“Frosty the Snowman” cartoon was broadcast on CBS last night. Though I’ve watched this cartoon many times before, I watched it last night partly to experience that holiday tradition, and partly because I wanted to see Prof. Hinkle say the line — “Busy! Busy! Busy!” (though it sounds more like “Bizzy! Bizzy! Bizzy!”) — that is one of the many cultural references in the two-person culture that my wife and I have semi-consciously created for ourselves. I didn’t remember that the full line was “I’ve got to get busy writing — busy, busy, busy!” (or however one punctuates a three-word repetition — which, digression: I saw a t-shirt message — “Let’s eat grandma. Let’s eat, grandma. Punctuation saves lives.” — in a catalog yesterday whose message resonated for ol’ English teacher me). So, while Hinkle is doing punishment writing for Santa, and I will not be, I may introduce the longer quotation into my home-culture.
But here’s the other thing about that show: it’s narratively absurd, and this never bothered me as a kid, but I think that’s because I was more a believer in the whole of Christmas magic than I tend to be now. Now, I’ve long had some trouble with the part where little beskirted Karen (her cold knees!), the titular suscitated snowman, and a problem-solving, communicative magician’s rabbit get on a refrigerated rail car headed north (I noticed last night that the reefer car is the only car between the engine and the caboose, which inefficiency could explain why the ticket agent tried to charge the trio $3000.04 for a ticket to the north pole, which, also inefficiently, routed through Saskatchewan, Hudson Bay, Nome, and the Yukon, which map-path drawing started to give me a headache). I’ve also wondered how far north they got before they decided to jump off the train because Karen was, if memory serves (I somehow skipped this moment last night), getting cold in the reefer car, a pragmatic gesture that throws the other absurdities into relief.
So, they’re in a forest where numerous animals are somehow decorating for Christmas and awaiting Santa’s arrival. It didn’t used to bother me that the animals were apparently practicing Christians — what denomination? — or maybe they’re secularly celebrating, but the rabbit, under Frosty’s direction, seeks out the woodland creatures, explains that the little girl needs them to build a fire so she can warm up, and so the woodland creatures pile sticks and rub two together until they get a fire going. So far so good, although last night I wondered why, if the animals had mastered communication and fire-production, why they hadn’t moved into bungalows in the city. Are they perhaps hippie animals who have renounced industrial society, and this works for them (as opposed to human hippies) because these critters haven’t evolved out of their all-weather hides and ability to survive on bark?
Anyway, this works for a while, and Karen ostensibly warms up, until Hinkle shows up and Frosty has to “bellywhollop” (if I correctly recall the term Jimmy Durante used) with Karen on his shoulders to escape, which leads them to an apparently poorly managed (since it is still stocked, on X-mas eve, with Mr. Poinsett’s flowers, about to be deeply discounted) greenhouse, wherein Frosty melts. Hinkle has shut the door on them, but he had not barred or even locked the door, so either the greenhouse is so poorly managed that its doors are inescapable, or Frosty and Karen forget to leave. Now, earlier, Karen has explained to the traffic cop that Frosty, being newly animated, is ignorant of worldly ways, and so perhaps she should have been cognizant that she should have opened the door to let Frosty out? Just now it’s occurring to me that perhaps Karen, in her selfish desire to be warm, could be convicted of snowmanslaughter through willful indifference?
But then, there’s the Santa ex machina who, upon the instructions of the rabbit (because Santa “speaks rabbit,” we are informed), turns up to rescue Frosty, punish Hinkle (by threatening to never bring the professor another gift — a surprisingly unforgiving action, I thought, from a Christian figure), and return little Karen to the roof of some house (even if its her own house, how’s she supposed to get down, I wondered as I watched). This business about Santa being real always feels like a cop-out, since one of the central tenets of Christianity (correct me if I’m wrong) is faith, is believing in things that cannot be directly experienced, that cannot be seen, and so Santa showing up sorta renders faith moot.
Even in the beginning of “Frosty,” the kids make a point about adults not believing in the magic that kids can see (the adults who do see the snowman leading a parade through town seem to faint (or concussively run into other shoppers, or make themselves mute by swallowing their own whistle)), leaving Prof. Hinkle as the one adult who agrees to have seen the magic of Frosty’s animation. Hinkle, however, tells the kids he will admit to seeing nothing, as he wants to keep the hat now that it seems to be the agent of Frosty’s animation. (I keep saying “animation” because, in some sense, Frosty is like Frankenstein’s monster, in that both are mere matter that becomes alive. However, Frosty seems to be composed entirely of rolled snow, unlike the differentiated tissues that were used for Frankenstein’s monster — how about Frosty-stein? (This thought too occurred to me last night as I watched. Maybe this all says more about me than about the show.)) Of course, Hinkle has a problem: if his hat really is magic, and he uses it in his future performances, how will he expect his audience to accept his illusions as mere illusions? The way the townsfolk respond to Frosty, I’d also expect them to react irrationally to any true magic they saw.
There’s the moral issue of ownership of the hat, which ownership is conferred (by Justice Santa) on those who would promote the continued existence of the personality of Frosty (which, combined with the human-like consciousnesses of the animals, seems to imply a vegetarian or vegan morality?), rather than on the fact that Hinkle has not fully abandoned his ownership rights.
But maybe the larger issue is the one of magic vs. faith. The children believe in magic, which the adults (besides Hinkle — who is perhaps a kind of prophet, doomed to repeat his tale of witnessing magic to a hostile, unbelieving public for the rest of his days?) deny, and yet the children indicate no religious understanding of the holiday, and Santa shows up to prove himself real. How are we to understand the implications of these narrative antics?
And where is reality here? Does the story of “Frosty the Snowman” take place in a world where magic is real, and Santa is real, but only kids can accept magic, no adult believes in magic, so that we could speculate that perhaps adults undergo some sort of “forgetting” procedure? Or are we to understand that the adult world is the real one, and that once our POV character Karen leaves the normalcy of the classroom, with its bossy teacher, dismissal times and inept magician, she imagines or hallucinates the whole thing; Frosty’s animation, the rabbit’s intelligence, and even Santa’s existence are all some kind of break with reality that Karen experiences, perhaps as a result of a head injury sustained in the snow play the kids engage in after leaving the classroom. That Frosty and all were some kind of dream world actually would explain one of the first strangely unreal sightings: the visible rising and even throbbing of the thermometer, which Frosty explains confusedly as causing the rising of the temperature that motivates him toward the north pole. What we can deduce is that one group of the humans in this story, either the adults or the children, is not acknowledging the same reality as the other group of humans. (It could be argued that adults trying to get children to acknowledge and accept the reality that the adults perceive is the purpose of schooling.)
Sure, this is just a goofy cartoon, produced by some poor bastard of a writer who had to turn a three-minute song into a 20-minute cartoon. I’ll also concede that I appreciate fiction that’s not entirely realistic, which fiction I tend to write myself. But any artwork, any human creation (I’d argue), is based upon certain philosophical assumptions and it’s kinda fun to explore these, no?