06 January 2009

North Pole Politics

Before dashing away to Erie for winter break, I and my fellow RAs went to see Jeff Goode's play The Eight: Reindeer Monologues in a quaint Philadelphia black box theater. A "dark Christmas comedy" was how online advertisements described the show's nature. The main scandal? Vixen accuses Santa of raping her.

You might be gasping in your computer chair, and that's ok. My above statement is fully gasp-worthy, especially if you still put out reindeer mix on Christmas Eve and amuse your family with North Pole fables. But, we are supposed to gasp at that statement-- not just because it's darkly funny and crude but because it appears too implausible for us to actually believe. Santa's raping one of his reindeer is an absurd, repulsive action; it is something I don't ever want to have to think about. It's much easier to dismiss and laugh around Vixen's claim than to actually confront it. And that's the point.

The reviews I read about The Eight discuss how the play attempts to comically critique our commercialized holiday rituals, beliefs, and images. More than deconstruct Christmas folklore and capitalist Christmas practice however, The Eight makes a burly statement about the politics of power relations in general. Who carries the largest bag of clout at the North Pole? Santa, of course. It's his word against a woodland creature he uses to fly about the earth one night a year. So any potential problems or accusations from the bottom (i.e. the reindeer) are always handled by the same vertical structures in which these problems arise and are disguised in the first place. For Vixen, getting others to believe her story poses quite the challenge then because a. it threatens their relationship with "the boss" and b. it threatens their own constructions of reality at the North Pole.

Understandably, some people in my party were offended by The Eight. Beyond the dark wit and vulgarity however, I was simultaneously offended and awakened by the stark parallel to larger structures of power with which people grapple everyday. I recognize that I have much less power and say than a renowned politician in my region, for example. But my sheer recognition and acceptance of this positioning solidifies the legitimacy of these kinds of status relations. If I for any reason were to challenge a "boss" or "Santa," it would likely jeopardize my personal and professional status, as it did Vixen's. I might be taken as a fool or fake, a vixen only seeking attention, as many reindeer judged. In addition, my accusations, no matter how valid, would illuminate for me harsh structural realities like corruption, injustice, and indecency--things I'd rather obscure than accept in the world.

It's easier to excuse and tuck away the wrongs rather than to confront and seek to change them, especially when they're situated in such dominant constructions of reality: i.e. Santa is good, pure, his power is fixed, his actions are defensible, and that's just the way things are and should be, believe North Pole residents. But Vixen's decision to challenge "just the way things are" represents a leap of faith, a leap of hope for those truly being exploited at the bottom.

Unfortunately however, her action might simply represent just one of countless Santa-declared frivolities, incidents that are easily erased from North Pole memory because the power to deny and dismiss such claims still remains in the hands of the "good" person, the boss, the powerful one being accussed.

Ultimately, Goode's scandal brings to light numerous complexities inherent in the realm of power relations--the incongruities that arise, get veiled, challenged, and blanketed once again along the same verticality. Vixen and her gang offer a weighty social commentary on power, even if the author didn't intend it. As most of the other reindeer along with most of the audience soon realized, it's much much easier to dismiss and laugh around Vixen's claim than to actually confront and back it. This way, no one's status has to be threatened and no one's comfortable conceptions/illusions of how things work in this world have to be rocked or sullied.