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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Loose Canon: Santa Claus

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Obligatory Christmas episode. Time to take a look at the nice fat man who breaks into your house once a year.

So Santa Claus is probably the most obvious candidate for a Loose Canon ever,

but before we get into the shit million versions of Santa Claus out there, or at least a small sampling of them,

let's go through some history.

Santa and his periphery spring from a marriage of Christian and Pagan traditions

from throughout Northern Europe,

coming together in the United States and forming a sort of folklore melange

who's a lot more nice, non-threatening, and marketable than his European forbearers.

St. Nicholas hails from the Netherlands, and his legend descends from the historical St. Nicholas,

eventually morphing into the stern-but-just horse-riding fellow who

gives presents to children in early December every year

and who maintains in his, ahem...

employ, six to eight black men.

The Germans had a gift-bringer character promulgated by Martin Luther

after the Reformation called "Christ Child" or "Christkindl."

This was originally intended by Luther to be the literal Christ child,

but eventually it turned into more of like a generic angel child figure.

Once in the Americas this was anglicized to Kris Kringle.

Santa also descends from the English figure of Father Christmas,

who is descended more from pagan traditions

than Christian ones and then eventually merged with them.

He makes an uncredited cameo in A Christmas Carol as the ghost of Christmas present,

and carries a more bacchanalian

sort of jollity compared to the more austere St. Nicholas.

In Dutch, Saint Nicholas is called Sinterklaas.

And since New York was a Dutch colony that eventually got colonized by the English,

Sinterklaas was anglicized to Santa Claus,

forming a new character altogether,

one who also goes by Saint Nick, Father Christmas, and Kris Kringle.

The modern image of Santa really solidified in the Americas in the 1800s

with the publishing of the poem "The Night before Christmas,"

which also integrated the whole chimney and reindeer thing.

By the early 20th century, the idea of Santa that we have today was pretty much set.

In fact, one of the first narrative films ever, released in 1898 and called Santa Claus,

also features some of the first-ever visual effects.

But also codified in by the turn of the century was his connection to the idea of childhood

innocence and purity.

While no longer explicitly a religious figure, he still maintained a sort of sanctity to him,

and does to this day.

In households that celebrate Christmas and still maintain the Santa tradition with the children,

which in the United States accounts for most of them,

realizing that Santa isn't real is almost kind of a rite of passage.

So when it comes to pop cultural depictions of Santa Claus in film and television,

especially of the more recent varietal,

the operative word for most depictions of Santa is "transgression."

"Ho ho ho!"

By the time you're old enough to have a grasp on concepts like narrative and character,

you've probably also figured out that Santa is not real.

And for those of you who haven't...

sorry, spoilers.

You see the same thing with characters like Mickey Mouse.

These things that were pure and simple in childhood no longer apply to adulthood,

so there's this weird thrill with making Santa flawed or surrounding Santa by flawed things.

This is why the concept of transgression as it applies to Santa is so appealing in modern media,

and notable non-Santas like Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa are popular enough to at least warrant a sequel.

Because it's literally challenging the innocence of childhood, and that never gets old.

Transgressive elements against Santa Claus are a popular element in television comedy in particular.

"I never thought it would end this way, gunned down by Santa Claus!"

In Futurama, Santa is a murderous robot who comes to terrorize humanity every Christmas eve

owing to a glitch that makes his criteria for who is naughty way too high.

"You've been very naughty, Fry and Leela. I checked my list."

"Well check it twice!"

"I perform over 50 mega checks per second."

And yes, that is John Goodman.

An episode of the Simpsons had grandpa Simpson being abandoned on an island with Mr. Burns

during World War II by Santa. Grandpa vows revenge for this

but turns out that Santa's only human.

"Why didn't you ever come back to pick me up?"

"I kept putting it off and then I was just too embarrassed."

American Dad incorporates a revenge element.

There's an episode where Stan and Steve accidentally kill Santa Claus only to have him

resurrected and have his entire army out for revenge against the entire Smith family.

