Rankin/Bass studios created a curiously materialistic, yet relentlessly classic take on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
In the 1960s, the television established itself in American homes. As a result, the annual Christmas special became a seasonal staple of manufactured yule-tide cheer. Faced with the prospect of spending unwanted time with unwanted relatives, Americans found that they could bear the unbearable December reunions by gathering around the glowing cube of faux-escapism.
Thus, they and enduring the company of kith and kin while drowning in the cheerful seasonal bliss embodied in what we now consider cherished holiday TV classics. Classics such as the beloved stop-motion chestnut, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Produced by Rankin/Bass productions, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired on December 6, 1964, and in the 51 years since this original airing, it’s become a well-established part of many viewers’ Christmas traditions.
The special eventually became a cultural icon, but there’s equal parts darkness and light in this seemingly charming holiday tale.
The gloriously 1970s-ish album cover for Akim’s 1973 Christmas novelty tune, “Santa Claus is a Black Man.”
Everybody knows what Santa Claus looks like, right? Sure we do: he’s an obese, hirsute, exceptionally jolly home invader who shows up in malls, Christmas parades, and your living room every December armed with a sack full of goodies with the intention of teaching well-behaving youngsters the value of rampant materialism. Oh, and Santa is a white guy. We know all of these facts despite the overwhelming fact that Santa isn’t even real. Yes, I’m sorry Virginia, but Santa Claus is indeed a mythical figure. Yet, as anyone whose studied comparative religions knows, humans often imbue mythical figures with the very real powers to shape social discourse. How humans perceive mythical figures speaks volumes about the way they perceive important issues in their society.
Christmas has always been excessively commercial. Sorry, Charlie Brown.
The middle class is a big deal in American society. Last year, America’s ever-observant punditocracy, including southern-fried campaign guru and Gollum look-alike James Carville, harped endlessly about how corporate Democrat Barack Obama and Montgomery Burns stand-in Mitt Romney waged their electoral battle royal in the name of the American middle class. President Obama dived head-first into this quadrennial tradition of bourgeois boot-licking, blowing past Romney in terms of the number of times he mentioned the phrase “middle class” in campaign speeches.
American politicians universally exist as servants/toadies for the country’s oligarchs, but they nonetheless pepper their campaign rhetoric with appeals to the middle class because bourgeois identity may as well be considered “American identity.” Want proof of this? Look no further than Christmas.
Charlie Brown and Linus Van Pelt witness the commercialization of Christmas in the form of aluminum, mass-produced Christmas trees. In an attempt to push back against the sanctification of mass consumption, Charlie Brown opts for a small wooden tree, and gets called a “blockhead” for his troubles.
If you think that the idea of Christmas commercialism is something new, then you haven’t checked out the 19th century recently. Follow this link to Salon where I discuss why the “War on Christmas” is utterly bogus.