and interbreeding. Why settle for candy when you can have money and candy?



Throughout the Middle Ages, a bona fide holiday began to emerge on December 25th. It was a point of tension between Catholics and Protestants. Mainly because drunkenness, promiscuity, and gambling were accepted parts of the festivities. In Dutch country, Saint Nicholas evolved into a character named Sinterklaas, who rode on rooftops on his horse "Bad Weather Today." He also may or may not have had an African slave boy, but that's been whitewashed, of course.



Point is, what people learned from Sinterklaas was that you could drink and sleep around and still get money and candy out of the deal.

Centuries later, the North American colonies were settled, and the Dutch settled in what is now New York. Teasing is as old as the human race, so a local author made a joke of Sinterklaas, depicting him as a jolly, fat, smoking sailor in a green winter coat.



Meanwhile, in the UK, Father Christmas, a different version of Saint Nicholas, didn't bring gifts, so he was promptly merged into the image on Sinterklaas. This resulted in a modern image of Santa Claus, invented by a cartoonist named Thomas Nast, in the 1800s. After a fictional book by L. Frank Baum, many companies latched onto his idea of a rich, flying immortal. This was more adaptable to commerce during the Industrial Revolution. In the imaginary world, they could sell anything. For example, Coca-Cola cemented the image of the jolly old fellow in red and white with a barrage of advertising in the 1930's.** He'd been depicted that way before, but in a matter of years he was decked out permanently in Coke colors.



Around the same time, someone came up with the "workshop" model of toys, a merry image of happy but productive elves using traditional methods in a production line. I've always looked at elves as just smart-mouthed children. And I don't think it's a coincidence that child labor laws were under threat at the time. What better propaganda to spread than one similar to children in a factory, banging away for the good of the whole country? Luckily this image didn't kill a sense of morality, and in 1938, well after the workshop model had first appeared, FDR signed limits to child labor. I say we shut down the sweatshop at the North Pole too!

In the 1950's, suddenly Santa had a wife. Mrs. Claus is a dutiful partner who doesn't do much except give the jolly old man a foot rub and cup of cocoa. I know everyone loves this image, but it's more propaganda. Why? Well, as you learn in any history book, the 50's were a time of middle-class expansion. Some call it the baby boom, because all the soldiers coming back from the war got married and banged out a few kids. Well, this wasn't accidental- the country was worried about the Communists, and people not married didn't have kids.*** The idea of a June Cleaver-type was good for the country's most prized resource (besides nukes) - human labor.



Which brings me to my original point. I was looking in EW and saw this set for Fred Claus, which includes modernized toy manufacturing. I know this isn't knew, but the product placement is what threw me.

Let me recap.
1. Arbitrary day is chosen for a holy day.
2. Holy man is associated with holy day.
3. Holy man gives out things to nice people.
4. Holy man likes to party and loosens up his morals.
5. Cool, pipe smoking drunk becomes immortal.
6. Said drunk switches to Coca-Cola and matches his clothes to the bottle.
7. Sober, happy, immortal enlists the help of laborers and makes gifts in his factory.
8. Immortal gets married to subservient wife.
9. Companies outsource to immortal man who doesn't exist except in popular media.

Yeah, right, the only way I'll believe all this is if North Pole (which is water, by the way) labor standards are worse than the ones in Southeast Asia. Hopefully I can start up some holiday and myth that will last longer than this whole commercial charade.



FOOTNOTES:
*I've actually been softening up my anti-corporate stance lately, believe it or not. My next post will probably deal with it.
**It is worth noting here that, in the early 20th century, Coca-Cola did, in fact, contain cocaine. 9 mg per glass, or about a quarter of a line.
***The government would eventually resort to researching the gay bomb to deal with this problem.

4 comments:

cassidy said...

where to begin...

first off, i am probably going to be seeing the vince vaughn movie. why, you ask? because. I happen to enjoy ridiculously cheesy christmas movies where the attractive, cynical brother has to rise above the successful older brother and in the process, find that soft fuzzy in his heart.

also, i have just found out how annoying advertising holidays are. and yet, i find myself singing along with target holiday commercials. ugh

great blog, pictures always help me :)

Emma said...

this is my favorite christmas story (if the link doesnt work just search for 'david sedaris 8 - 8 black men') http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjUFl1mEpX8

Emma said...

oh and the holy man still hits the bottle here - tanduay rum to be more specific

Drew said...

oooh maybe he'll give you a bottle of whiskey haha