Meanwhile in Family Guy, Santa is more of an

overburdened union leader who is ready to throw in the towel on this whole hyper-consumerist Christmas thing.

"But now instead all we're feeling is dread because

Christmastime is killing us."

Now of course not all modern Santas take the transgressive approach

that challenges the innocence and purity of a character like Santa.

Some are pretty straightforward but the concept of transgression is it applies to Santa is a popular one,

especially as it tends to end up back in pretty conventional place of maintaining the status quo.

Guy learns the value of family and Christmas,

cynical child learns to believe in Santa,

kidnapped Santa gets unkidnapped, and so on. Even the Futurama episode does this.

Although, granted the status quo that they return to is the horrible dystopian one.

"Don't you see? Fear has brought us together. That's the magic of Xmas!"

The most straightforward adaptations in regular circulation in the United States

are the Rankin and Bass stop-motion classics from the 60s and 70s

which still air on network television every year.

And I think once a year is just long enough for people to forget how boring these are.

I'm sorry, they are!

Now there were a TON of these, varying in quality but ultimately pretty same-y

in terms of portrayals, so I'm not gonna go through all of them.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is easily the best and most memorable of this group,

plus it has far and away the best music as well as some of the most iconic characters.

This is the one that gave us Yukon Kornelius and the Bumble,

which I'm sure you've seen in your local Spencer's gifts.

Being about Rudolph, Santa is barely in this one aside from doing

what the song said he would.

"Rudolph with your nose so bright,

won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Miracle on 34th Street is comfortably regarded as a classic.

"I'm Santa Claus.

Oh, you don't believe that, do you?"

A guy claiming to be Santa gets hired at the Macy's in Herald Square because he's just so good at being Santa.

And he's kind of method, and everyone's like, "Well, it's fine, he's harmless."

Until this happens.

"Ow!"

Oh damn, Father Aggravated-Assault-Mas.

Then it turns into a courtroom drama,

wherein ultimately the defense has to prove that the guy who lives

in a nursing home and calls himself Kris Kringle is in fact the real Santa Claus.

Also Maureen O'Hara needs to learn to love again

and cynical child needs to de-cynical and learn the magic of childhood.

The way they eventually get around this is that the US postal service delivers letters addressed to Santa

to this guy meaning, that the US postal service, and by extension, the US federal government,

recognize him as Santa, so there you go, case literally dismissed.

"Since the United States government declares this man to be Santa Claus,

this court will not dispute it. Case dismissed."

Miracle on 34th Street was remade four times and was also adapted into a Broadway musical.

Thomas Mitchell played him in 1955, Ed Wynn played him in 1959,

Sebastian Cabot played him in 1973, and Sir Richard Attenborough played him in 1994.

The 1994 remake, starring Richard Attenborough, takes a more Russell's Teapot existential approach,

with the judge ultimately ruling that he can't prove Kris isn't Santa

because he can't prove a negative.

And the US government currency supports the existence of God, which also cannot be proven,

and it seems like a touch of the old false equivalency.

"If the government of the United States can issue its currency bearing a declaration of trust in God

without demanding physical evidence of the existence or the non-existence of a greater being,"

I mean, children don't pledge allegiance to one nation under Santa, but, okay.

Here the incident that gets Kris in trouble is a lot more pronounced and arguably justified.

Rather than whopping a guy on the head during an argument about psychiatry,

this guy, who is a plant, kind of insinuates that Kris might be a pedophile...?

"You got a thing for the little ones, huh?

'Cause they ain't much good for nothin' else, huh?"

Dang, I might give him an umbrella to the head, too.

Anyway, the '47 version is a classic and better by most metrics.

It actually uses the word "Macy's".

"Macy's sending people to other stores,"

But for my money, I prefer Attenborough's warmth and vulnerability,

plus the fact that he doesn't pull shit like this.

"Ow!"

[Wolf growling]

[Santa] "What is it, Mr. Wolf?"

