As the holiday season encroaches, Americans should be wary of our most cherished institution: television. Sure, TV will regurgitate the usual canon of Christmas movies and specials. Within the next month, Jimmy Stewart will realize the value of life, Rudolph will overcome a virulent strain of uniquely-caribou racism and Frosty will unfailingly defy the third tenant of cell theory.
But another “new classic” lurks in the shadows of our common stock of Christmas myths, ready to upset the applecart on both commerce and culture. I am speaking, of course, about the Communist subtext in Will Ferrell’s “Elf,” (a leitmotif so thinly veiled that I am sure you are already aware of it). We ought not let our children come in contact with this Bolshevik talkie’s call for a violent revolution—not even with a 10-foot pole.
But for those you unconvinced that the specter of Marxism hangs over this work of pinko propaganda, allow me to explain the plot:
Will Ferrell plays Buddy (notably, a synonym for comrade). He is a human raised by elves who live in a classless utopia of post-revolutionary splendor complete with Christmas carols (read: workers’ chants) and Godless atheism—think about it, did you see any of those elves praying? I didn’t think so. As a human, Buddy is seen by the elves as best able to export their particular brand of what I deduce to be council communism. Thus, Buddy is sent off to New York—the capitalists’ crown jewel—to find his true family.
Socialist elfin society is presented as idyllic. All elves live communally in what we presume are gingerbread houses. These workers jointly operate Santa’s workshop for the benefit of all society (Santa, by the way, is nowhere to be seen at the North Pole, as these workers have assumed quasi-ownership and total control of the means of production). Most concerning is that they toil under a strict quota system, handed down by a Politburo of elfin technocrats and Christmas-party functionaries. It’s sickening.
Yet, the movie holds up these elves as paragons of moral character. They’re always cheery, meaning devoid of a capitalist worker’s “alienation.” They seem to reap no material reward from their work, sustained only by the notion that they are assisting their brethren in the shared work of the people.
The capitalist customs of New York are so alien to comrade Buddy that he is unable to comprehend them—providing for much of the comedy in the movie. He races into a coffee shop to congratulate its operators on having “the best coffee in New York.” Buddy cannot understand the marketplace’s bend toward hyperbole, which is satirized and made to appear silly.
The myth of the socialized economy’s hyper-productivity also gets some play. One scene shows Buddy construct a wondrous replica of Santa’s workshop inside of Macy’s with only a few hours, some craft products and maple syrup (the opiate of the masses?). The skilled comrade does this despite the anxiety it provokes in his jittery manager at Macy’s, who satirizes the middle-manager, always afraid ‘corporate’ will swoop in to wrest away his mediocre fiefdom.
In New York, Buddy encounters James Caan (whose entire career has been an exercise in proselytizing red ideology; see his work in “Misery,” and “Brian’s Song”). If Buddy is the proletariat’s revolutionary savoir, then James Caan plays his arch-capitalist foil. In his role as the fat cat publishing executive, Caan’s character lives cynically and keeps his family at arm’s length. His latest children’s book finds the final two pages completely missing (a metaphor for the futility and fruitless frustration of the worker’s alienation).
At first Caan rejects Buddy (like Engles’ parents rejected his own communist theories). After seeing lingerie advertised as “For your special someone,” Buddy buys and gifts a wispy babydoll to his distant father. Does he do this because the elves have created not only a classless society, but a genderless one as well? The message is clear: the market requires us to gender our clothing to increase consumption of products unnecessarily differentiated. That segregates prol brothers from prol sisters. This is just one of the many shell games through which the machine toys with our affections. Note that the North Pole-dwelling elves all wear the same androgynous, utilitarian garments.
Caan is strained by the irrational demands from higher management. While he initially resists Buddy and refuses to embrace revolution, he finally breaks free by abandoning his work on Christmas.
Why does the reformed capitalist pig do this? To join Buddy and his son as they assist good-old St. Nick. Throughout the movie, Santa serves as a living symbol for the violent overthrow of bourgeois capitalism. His midnight ride, a rough equivalent to Lenin’s storming of Petrograd in 1917. Consider: Santa distributes his gifts for free, asking not for profit but only that boys and girls “be good” and “believe in him.” However, he cannot complete his mission unless society exhibits enough “Christmas Spirit” (a stand-in phrase for class consciousness). Also, I pity the fool unable to make the connection between Santa’s so-called naughty list and Stalin’s death list during the Great Purge.
The pinko obsession with indoctrinating children continues here. When Buddy arrives in New York, it is Caan’s other son who allies with Buddy. Thus, the writers perpetuate the myth of communist ideologies appeal to the young, who have not yet been brainwashed by the labor market. Because of his youthful innocence, the child is able to recognize and embrace the values of Buddy’s Communist message. Always the writers keep one eye toward perpetuating the myth of communism as youthful ideology.
The final scene sees Buddy and the newly-converted Commie-Caan save Santa from tyrannical “Central Park Rangers.” This is a revisionist history of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with the movie’s writers dramatizing Russia’s narrow escape. Central park—an isle of nature in an urban sea—is a metaphorical Isla Grande. The despotic rangers, analogous to Kennedy and McCarthy, narrowly crush Santa’s December Revolution underfoot, but ultimately he lives to complete his sleigh ride (a reference to Mao’s long march).
The moral: market labor makes one unhappy, and the only remedy available is a brotherhood of the proletariat. This movie’s symbolism is incredibly obvious—all hammer, no scythe. We ought not let our impressionable youths be brainwashed by the Marx’s dialectic, even if it is disguised in jingle bells and reindeer games.