Have Yourself a Counter-Culture XMas: Red-Nosed Misfits, Elven Outlaws & Bearded Marxists

You know Lenin and Trotsky,

And Che Guevara,

Kerouac, Dylan,

Brando and Mailer,

But do you recall,

The most famous subversive of all?

Few characters are more beloved than the stars of the most popular television Christmas specials. The images of Rudolph, Frosty, and Charlie Brown appear as unthreatening in the American canon as Mickey Mouse or Mister Rogers. In many ways, the specials have helped to define the Christmas holiday season for generations of viewers. And there is a pretty clear consensus about which specials really matter: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Ask anyone to finish the song, “You’re a mean one…” and you’re almost guaranteed to hear “Mr. Grinch!” in response.

While the networks have trotted out special after special over the years, and while every now and then one will get defrosted for a time (1974’s The Year Without a Santa Claus comes to mind), none of them has really offered much of a challenge to this holiday quintet. Yet, many fans may not realize that all five of these shows were created during a short six-year span during the late-‘60s. We may not be conditioned to think of terms like “subversive”, “counter-cultural”, “iconoclastic”, or “revolutionary” when we see images of Rudolph and Frosty, but in many ways these specials reflect the spirit of that era as surely as Jimi Hendrix playing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Far from being the season of “peace on Earth”, each December features a tumultuous socio-political debate about how American culture has lost the “true” meaning of Christmas, with the most flamboyant complaints coming from conservative commentators who argue that somehow Christianity and traditional American values are being victimized by a “vast left wing conspiracy” to secularize their cozy, idealized memories of Bing Crosby tunes, Currier and Ives prints, life-size Nativity scenes, and chestnuts roasting on open fires. For the past few years, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News has turned each December into a social crisis, even informing his audience in one of his “Talking Points Memos” that a liberal “war” on Christmas is central to “the culture war between traditional Americans and secular progressives. Outside of the war on terror, this culture war is the most important thing happening in the country today.” One of his fellow Fox News broadcasters, John Gibson, even wrote a book, The War on Christmas (Penguin 2005), declaring that liberals have launched a war, not only on Christmas, but “really a war on Christianity.” He concludes with a bit of rhetorical saber rattling (or maybe jingle bell ringing?), by rallying his troops and threatening his enemies that “The war on Christmas is joined.”

These calls to stop the secularizing liberals and to “put the Christ back in Christmas” often speak to a desire to bring back an idealized Christmas of old—homogenized, white bread, and snug in the WASP nest that was, for some, the American Dream. They try to put Christmas in a box—safe, controlled, and neatly wrapped in heavy stock paper from the gift-wrapping center at Macy’s. In the context of this debate, Bart Simpson’s notion that “Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ” doesn’t seem too absurd.

As Christmas has become increasingly politicized, the general perception has been that “Christmas” belongs to the conservatives while a bloodless mishmash of a multicultural, politically correct, and socially sensitive “Holiday Season” belongs to the liberals. However, if that were true, wouldn’t it follow that the Christmas television canon, a celebration of the holiday specifically dedicated to teaching and entertaining children, would have emerged during one of the key moments in modern conservative ascendancy—influenced by those who know how to “keep Christmas well?” Yet, the best of the specials didn’t emerge during the Reagan Revolution, the Gingrich Contract with America, or the Bush Patriot Act. These specials belong to the counter-culture flower children.

Of course, in one sense, the fact that the “classics” are now decades old would seem to lend weight to the O’Reilly/Gibson argument. If American culture is “losing” its connection to the “real” Christmas, it makes sense that the only “good” television specials were the ones created years ago. However nostalgia, filtered through paranoia and narcissism, proves a far less reliable beacon than a bright red nose on a foggy December night. A closer examination of these programs suggests that what resonates in such holiday specials is not a controlled and confining tradition, but rather a much older and more chaotic, freewheeling sense of anarchy, a cousin more closely related to Heath Ledger’s Joker than to Bing Crosby’s Father O’Malley. In fact, the Rudolph, Santa, and Frosty of the Rankin/Bass specials would seem more comfortable at a peace protest or Civil Rights march than a boycott of Target for wishing customers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. If the “radicalism” of these specials seems surprising, it shouldn’t, for in many ways they represent a partial correction in the development of the American Christmas tradition.