The 1960s saw a surprising number of terrible movies starring Santa.

The transgressive element here isn't so much Santa adopting new character traits --

he's still a pretty nice guy with a pretty consistent personality --

but rather taking on decidedly non-Santa-like roles.

[Wolf] "Rowl! Oh, Mr. Santa! I was reuniting everybody to form an army and fight the ogre, rowl!"

So many questions...

The most well-known of these terrible 60s Santa movies is probably Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,

by virtue of having been popularized by a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode some 30 years later.

"Blitzen and Vixen and Nixon..."

"Yes, and what's in the pipe, Santa?"

Santa doesn't so much conquer the Martians as get kidnapped by them and eventually negotiate for his and

his fellow kidnapees' release. He always has a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing, though.

"I wish you and yours the very best of everything."

On Mars, children aren't allowed to be children, see, and this also has the whole

bring-back-the-innocence-of-childhood-and-let-children-be-children thing.

Basically there was this entire sub-genre of Santa movies that were genre mashups,

basically extremely low-rent versions of what we'd see later with Rise of the Guardians.

"Very nice, keep up good work."

Russian Alec Baldwin's Santa must have spent some time as a roadie going on those tattoos.

In this movie Santa is basically a de facto

leader of what appears to be a superhero group of childhood characters.

"Because now, you are guardian!"

Santa is the muscle and the expositor. The real protagonist here is sexy Jack Frost.

"I've heard a lot about you, and your teeth!"

Also, why is the Tooth Fairy a hummingbird? Hummingbirds don't have teeth.

"Trick-or-treat!"

"Huh?"

As with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, we see Santa getting kidnapped again in

The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Santa Claus, or as he is known here, "Sandy Claws,"

gets kidnapped by a well-meaning idiot who uses his position of authority to impose his midlife crisis,

willing or no, unto the denizens

of both his polity and of a sovereign foreign nation.

"Surprised, aren't you? I knew you would be."

Jack Skellington, cultural f*cking imperialist.

It fails miserably, of course. My favorite part of the movie is where he tries to

rationalize his profound fuck-up and the ruination of other people's lives as like a personal growth moment.

"And at least I left some stories they can tell, I did!"

[Lindsay as Jack] "Actually, if you think about it, the real winner is me!"

Yeah, at least Santa doesn't put up with this shit.

"Bumpy sleigh ride, Jack?"

Yeah, you suck, Jack. You're too good for him, Sally.

Go get your associates degree or something. Move out of this town. You can do better. Santa believes in you.

"She's the only one who makes any sense around this insane asylum."

In Ernest Saves Christmas,

Santa is more like a title than a guy, and the torch gets handed down every so often.

"I took over the position of Santa Claus in 1889 from a German chap."

And this year he needs a replacement from the greater Orlando metropolitan area.

No, Santa's replacement isn't Ernest,

but this guy, who likes kids and does local public television for the love of the game.

It does the super 80s thing of 'look at how business-y and phony and corporate we are'

contrasted with the goodness and purity of Santa Claus.

The sanctity of Christmas is being befouled by Corporate Hollywood phonies,

in particular, a horror movie called "Santa's Slay."

"Slay, slay? Not 'sleigh', slay.

S-L-A-Y."

So, funny you should mention that.

"Santa?"

"Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus!"

A horror comedy from 2005 and also one of the worst things to ever happen in human history,

"Bitch! Get out of the way!"

Santa absorbs some of the Krampus mythology in this one and features as a demon punishing bad,

fake phony people instead of being a patron saint to children.

He slaughters the morally bankrupt and we're supposed to laugh I guess

because strippers dying en masse is hilare.

[strippers screaming]

Even slaughters a Jew with his own menorah because he's equal-opportunity horrible.

What bottom-feeder would think stretching this tired, unclever idea of Evil Santa into feature-length was-

Okay, that explains a lot. Thank you.

Well, uh... something-something transgression.

I now have a new worst thing ever I've had to watch for Loose Canon. You're welcome.

"I'm in big trouble."

