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‘Tis the season when yet again decent television programming is disrupted by antiquated and badly-written Christmas programming and the stories of those that remain demolished by attempts to work the holiday into their scripts, cynically cashing in on the holiday and not even trying to hide the fact by trying to be original about it. But, you might say, it’s tradition! Well, tradition is a non-reason to do anything. It is neither good nor bad. We do away with bad traditions (human sacrifice would probably count as one of those) and keep the good traditions (like giving gifts on December 25). I just happen to think that most of the time holiday episodes of shows lean towards human sacrifice. Or at the very least to my personal torment. (Bah! Humbug!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of atheist that thinks saying “Merry Christmas” is a slight by the religious. I say it to people myself in greeting during the season. But it’s just something to say and I don’t associate saying it with the birth of baby Jesus any more than I (or anyone else living today, for that matter) associate saying it with the birthday of Horus which, not at all coincidentally, also falls on December 25. I celebrate Christmas as the winter solstice, where I know its passage marks the beginning of the lengthening of days towards barbecue season. That alone is worth being thankful for and celebrating (even though I know the weather will actually get worse for a while before getting warmer), and what December 25 was originally about anyway.

screenhunter_06-dec-15-1118I actually like good Christmas television programming, but they are so few and far between. Every theme has been done to death. How many times has Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” been done? Yikes! The latest one has Kelsey Grammar playing Scrooge. Bah! Humbug!

I can only name two programs that I watch without fail every Christmas: Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” (the animated version rather than the Jim Carey one, of course) and the black-and-white (not colorized!) version of “A Christmas Carol” starring Alistair Sims. Not surprisingly, both have secular messages. Yes, helping the needy and feeling joy at being alive are not within the sole purview of the religious. What a radical concept! But I digress….

The show I want to discuss is another secular Christmas-themed program that does not send out a message that I find particularly desirable. I speak of none other than the Burl Ives-narrated stop animation retelling of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”. You all know the one, released in 1964 and featuring a rather “flamboyant” elf with a desire to break his stereotype to become a dentist.

There are some surprisingly adult themes in here that are not exactly handled in a socially progressive manner. For example, Rudolph is shunned because he is different. One can see parallels to racism here, particularly when Dancer refuses to allow Rudolph to see ‘his doe’ Clarice á la West Side Story.

Dancer realizes that he has treated Rudolph badly and feels remorse. But do the writers acknowledge that he has also wronged his own doe, Clarice? Not at all, and no apology is ever made to her.

Santa comes across as the real son-of-a-bitch in this story. Like the reindeers, Santa discriminates against Rudolph’s ‘uniqueness’ by denying him out-of-hand even a chance at being on the sleigh team. He seems downright annoyed at Rudolph’s ability to light up the scene around him. But he does finally relents and puts Rudolph the head of the team. Hooray!

But, wait! Why does Santa have this sudden change of heart? Is it because, as Dancer did, he has an epiphany and comes to the realization that he has wronged Rudolph just because he is different? The writers certainly don’t have Santa showing any remorse at all. He gives Rudolph the lead position on the sleigh team only after discovering that his disability is useful – nothing more! Is that really the message we want to send kids? To overlook differences that you hold prejudices against when there is some gain to be had?

I’ve been writing about this in jest, though not entirely. But I think this blog does illustrate some subtle changes in moral zeitgeist that some people deny occurs.

I’ve been having a discussion with another blogger about whether morality has changed with time. I think the idea that morality is immutable with time and culture is ludiculous when placed against example after example after example which shatters this illusion.

The religious, particularly those that follow the bible and believe (wrongly) that their moral sense comes from it, must maintain this illusion in order to claim an absolute moral code. The problem is that much about morality has changed over the last two millennia. The cognitive dissonance must be horrible when maintaining such nonsense.

For instance, slavery is tacitly approved by the bible, dictating the treatment of slaves. Now, before anyone says that the slavery the bible was talking about was “only” indentured servitude, consider these two points: the bible makes no distinction at all between indentured servitude and any other form of slavery (condemning none of it); this Dickensian form of slavery (and it IS slavery just as water boarding IS torture) has long since been correctly abolished. For those that pooh-pooh the slavery argument as being “just” indentured servitude, ask yourself this: does that really align with my beliefs? I sure hope it doesn’t.

I ended the discussion when the old canard of the ‘evil atheist’ came up. I’m quite insulted when this absolutely vapid and downright stupid argument is presented as something valid. Especially when Hitler gets mentioned as being an atheist (he wasn’t, though Christians seem to have a need to think he was). Atheism has no more to do with the crimes they ordered than the mustaches that both Hitler and Stalin sported. Nor could all of those who carried out their orders have been atheists. Yet I see this idiotic argument all the time.

People like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, de Torquemada, Pope Innocent III (the poorly-named pope who ordered the Albigensian Crusade which resulted in the deaths of perhaps 1,000,000 Cathars in the 13th century) – these were all (religious or otherwise) idealogues, and that’s where the real issue lies.

Wow. Never meant to go there. Must be some latent hostility, but I really, REALLY do hate that old canard.

Regardless, have a Merry Christmas!



  1. Hey I like the Jim Carey version of the Grinch. What other Christmas show has a key party in it?

    • shamelesslyatheist
    • Posted December 16, 2008 at 9:19 am
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    • Reply

    Jim Carey was well cast in that film and I do like it, but it is not part of my Christmas tradition.

    I must say I am disturbed at hearing of your key fetish…. Heh.

  2. The old version of A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim is one of my Christmas favorites too… along with the Die Hard Trilogy and the first Home Alone.

    Did you watch all of the Burl Ives show last night? You seem to know the entire plot pretty well. Personally I couldn’t subject myself to the animation, let alone the story itself or the Burl Ives narration and singing. I tried watching The Polar Express, but I just couldn’t get into it.

    I think the whole “war on Christmas” crap is so ridiculous (I’m sure I’ve said it before). Go ahead and put up a christmas tree in the capitol building, I don’t give a crap. But leave out ALL the religious and anti-religious crap. So unnecessary.

    • shamelesslyatheist
    • Posted December 16, 2008 at 3:03 pm
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    • Reply

    Yes, I indeed fed my masochistic side by watching the whole thing.

    From what I’ve seen of Polar Express the voicing and animation are mismatched. The voice can sound excited while the expression of the character is very ho-hum. Compare that to the expressiveness displayed in something like The Incredibles and it looks rather poorly emoted.

    You do realize that the origin of the Christmas tree is from pagan religions… Yeah, it’s overblown. But the constitution is there for a reason and exceptions can not be made just to accommodate mythology. None of these displays should be up at all, which solves everything except for the whiners.

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