As many cultural historians have demonstrated, evidence suggests that the “true meaning” of Christmas may not be what conservative commentators think. In his Introduction to Christmas Unwrapped: Consumerism, Christ, and Culture (Continuum, 2001), James Tracy writes, “Such jeremiads usually call for a return to the ‘original meaning’ of Christmas, either as a Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth or as a spiritual celebration of ‘family values.’” Yet, as Tracy suggests, “these critiques fall wide of the mark… because they at least implicitly posit a golden age of Christmas observance from which we have fallen.” This pre-Lapsarian Christmas tradition is largely a myth, romanticizing a so-called “ancient tradition” that really originated in the 19th Century. In The Battle for Christmas (Knopf, Doubleday, 1997), Stephen Nissenbaum points out that most of the earliest observances of Christmas had little to do with our romantic notions of a domestic, child-centered holiday: “It was a time of heavy drinking when the rules that governed people’s public behavior were momentarily abandoned in favor of an unrestrained ‘carnival,’ a kind of December Mardi Gras.” No wonder the Puritans banned it (See “Christmas Controversy” on Wikipedia)

The European tradition, with an emphasis on short-term social inversion, effectively contained the dissatisfaction of the lower classes and reinforced the status quo. However, as the riotous practices re-emerged in democratic New England of the early 19th Century, the threat of a democratic social protest, with implications lasting far beyond the need for a week or so of blowing off steam, made the Christmas season dangerous politically. As Nissenbaum explains, rather than following the lead of the Puritans and banning the celebration altogether, several wealthy New Englanders, including Clement C. Moore, began incorporating sketchy practices from Dutch cultural history and claiming them as historical Christmas traditions. The end result was an invented tradition, a domestic, child-centered, commercial Christmas, complete with presents, indoor trees, Santa Claus, and an implicit sense that this was the way things used to be.

At the risk of sounding like one of John Edwards’ old talking points, the United States became a land of “Two Christmases”. One Christmas, a politically-tinged American descendent of the unruly carnival celebrations of European tradition (Quasimodo’s Christmas, if you will), becomes increasingly marginalized, while the other, a manufactured holiday “safe” for those with wealth and privilege, comes to define the holiday mainstream. However, the topsy-turvy Bakhtinian social inversion that offended the Puritans and frightened the New England elite, has roots that O’Reilly and his compatriots should presumably admire, from some of the earliest Christian doctrine in Matthew 20:16: “So the last shall be first, and the first last.” In fact, the same idea underscores the narrative structure of the most enduring Christmas stories: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where a rich man’s past, present, and future is turned upside down; Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, in which George Bailey’s various failures make him “the richest man in town;” and that other famous Christmas story where kings give presents to the poor kid born in a barn.

Thus, one could argue that while the domestic Christmas of invented tradition becomes the face of the season, the real heart of Christmas rests not in a placid still-life of carolers, sleigh rides, and easy listening music, nor even in a devout, pious, and formal religious ceremony, but rather in the tension-filled class struggle of chaos and rulebreaking. If so, then it should come as little surprise that the turbulent ‘60s, which saw the climax of the Civil Rights Movement, the modern feminist movement, Stonewall, the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, and the rise of youth culture, provided the immaculate petri dish from which grew the heart of great Christmas popular art.

Frosty, In True Beat fashion, Goes “On the Road”

In particular, the three Rankin/Bass specials all appear particularly subversive. While all three build on the tradition “invented” by the wealthy New Englanders, each of the specials decorates this adopted Christmas tree with a healthy supply of counter-cultural ornaments. The first, and most famous of the trio, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), focuses on an odd assortment of misfit characters, none of whom seems to fit into the mainstream of Christmas Town. The special offers plenty for a disaffected, alienated audience, and it doesn’t take long for anyone with a sense of social justice (or an appreciation of political allegory) to see that something is rotten in the North Pole.

Rudolph, as the sympathetic outsider who faces derision and discrimination, fits into a common trope of outsider fiction, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Physically different from his companions, Rudolph learns shame from his family, class hierarchy from Santa Claus, and scorn from his peers. With the help of his father, Donner, and a lump of dirt plastered onto his nose, Rudolph attempts to hide his true identity and “pass” for a brown-nosed reindeer, allowing him to compete on an “even playing field” with all the others and cling to the hope that he might one day gain the favor of Santa himself and join the sleigh team.

