Is Santa Politically Incorrect?

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Historically, role models have come in all types. And that's probably a good thing, since very few people are perfect and we all need models with whom we can relate.

But there is one person who is universally looked upon with appreciation for his generosity and good deeds, a man to whom tens of millions of people look to for inspiration. He is Santa Claus, of course.

But in the politically correct 1990s, should Santa be allowed to be a role model? Think about it for a minute. Does Santa Claus really fit in the type of society that so many are pushing us into these days? Or would the man be laughed out of the toy store? Just consider some of the unacceptable aspects of Santa's character.

Santa's biggest problem may be that he doesn't present a trim male physique. Of course, that may be in part because there is no gym at the North Pole. But it's clear that Santa eats too many of those Christmas cookies left out by the good little girls and boys, which poses a real image problem. How can he be presented as the character judge for children when the man can't even control his own weight? How can he determine which children have been naughty by giving in to their worst inclinations when he himself obviously succumbs to the temptation of gluttony?

Moreover, there is a lot of discussion on the talk show circuit these days that suggests that weight problems are caused by inner struggles. Is Santa's weight problem the result of some inner psychological turmoil that drives him to eat when he can't cope with difficulties -- like whether he will be able to make it around the world in one night?

And what about his light-hearted nature? You surely know that he shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly, and he seems a jolly old man. But is that jovial response simply a ruse to distract us from the inner conflict that is driving the man to do what he does? Fortunately, the 1990s have made us all aware that things may not be what they appear, and thus it is possible that Santa has a darker side. Santa has a second major problem that precludes him from being a '90s role model: he smokes.

Yes, little ones, it's true. Santa is sometimes seen with a pipe in his mouth -- a revelation that raises a number of questions. Congress berated the tobacco companies for using children-friendly advertising gimmicks such as Joe Camel in order to attract young people to cigarettes. Could Santa's universally liked image combined with his smoking also draw children to conclude that smoking is cool? Of course, Santa only smokes a pipe. But that smoke circling his head like a wreath is in many of his photographs and surely is not what we want our children to emulate. Perhaps Vice President Al Gore should make an issue of Santa's pipe in the next presidential election by condemning Santa for being in the pockets of the tobacco industry.

And dressed all in fur from his head to his feet? This man may come bearing gifts, but does that absolve him of killing animals to use their skins for warmth? How politically incorrect!

Santa's treatment of live animals is not much better. He keeps a number of reindeer permanently harnessed to a sleigh which they pull around the world. Isn't that cruel of him? Doesn't it display a sense of superiority over animals and a sense of callousness to their need be free?

Well, you see the point. If Santa were being created today in a more politically correct environment, he would likely have none of these traits. The Santa of the 1990s would be thin and buff -- the result of a regular aerobic class. He would avoid all types of unhealthy foods, and might even be a vegetarian to show his solidarity with the animals. He'd wear a cloth coat. And he certainly wouldn't exploit animals such as reindeer simply to make a few children happy.

Of course, there is no evidence that children would love such a figure or write to him every Christmas, but when it comes to picking role models, what do children know?