It’s that time of year when our most childish impulses get projected onto a certain avuncular fantasy figure – that jowly, genial old coot who lives only to satisfy our innermost wants and needs, no matter unrealistic they might be.
But enough has been written about Fred Thompson, so I’m going to talk about Santa Claus instead.
Frankly, I’m worried for the big galoot. According to stories that ran last month in several British newspapers, 12 shopping-center Santas were being sent to a “boot camp” to get them in shape for the holiday season. Employees who once considered their Guinness guts vocational assets would instead be participating in “sack lifts,” “present twists” and other challenges that seemed to encompass all the grueling intensity of a season of Celebrity Fit Club – and without the fun of watching Dustin Diamond alienate the known universe.
The goal, apparently, is to set a better example for English schoolchildren, among whom an epidemic of obesity threatens to drastically undermine the national character. (Step two: Locate and destroy all photographs of Robert Morley.)
This story had particular resonance for me. At the very moment it came huffing and puffing its way across the Atlantic, I had just finished reading Life in the Fat Lane, a 1996 essay by cultural critic Laura Kipnis. Actually a chapter from her book, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, the piece was ostensibly an exposé of “fat porn” – yep, hard-core smut starring tubby types, which Kipnis pronounced a mostly positive response to the wholesale shunning of the obese that goes on in our appearance-obsessed culture.
Now, I’m well aware there are two things no straight white male is allowed to do. One is Dave Chappelle impressions. (Though mine is the bomb, yo!) The other is discussing a lady’s weight. So please understand that I’m merely following the example of my mother – who spent several years working as a weight-loss professional – when I say I detected a certain agenda to Kipnis’ essay, which might as easily have been titled, “I Just Can’t Lose That Last 15.” Among her more curious extrapolations: The recidivism rate for dieters is 98 percent; therefore, diets do not work. This, of course, is like saying World War II proved Christianity does not work. There’s always that little matter of follow-through.
All of which brings me back to Santa. (Honest!) I can easily see how his traditional, lard-assed appearance meets Kipnis’ criteria for “fat porn.” And though I can’t fathom the appeal of watching a 27-stone Vivid Girl undergo her first DP, the continued chunkification of St. Nick is chubby-chasing I can easily, um, get behind.
I know how Kipnis would explain that dichotomy. She’d say I’m subscribing to a patriarchal worldview that maintains separate standards of presentability for men and women. And I know what I’d answer: “Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Me liking my Santas with an extra layer of blubber has nothing to do with gender inequality. It’s because I, like most kids, know the difference between a facilitator and a role model.
Santa, for all of British retail’s hand-wringing, is not a role model. Though we appreciate his behavior, not for a second do we want to stand in his boots. No youngster I have ever met was searching for a way to make the Yuletide dreams of his peers come true. (What we most wanted regarding other children, it appeared, was to find a way to injure them and get away with it.) You don’t want to be Santa; you merely want him to do things for you.
Whether we’re young or old, the wish-fulfillment we find in Jolly Old St. Nick – particularly the traditional, thunder-thighed version – borders on the sexual. We’re all basically feeders, which is fetishist lingo for the guy who keeps his sweetie’s arteries dangerously clogged in order to preserve his own twisted kicks. Sound familiar? We know Father Christmas is a coronary looking for a place to happen, yet in order to entice him down the chimney with our longed-for loot, we put out baked goods for the poor, addicted bastard. If it gets us a Guitar Hero III, we’ll even dole out the icing with a paint spreader.
This is no cause for alarm. Real people’s health we can and should worry about; mythical martyrs exist but to suffer for our sins. (Let’s never forget that there’s a spiritual component to the season.) So if you see Santa between now and Dec. 24, tell him I think he doesn’t need to drop an ounce. And if that doesn’t sway the hopeless turdsack, I got Ho Hos.firstname.lastname@example.org