When members of the establishment reject him, Frosty is forced to become a hobo, hop a freight train, and skip town, Robert Mitchum-style.

Along the way, he encounters other misfits and winds up leading this band of outcasts on a “march on the North Pole” where he fulfills a “dream” of “integrating” the misfits into the so-called mainstream of Christmas Town. When Rudolph finally breaks the “nose-color barrier” and heads up Santa’s sleigh, he leads them, Moses-like, to the Island of Misfit Toys where they liberate all of his similarly outcast friends. As racial allegory, the story seems pretty clear.

Equally interesting is the parallel narrative that focuses on Hermey, an elf with wavy, blonde hair who does not share the same affections as the other, “normal” elves. Hermey (short for “hermaphrodite?”) is not “naturally drawn” to toy making, but rather to hygiene, and he yearns to lead an “alternate lifestyle” where he can fulfill his true “identity” as a dentist. When Hermey “comes out” to the Foreman Elf, this paternal figure reacts as if Hermey has betrayed him and greets the confession with shock, confusion, and scorn. As a coded narrative with obvious implications for sexual identity, Hermey’s story again taps into the spirit of the marginalized and disenfranchised.

In one brief scene, the special even pays heed to the modern feminist movement. When the always macho Donner decides to leave home and search for his missing son, the unnamed Mrs. Donner offers to go with him. Donner gruffly responds, “No. This is man’s work.” While nothing Donner says or does in the special ever elicits much respect from the audience, what makes this particular line interesting is that Donner, himself, never actually gets to say it. Rather, Burl Ives’ Sam the Snowman, as narrator, gives us the line while the two deer in question mime the scene. Not only is Donner’s voice denied him, but Ives reads the line with a mock vibrato, rendering the expression of male supremacy arrogant, hollow, and blatantly ironic. Adding insult to injury for Donner’s highly prescriptive notion of gender roles, the narrator promptly informs us that after Donner leaves, his wife and Rudolph’s girlfriend, Clarice, head out on their own anyway. Clearly, in the North Pole of 1964, sisters are doing it for themselves.

The later Rankin/Bass special, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970), if anything, ups the ante on subversive content and counter-cultural ideology. In the story, the young Claus arrives at the doorstep of the Kringles and is taken in by Tanta Kringle who, as a single mother and matriarch, raises him as an eco-sensitive animal lover. When Claus, whom the Kringles rename Kris, decides to take the Kringles’ toys to Sombertown, he finds himself decidedly the outsider. Everyone he meets makes fun of his unconventional clothes, and when the town’s ruler, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, looks for the perfect label to pin on Kris, he turns to the ultimate insult: “he is obviously a non-conformist.”

When Kris learns of the Burgermeister’s law against distributing toys, he doesn’t hesitate to become an outlaw, growing a beard and mocking the out-of-date wanted poster bearing his clean-cut image. Unlike Rudolph, Kris doesn’t try to integrate or assimilate into the power structure. Instead, he rejects society’s institutions. When Kris and Jessica decide to marry, the narrator informs us that “no church would have them,” so they hold their ceremony under the stars. When he finds no welcome in Sombertown, he leads his band of followers, including a hemispherically and culturally displaced penguin, to a new home at the North Pole where they can set up their own, separate and independent society of likeminded outlaws. Whereas Rudolph strives for an integrationist platform and leads the misfits into the so-called mainstream, Kris, with his “funny” clothes (the red suit is in keeping with his Kringle heritage), reflects many of the same notions as the Black Nationalist movement; he seeks no acceptance from the devilish Burgermeister, but chooses instead to launch a separate, self-sustaining society where they can literally outlast the Burgermeisters.

Even a lesser Rankin/Bass special like Frosty the Snowman (1969) captures this same spirit of rebellion and social protest. In the earliest scenes of bored students cooped up in a classroom, Frosty the Snowman draws pretty clear battle lines. Schools and institutions are repressive and corrupt, and children should never trust anyone over 30. This attack on school has historical Christmas roots both in the United States and Europe, where long before Vietnam war protests, students would lock out the teacher and take control of the school. According to Nissenbaum, “at Christmas schoolboys devised their own version of carnival misrule, a ritual practice that ‘turned the world upside down’ every bit as much as aggressive peasant wassailing had done. Here the figure of authority was the schoolmaster, and it was on him that the tables were turned.” While the children in the special don’t forcibly throw out the teacher like their ancestors, their sensibilities aren’t terribly different. The opening scenes contrast freedom-loving children and the oppressive institutions of adulthood.

