December 23, 2010
I’d Stick to the Reindeer
I remember as a child watching over and again the post-World War II movie
Miracle on 34 th St. (1947), a story about a man who looks rather like the elfish chap above and is institutionalized as insane when he declares himself to be Kris Kringle—the real Santa Claus. Claiming to be Santa Claus, it seems, can be something of a threat to public safety, and it is only with the help of a lawyer who persuades the local post office to deliver thousands of children’s letters addressed to “Santa Claus” to his client that he is able to get the state to acknowledge his true identity and thus establish his sanity. And the moral of the story was that sometimes it isn’t such a bad idea to believe in fantasies—or miracles—at least a little bit.
Of course, that was then and this is now. The late 1940s were something of an age of anxiety, to be sure, but now we live in the so-called age of terror. And today, not even an army of ACLU lawyers can save Santa Claus from the indignities of being patted and probed by the uniform wearing the rubber blue glove. After all, in an age of terror anyone can be hiding a bomb inside his or her clothing: pilots, grandmothers, and even babies in blankets. Why should Old St. Nick be any different? And really, what is the loss of a “little” freedom—in some ways just another fantasy—in the interest of maintaining national security and public safety? Or so it would seem.
My initial impulse upon seeing the photograph above was to smile at the incongruity of a fantasy figure being treated by the apparatus of a national security state as if he were real and wondering who the sane and the insane might be. But then it struck me that there was nothing amusing here at all. That indeed, what we are looking at is a very real and tragic sluice of contemporary life, a world in which even our most hopeful fantasies have been taken away and no one seems to notice …
or maybe even care. Notice the man on the left who doesn’t appear to be paying any attention whatsoever and who appears to be absorbed with preparing himself for the blue glove. It is this last point, so blatantly on display in the above picture, that is the most troubling of all and suggests that just maybe the terrorists have already won.
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