In a recent Red Dirt Blog post, our friend and token arch-conservative Red Dirt relates how his three-year-old daughter -- whom we shall refer to henceforth as Red Dirt Daughter -- has an inexplicable and terrifying fear of Santa Claus. Now, we suspect the poor kid was already a bit traumatized from being forced to fingerpaint all that Kofi Annan hate mail during naptime, but regardless, we certainly feel for the young 'un.
Santa can be scary. Especially at the tail end of a three-day bender.
Anyway, the whole Satan Claus business reminded me of my major complaint with "The Polar Express," the Robert Zemeckis-directed animation fest that has been unfairly maligned by so many Disney-lovin' critics. I'm not a terrific fan of the film, granted, but it luxuriates in elegant visuals reminiscent of the source material, the lush Chris Van Allsburg children's book. While the movie admittedly is a bit thin on the storyline, which chiefly substitutes runaway trains and out-of-control rollercoasters for plot points (you half expect Vin Diesel to show up and get seriously elfin), what the heck, there are worse ways to spend a weekend afternoon.
But then our film's four lovable rugrats -- nondescript existentialist-type protagonist; indigent but sadly lovable orphan boy; African-American Christmas-lover who takes no guff off these sniveling white boys; and know-it-all creep who's this close to an ass-kicking -- all finally arrive at the seemingly semi-abandoned North Pole, only to discover that Santa's Workshop apparently has become a subsidiary of the Leni Riefenstahl Face-Beautiful Day Spa. The elves dutifully goose-step into the main square.
Wisps of eerie Big Band music trickle in from the cavernous behemoth structures that comprise the North Pole, the strains of piano and brass clattering across long empty ballroom floors, like some outtake from "The Shining." What gives? Is this where Santa makes toys or gets his marching orders from inner voices? And where did Mrs. Claus go with that Ron Goldman guy, anyway?
Here comes Santa Claus. Tall and lumbering, glum as a tumor and resembling a waxwork Golem revved up by jumper-cables. This isn't the Santa of 34th Street. No, the Santa who gets in the kids' faces in "Polar Express" offers no "ho ho ho" or even much in the way of gifts. This Santa has taken all that we-love-you-Santa crap to heart. He's a demagogue and ready to teach the kids -- your kids, Mr. and Mrs. Americca -- some valuable lessons.
This one kid is too much the smartass, Santa concedes, and needs to learn humility -- lest he receives what we humans call an ass-whuppin'. Then Santa determines that the indigent kid is too concerned with going it alone. For such a transgression, Santa urges the child to be reliant on other people (I wouldn't be surprised if the Republican-controlled Congress launches a probe into Hollywood whipping up such nostalgia for the welfare state of yesteryear). The black girl is, well, a black girl, and in the patronizing world of P.C. moviedom, that means she is a Born Leader. (And why not? She's make-believe, the easiest kind of positive racial statement in Hollywood).
Santa dispenses these lessons to our main characters with a relentlessly humorless expression. It is the look of Abraham when the Ol' Testament codger persuaded his youngest son, Isaac, to hop on top of that rock and paint a bullseye on his chest for Yahweh. It is the look of Charlie Manson when John Lennon made himself the size of a tsetse fly and buzzed into Crazy Charlie's ear to explain what "Helter Skelter" really meant.
In short, "Polar Express" presents the sort of Santa you'd definitely not see pushing Macy's shoppers toward Gimbel's and vice versa. No, this is more repo man than Saint Nick.
And what are we to make of it when the elves erupt into waves and waves of obsequious applause and salutes and assorted pyrotechnics? It's tough not to think to yourself: "First they came for the elves, but I was not an elf, so I said nothing. Then they came for the teddy bears and jacks-in-the-boxes and Power Rangers, but I was not a teddy bear or a jack-in-the-box or a Power Ranger and so I did nothing ...." You know the rest.
So to Red Dirt Daughter: Keep fighting the good fight. Don't let Santa Claus come to your house this year. As for me, I'll leave him milk and cookies, sure, but I'm no fool. We're keeping a rifle rolled up in a Bob the Builder poster right beside the night stand .... just in case.