As a result, Frosty, in true Beat fashion, goes “on the road”. He must escape the city that will literally kill him if he stays, so he and a young student, Karen, attempt to buy a train ticket to the North Pole. However, when the horrified clerk learns that Frosty has no money, he slams his window shut, forcing Frosty to become a hobo, Robert Mitchum-style, hop a freight train, and skip town. The train clerk, along with the repressive classroom teacher, the disbelieving traffic cop, and the villain, Professor Hinkle, a suit-wearing evil magician with an educator’s title and a stipend from the dreaded school no less, all provide negative images of the establishment, and all clearly are in the employ of “the man”. So Frosty embraces a world of the disempowered, playing with rabbits and disaffected youth. The final message from Santa, the special’s deus ex machine, suggests that such pure creatures like Frosty can only return with the magic snow of Christmas, truly the season for social outcasts and misfits.

While it would be relatively easy to argue that these three specials are merely designed to bring in more consumers to the commercialized, invented tradition of the domestic, child-centered Christmas, and, thus, are simply doing their part, working for “the man”, their themes say differently. The wealthy New Englanders who, in large part, “invented” modern Christmas traditions, were looking for protection from social protest and chaos. They were isolating themselves from the more dangerous elements of the rabble—“fleeing to the suburbs” of the holiday season, so to speak. Yet, with these three specials in particular, Rankin and Bass effectively “bus in” those who are cut off from privileged positions of race, gender, sexual identity, and social class.

Two other specials, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and A Charlie Brown Christmas, explore a similar theme that challenges the most striking aspect of the invented Christmas tradition: consumer capitalism. While Theodor Geisel, writing as Dr. Seuss, is best known for his fanciful stories and nonsense poetry, his work almost always demonstrates a socio-political context. In his early career, he worked as a political cartoonist for the leftist paper, PM, railing against fascism, racism, and isolationism. As Art Spiegelman notes in the Introduction to Dr. Seuss Goes to War, these “cartoons make us more aware of the political messages often embedded within the sugar pill of Dr. Seuss’s signature zaniness. For better or worse, the didactic moralist struggled for supremacy over the iconoclastic jokester in much of his mature—could that be the right adjective?—work.”

This struggle between someone with a socio-political sensibility and an “iconoclastic” vision provides the perfect balance for exploring the complexities of the modern Christmas season. In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Geisel mixes one part Beowulf with one part A Christmas Carol to argue that, as the narrator suggests, “Christmas doesn’t come from a store.” Interestingly, he takes the corollary position of the Rankin/Bass specials, making the outsider the villain, but also the star. Certainly the Whos down in Whoville display little in personality. If the viewer has a dog in this fight (not counting the Grinch’s little dog, Max), it must be the vile figure of the Grinch who, like Beowulf’s Grendel, has been alienated from the celebrations and revelry of the village.

Yet Geisel’s plot, with the Grinch leaving his Spartan-like home, sneaking into Whoville, and stealing all the material goods, decorations, and food, of the more “comfortable” Whos, reenacts the oldest Christmas celebrations in Europe, with the Grinch, as the representative of the lower classes, threatening harm to the wealthy landowners, the Whos, invading their homes, and consuming their food and drink. The ancient means of appeasing the “rabble” was to allow them to feast like kings for a day, just as the Grinch “carves the Roast Beast” while sitting at the main table of the Whos in the story’s conclusion.

Even the Grinch Fights the Power

The major difference is that Geisel posits the story as a “conversion” experience for the Grinch. Unlike the European peasants, the Grinch isn’t demanding to be a part of the feast. Instead, he reflects the American addition to the tradition that struck such fear in the wealthy New Englanders: the threat of social protest. The Grinch doesn’t demand to drink the Whos’ liquor for a day; he sets fire to the wine cellar. The Grinch tries to destroy the season, a season he identifies as wrapped presents, decorations, trees, edibles, and songs. In short, he objects to the trappings of the invented, domestic Christmas of the wealthy. His conversion comes, not from gaining an appreciation of these “invented” physical trappings, but rather by seeing the purity of the Whos en masse.

