Jerry Nelson: Alternative interpretations
My wife and I recently “did lunch” with a friend at a local restaurant. As we prepared to leave, a lady who had been seated at a nearby table asked, “Are you that dear county agent guy?”
Bracing myself for the worst, I plead guilty.
“I teach high school,” said the lady. “One of my students used one of your columns for oral interpretation. He did a pretty good job of it too.”
I was shocked for a couple of reasons. First was that I wasn’t being taken to task by an English teacher for my habitual abuse of the language. Second was that somewhere out in the vast expanse of the universe, there’s a high school student who has been reading my stuff.
This just goes to show how unexpected life can be. Bellbottom jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts were all the rage when I was a teenager. Now these and other “retro” fashion items are making a comeback. But this begs the question: how can a person make a comeback if he never went anywhere?
Perhaps the answer can be found in cultural artifacts that have always been in style. Good examples would be a quartet of televised Christmas specials that have withstood the test of time. All of them were released in the 1960s which, coincidentally, was also when some of the best rock music was recorded. Here are alternative interpretations of some cherished Christmas specials.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) should have landed on the scrapheap of lameness long ago. Its characters are clearly made of felt, which means that any child with enough imagination, unlimited funds and access to a major film studio could have made this flick.
The story centers on a pair of misfits who embark upon a journey across a frozen wasteland only to find themselves pursued by a bottomless snowman. They are eventually befriended by a stranger who has an unhealthy obsession with finding precious minerals.
By the end the show the misfits have fulfilling careers, one as dental care practitioner, the other as a headlight. My favorite character is the ever-exuberant Yukon Cornelius, although I’m troubled by his habit of licking his steel pickaxe in subzero cold.
In A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), the title character is asked to become the leader of a local youth gang. When Brown’s leadership style proves ineffective, he and his accomplice, a Bible-quoting thug named Linus, sneak out under the cover of the wintry darkness to procure some coniferous vegetation from a local business. No money is seen changing hands, so it’s possible that larceny may have been involved.
After his tree gambit fails to boost his cred, a shamefaced Brown retreats to his home. The gang follows him and discovers his abandoned tree. The youthful hoodlums gussy up the Tenenbaum with decorations stolen from a nearby house. Buoyed by their evening of successful gang-related activities, the young ruffians break into song. Neighbors can probably hear their caterwauling, but it appears that nobody dares to say anything.
As in all Charlie Brown stories, Snoopy is the coolest member of the cast.
Frosty the Snowman (1969) is a troubling tale. The story opens with a group of children building a snowman that magically comes to life. We know nothing about this snowperson other than that he is a smoker, has close ties to the coal industry and doesn’t wear pants.
The snowman and a young girl embark on a hazardous trek through a frigid wilderness. Pursuing them is an incompetent magician who merely wants to retrieve the hat that he lost. When the girl becomes dangerously hypothermic, the snowman saves her by spiriting her off to a greenhouse. They become trapped inside and the snowman is liquidated.
Santa appears on the scene and promptly resurrects the snowman. Santa issues a stern warning to the inept magician and sends him away. The magician never recovers his hat.
My favorite character is the magician’s rabbit, who seems to have a better understanding of things than anyone else in the tale.
What can I say about How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)? It’s perfection. There’s the Grinch with his dreadful dentition; the Whos and their whimsical lifestyles; the Grinch’s faithful and forgiving dog, Max.
Adolescent boys have a knack for crafting alternative lyrics for songs. Nobody can improve on such lines as “You’re a nasty wasty skunk, your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk.”
Director Chuck Jones is the unseen hero of this cartoon. His Wile E. Coyote-like flourishes appear throughout the flick.
Those are just a few of my alternative interpretations. You young whippersnappers are welcome to create your own.