I celebrated Christmas this year by watching Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and Die Hard, and was stunned by how deeply conservative each of those shows is.
Anything that comes out of Hollywood today, especially when it comes to children’s media, is preachy: Whether the message is overt or covert, Hollywood’s product usually manages to slip in messages telling viewers about climate change; evil corporations and capitalism; the virtues of the European system and the UN; the wonders of women, racial minorities, homosexuals, and transgender people; and America’s deep, intractable racism.
It wasn’t always like that. The Christmas season has a few standard shows that send a very different message. The two I’m thinking of today are Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (full video embedded below) and Die Hard (which is much more than a really good Christmas-themed action-adventure movie).
I have a friend who (gasp!) had never seen the wonderfully cheesy 1970 stop-motion Christmas classic Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. If you, like my friend, are unfamiliar with that holiday gem, here’s a run-down — unless you want to watch the movie instead, which I’ve embedded below.
The show, narrated by Special Delivery Kluger (Fred Astaire) purports to explain how Santa Claus and all the American Christmas traditions came to be. Up until the last minute, it is a completely secular narrative — and the religious touch at the end is only a nod, unlike the full-bore religion in that other Christmas favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
According to Kluger, Santa’s story began in gloomy Sombertown, suffering under the Burgermeister Meisterburger’s angry, repressive rule. (Because his initials, appropriately enough, are BM, I’ll shorten his name to BurgMeist.) When a red-haired baby with a pendant saying only “Claus” appears on the BurgMeist’s doorstep, he insists that the baby go to the orphanage. Instead, a gust of wind whisks the baby away, so that he ultimately ends up with the Kringles, a family of toy-making elves in Rainbow River Valley.
As Kris grows into a man with a hearty laugh (voiced by Mickey Rooney), he learns that the Kringles cannot deliver all their toys to Sombertown because they cannot make it past the evil Winter Warlock. Kris volunteers to make the trip.
Unbeknownst to the Kringles, even once Kris gets past the Winter Warlock, there’s still going to be trouble. The BurgMeist, having broken his leg when he slipped on a child’s toy, banned all toys, making possessing one a criminal offense. Government employees eagerly go along with the plan. Indeed, when Kris starts handing out toys, the beautiful teacher, Miss Jessica, rushes over to enforce the law — no toys!
By giving her a doll, however, Kris helps her realize the error of her ways and she starts to become his ally. The BurgMeist, of course, orders that Kris be arrested and the toys confiscated.
Even though Kris manages to escape the BurgMeist, on the trip home he is caught by the Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn). Kris, however, offers the warlock a toy, not as a bribe, but as a gift. Deeply moved, the warlock’s frozen heart melts, he insists on being called Winter, and he becomes Kris’s ally and a friend to the whole Kringle family.
Kris of course makes another trip to Sombertown to replace the toys the BurgMeist confiscated. To foil Kris, the BurgMeist orders that all doors must be locked and that the kids must work at washing stockings — stockings that the kids must then hang by the chimney to dry. Kris counters the BurgMeist’s repressive edit by slipping down the chimney and hiding the toys in the stockings.
Ultimately, the BurgMeist successfully traps Kris, who is thrown into prison. Kris is rescued when Winter draws upon the last of his magic powers to create flying reindeer who help Kris escape. Kris is now an outlaw.
Because of his outlaw status, Kris goes into hiding, where he grows a beard and takes back his baby name of Claus. He also marries Jessica, and the two grow fat, gray, and happy together. Meanwhile, given the difficulties inherent in being an outlaw making regular toy delivers, Kris begins to deliver toys only at night.
The narrative ends with the information that, as the years have passed, the BurgMeist and his ilk fall out of power and people throw away those repressive laws. Only now, at the very end of the show, does a little religion slip in. Kluger reveal that Kris, because of his kindness, came to be revered as a Saint. In addition, Kris — now Santa Claus — decides to limit his deliveries to Christmas Eve, “the night of profound love.”
Much as I enjoyed the show as a child, I have to admit that, as an adult, it’s beyond cheesy. The stop motion is primitive compared to the computer animation that’s completely ordinary today, and the voice actors, especially Mickey Rooney, are Christmas hams, chewing up the scenery with zeal. My friend, needless to say, was unimpressed.
To keep my friend engaged, I decided to view every scene through a political filter and ended up quite surprised — it’s a show that’s very conservative in outlook.
The BurgMeist is every totalitarian throughout history. He’s angry, resentful, and power-hungry. Because he is, like all authoritarian people, a narcissist, he sees no separation between him and the people under his control. Individual liberty is anathema to him. His likes and dislikes must be imposed by brute force over everyone within his power. If he dislikes toys, there can be no toys, and he’ll use his police state to make that a reality.
Life under totalitarianism is drab. There is no joy. There is only work for the greater good. The children, above all, must be taught to conform — and, until Kris breaks through her belief in the system, the teacher, Miss Jessica, is a willing policeman for the state.
Kris is a disrupter. He believes in individual liberty and individual acts of charity. He challenges the totalitarian police state, whether showing individual generosity to the Winter Warlock or Jessica, or by liberating the downtrodden towns people when he offers a different vision of the world, one of generosity, freedom, private property, and joy. No wonder that, as time goes by, the people of Sombertown and, the show implies, other people around the world, eventually throw of the totalitarian yoke.
Yeah, yeah! I know it’s a lot to dump onto a silly Christmas show meant to entertain kids almost 50 years ago. Nevertheless, I stand by it as an example of a time before Hollywood engaged in what Ben Shapiro calls Primetime Propaganda — that is, deliberately inserting Progressive ideology into shows that are purportedly meant only to entertain. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town was mild propaganda, too, but rather than advancing Leftist ideas, it focused on the virtues of individual liberty, private charity, and personal enterprise.
Oh, and about Die Hard? Yes, of course it’s a Christmas movie simply because it’s so associated with Christmas. That’s good enough for me.
But Die Hard is also a movie far ahead of its time. When you watch it today, it’s got so many elements that are completely in sync with America (and the world) as we embark on the third decade of the 21st century. Let me count the ways:
1. Suave, evil Europeans who hide behind Leftist propaganda, but are really all about their own access to power and wealth.
2. Good beat cops at the mercy of self-interested bureaucratic hacks who keep allowing politics to get in the way of policing.
3. Media types who are egotistical, ignorant, vicious, and thoughtless, and who use their ostensible support for lax immigration laws as a way to manipulate hapless illegal aliens for the media’s own ends.
4. FBI agents who are unbelievably arrogant bullies who have no thought for the lives they destroy as they push through their agenda, while falsely telling themselves they’re the heroes in the narrative.
5. A lone American, pushy, colorful, occasionally tactless, who never backs down, who calls things by their true names, and who is willing to take on those power-hungry Europeans, the lazy, self-indulgent bureaucrats, the fake news;,and the corrupt FBI.
Am I being too obvious?
Anyway, if you’re still with me this far into my political insights regarding standard Christmas fare on TV, Merry Christmas! And of course Happy Hanukkah!