After having collected all of the material goods into one common location, he hears the Whos singing, all joined equally hand in hand. At this point, the revolutionary returns to redistribute the wealth and share equally with the Whos in the celebration. In fact, as a redemption story, the focus is ambiguous. While the Grinch, as the protagonist, is redeemed in terms of a conventional narrative, he also manages to redeem the Whos by forcing them to celebrate without any material comforts. He attacks the focal point of the invented Christmas tradition by divorcing Christmas from consumer capitalism. In this way, by “throwing out the moneychangers” he even manages to redeem the Christmas celebration itself. Rather than “taking the Christ out of Christmas” he takes the “Ka-ching” out of the fourth quarter fiscal report.

If it seems that we are living in an age of new restrictions and greater scrutiny, where people like James Dobson focus on the sexual identity of underwater cartoon sponge life, there is still hope.

As a former political cartoonist, Geisel certainly has the street cred to write a subversive, counter-cultural Christmas story, but the soft-spoken, sweater-wearing, Sunday School-teaching Charles M. Schulz makes for an unlikely Abbie Hoffman. In fact, his Christmas special, with Linus’ famed recitation from The Gospel of Luke, and the solemn pronouncement, “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” would seem to position Schulz squarely in the conservative camp of O’Reilly and Gibson. Yet, as David Michaelis makes clear in Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (HarperCollins, 2007), Schulz was frequently misinterpreted on issues of religion: “It’s not an evangelistic strip,’ said Schulz. ‘In fact, I’m anti-evangelistic.” Michaelis points to various touchstones in the strip’s mythos, including Linus’ obsession with the Great Pumpkin, Schroeder’s worship of Beethoven, and Lucy’s harsh judgmental pronouncements as examples of the ways in which Schulz subtly skewers many of the weaknesses of practiced religion.

This subversive strain in Schulz’s work also dominates his handling of Christmas, for Schulz’s technique here, much like Rankin and Bass, is to attack from the inside, using the language and medium of the establishment in order to express his own counter-cultural perspective. While one might read Charlie Brown’s persistence as a form of American cock-eyed optimism, Schulz keeps his focus on the pain of the experience. Sure, Charlie Brown never gives up, but he also never kicks the football. While the Horatio Alger figure of American myth may go from rags to riches, Charlie Brown remains static, moving from rags to rags, albeit ones with black zig-zag stripes.

Schulz’s sense of fatalism shares more in common with Arthur Miller than Leave it to Beaver. In fact, Schulz saw this suspicious brand of Americanism married to much of the evangelical movement, and as Michaelis notes, “[Schulz] had come to think of evangelical Christianity as a danger to independent thinking. ‘I am fearful of an overly organized church and I am very fearful of a church which equates itself with Americanisms,’ he said as early as 1967, identifying it as a ‘frightening trend: people who regard Christianity and Americanism as being virtually the same thing.”

Thus, Schulz’s Christmas special is particularly challenging to the established order of life in America. He introduces us to his protagonist, Charlie Brown, as a boy who is suffering what would soon be termed the “Christmas Blues”. Like many people from his ‘60’s audience, Charlie Brown complains about the arrival of Christmas, experiences signs of depression, and resorts to seeing his low-rent therapist, Lucy. In an unlikely turn of events, he winds up directing the children’s Christmas play, but he still finds himself cut off and alienated. As he shouts directions, the other children ignore him, doing their two-dimensional, animated head jerk dance while Schroeder bangs away on his tinny piano. These children believe they have found the Christmas spirit and have none of Charlie Brown’s reservations. Even Snoopy has found his niche, having won the community’s annual lights and display contest, as sure a sign of conspicuous consumption as one could find. Yet, Charlie Brown, like Schulz, runs counter to the main culture.

The stories regarding the special and the network’s uncertainty about it are legendary. When CBS executives first saw a screening, they expressed what Michaelis recounts as a slew of criticisms: “The animation was crude — couldn’t it be jazzed up a bit? The voice talent was unprofessional — they should have used adults. The music didn’t fit — who ever heard of a jazz score on an animated special? And where were the laughs?” Consequently, as the show’s producer, Lee Mendelson, recollects in A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, the executives declared it the end of Peanuts on television: “We will, of course, air it next week, but I’m afraid we won’t be ordering any more.”