We see the Santa-as-a-job motif again in the Santa Clause movies,

which are probably on the higher end of quality as far

as 90's Christmas entertainment is concerned, and also on the higher end of product placement.

"Denny's, it's always open!"

Once again Santa is kind of like being the Pope but instead of being inherited or voted upon

it's kind of like the Chronicles of Riddick.

"In our faith, you keep what you kill."

Well Tim Allen inherits the position of Santa via involuntary manslaughter,

and also fine print because lol 90s.

"The wearer waves any and all rights to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and

responsibilities of Santa Claus."

Also something-something broken home and reconnecting with my son because 90s.

This movie had two sequels.

"Matrimony? I gotta get married!"

One were even more fine print forces Tim Claus into an arranged marriage,

and another where Martin Short is the lovable antagonist.

Former is pretty forgivable, the latter is pretty agonizing, but at least it's short.

Santa is one of three father figures in 2003's Elf, the other two being Will Ferrell's adoptive

elf father Bob Newhart,

and the other his biological father James Caan. Santa is played by Ed Asner which is pretty perfect,

but my big takeaway from Santa in this movie is which of the shit million Ray's pizza in New York City

is in fact the original.

"There are like 30 Ray's pizzas. They all claim to be the original but the real one's on 11th."

I actually cross-referenced this a long time ago, and...

I can't tell the difference between the original Ray's and the other ones, sorry.

New York pizza's actually really overrated.

In Fred Claus, instead of the Santa character being the transgressive element,

it comes in the form of his underachieving brother Fred,

played by Vince Vaughn.

Santa, played by Paul Giamatti, is genuinely kind, and Fred is overcompensating and resentful.

And I have to say I am honestly kind of shocked at how well Paul Giamatti as Santa works.

"It would be really nice, if for once, things were nice and calm."

Did not see that one coming. Well Fred resents the shit out of his younger brother

Nicholas, who eventually grew up to become Santa.

"Now it's a little-known rule of Sainthood

that when you become a saint, you freeze in time, eternally ageless.

The rule applies to the family of the saint and spouses as well."

Huh.

Well that is an interesting way to hand-wave that away.

Well in an effort to reconnect, Fred brings the party to the North Pole.

[rock music playing]

"It sounds angry!"

Rock music? Oh Fred, you so crazy.

[elves cheering]

In Robert Zemeckis' weird uncanny valley-ish CGI monstrosity

based on the classic picture book of the same name,

The Polar Express is all about the magic of belief in the innocence of childhood- oh, God. Oh God. No, why?!

"Rockin' on top of the world!"

Aaugh!

So the whole thing is about a magical trip to the North Pole on a magical train.

So we don't see Santa, voiced by Tom Hanks, until the very end when they get there.

"I found this on the seat of my sleigh,

better fix that hole in your pocket."

Tom Hanks's Santa Claus kind of sounds like Eddie Murphy doing an impression of a white guy.

"What a silly negro."

Being able to hear this bell is like a metaphor for the innocence of childhood

and by extension belief in Santa himself

Like the original book, it has this sort of

bittersweet ending where the guy grows up and his friends can't hear the bell anymore,

and it's kind of a bummer,

but he can still hear it because he is a true believer,

which lends a sort of religiosity to it that you don't see in most Santa-related things.

"Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."

[Lindsay as Santa] "Believe in the Lord Santa and you will be saved, ho ho ho..."

Whether or not the sort of thing appeals to you is probably rooted in how much reverence you have

for the idea of the innocence of childhood,

which for me is..

not at all terribly.

But that is a big thing in American culture especially, the sanctity of the innocence of childhood

and how sad it is when we all have to lose it,

and that innocence of childhood is better than the cynicism of adulthood,

which is why so many of these have to do with

shedding adult-y trappings and returning to the child-y goodness of nature and purity.

But the best way to enjoy Santa Claus is to probably

take a page from the way children do.

Just don't think about it too much.

The Description of Loose Canon: Santa Claus