Monday, December 16, 2013

Disturbing Christmas Carols, 2013 Edition

The holidays are upon us, and it's time to take a closer look at some of the strange messages being piped into our innocent ears and souls. This year, I'm finding "Frosty the Snowman" particularly unsettling, though perhaps no more so than "Rudolph" or "Little Drummer Boy."

To recap:

Frosty the Snowman, was a jolly happy soul,
With a corn cob pipe and a button nose, and two eyes made of coal.

Frosty the Snowman, is a fairytale, they say.
He was made of snow, but the children know he came to life one day.

There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found,

For when they placed it on his head, he began to dance around!

Oh, Frosty, the Snowman, was alive as he could be;
and the children say he could laugh and play,
just the same as you and me.

Thumpety thump, thump, thumpety thump, thump,
look at Frosty go.

Thumpety thump, thump, thumpety thump, thump,
over the hills of snow.

Frosty the Snowman, knew the sun was hot that day,
so he said, "Let's run, and we'll have some fun now, before I melt away."

Down to the village, with a broomstick in his hand,
Running here and there, all around the square,
sayin', "Catch me if you can."

He led them down the streets of town, right to the traffic cop;

and only paused a moment, when he heard him holler, "Stop!"

For Frosty, the Snowman, had to hurry on his way,
But he waved goodbye, sayin' "Don't cry, I'll be back again some day."

I will not dwell on the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy regarding the silk hat, though I'll note that the lyrics cleverly gloss over the dilemma with that odd conditional, "must have." Is the song firmly committing to the existence of magic, or only speculating, toying with our desire to know for certain? We cannot say. Like Frosty himself, the song dances on the knife edge of being/not being.

No, what strikes me in this season of enforced cheer is the idea of Frosty as memento mori, specifically aimed at children. As he begins to melt, his running and cavorting grow ever more frantic, until the weeping children watch their dwindling friend disappear over the hills. Here we sense the tragic nature of Frosty, who knows he's dying but is determined to entertain till the end; he is the archetypal sad clown. The carpe diem message comes through clearly, and that's a lesson it's never too early to learn.

Yet perhaps Frosty would have been more heroic had he not announced to the children that this was his last day (for now, anyway) on earth. Couldn't he have simply made an excuse that he had an appointment or something? Yes, the children would perhaps have felt confused and hurt. Where is he going? Doesn't he like us anymore? Are we too boring for Frosty, who appears afflicted with ADHD? But now, whenever they see snow, they will think of loss and death intertwined with, and perhaps overshadowing, the fun and beauty of the season.

On the other hand, as Wallace Stephens said, "Death is the mother of beauty." Perhaps winter and snow become more beautiful as we learn to connect them with aging, impermanence, and the witless brutality of nature. Perhaps Frosty sensed these children were old enough to understand this; and perhaps he's a Buddhist and expects to be reincarnated. As, indeed, he may be, every time someone builds a snowman.

All I'm saying is, this is a lot for a young person to take in. I don't believe in shielding kids from reality, but this deceptively jolly song is an odd way to deliver it.

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