Most of the decisions Schulz made defied convention, leaving a fairly vulnerable and unhealthy looking special. Like the pitiful tree upon which Charlie Brown decides to lavish his attention, the special has seemingly nothing to appeal to the dominant culture. Yet, faced with the despair of Charlie Brown, both the children in the special and the audience at home (if not the corporate executives in the initial screening) are forced to empathize with the alienated and disaffected protagonist. Confronted with their cultural dominance and hypocrisy, the children become transformed, the last becomes first and the first last, and they launch their own revolution, storming the house of the rich Czar, in this case, the unlikely Snoopy, and raiding his supply of Christmas lights, saving the future of the pitiful tree, the spirit of Charlie Brown, and the integrity of their own lives.

These five specials form the core of the Christmas television canon. All five continue to air each year, all five sell on DVD, and all five were produced over 40 years ago. If anything, the specials are bigger than ever, having morphed into cash cows of the merchandising world, inspiring ornaments, books, sequels, and toys, all boxed and sold in the same post-modernist mall of irony that houses stacks of mass marketed, $20-a-pop Che Guevara t-shirts. However, if we consider one small sampling from the history of the Rudolph special, we can begin to see why the television industry has been failing to capture the ‘60s magic ever since.

According to Rick Goldschmidt, the official historian of the Rankin/Bass production team, the Rudolph special was altered only one year after its debut. In his online essay, “Rudolph: Behind the Scenes Part One” (TV Party.com), he writes, “When it came time to rebroadcast the special in 1965, General Electric executive Willard Saloff decided he wanted to replace the song and sequence of ‘We’re a Couple of Misfits’ with a NEW song ‘Fame and Fortune.’” The omission of the original song must have struck audiences as somewhat odd, since the creators had already prepared them for the song by including brief renditions of its opening strains in two prior scenes. Thus, when the two characters, Rudolph and Hermey, finally meet and launch into their exuberant exaltation of rejection and isolation, the audience has been fully prepared to enjoy the number.

Alas, the executives were apparently uncomfortable with this celebration of deliriously defiant deviants reveling in their misfit status. Instead, the newly implemented “Fame and Fortune” sequence shows the two characters joyously boasting of how they will ultimately achieve, Horatio Alger style, fame and fortune (from a dental practice for Hermey and… perhaps a traveling side show for Rudolph?). Apparently, the forceful nature of the “Misfit” song had none of the weakness, depression, or dependence that a dominant culture demands from its marginalized members.

According to Goldschmidt, the network also cut the Burl Ives line, “This is man’s work” as well as the revelation that Yukon Cornelius had been searching, not for silver and gold, but for a peppermint mine instead. Better to let everyone think that the women know their place and that the prospector wants what everyone in a consumer-capitalist culture ought to want—money. While the excised scenes have been restored to the DVD, the changes speak to the same corporate culture that didn’t “get” the Peanuts special. As the succeeding decades have demonstrated, when we try to stifle and control the anarchic spirit of the holiday celebration, we simultaneously shut down the tension and depth that leads to beauty, relevance, and art.

So, if we return again to our earlier question of why they don’t make good Christmas specials anymore, it’s tempting to place a large share of the blame on the modern conservative movement. Using the red and blue state jargon of contemporary American politics, the gradual “reddening” of America that has taken place over the last three decades, like the reddening of Frosty the Snowman’s thermometer, has effectively melted the misfits, outlaws, and Marxists that have given the Christmas specials their enduring appeal. If it seems that we are living in an age of new restrictions and greater scrutiny, where people like James Dobson focus on the sexual identity of underwater cartoon sponge life, there is still hope. History can, after all, be cyclical, and just as these subversive ‘60s specials reflect a reaction against the class-structured, commercial celebrations of “invented tradition,” one can only expect that a similar reaction against the more belligerent conservative “traditionalists” must be on its way in the not-too-distant future. If so, perhaps we will see a new silver age of television Christmas specials, and then we can truly say, in the words of one tiny misfit: “God bless us, every one.”

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