There was once a day when Santa was simply a jolly old gentleman with a white beard. And we all more or less accepted that. He was perhaps the first man with a brand. In the day of the 24 hour news cycle and social media and messaging, all of that has changed. Now, all of us are hungry for the “real” story behind the brand.
If Santa were to be created today – uh, excuse me, I mean born today – we would all want to know the story behind the brand. Who developed the concept? What major corporation is sponsoring him? Exactly how did he go viral? Who is Santa, the man?
That’s the way it goes today with just about everything. We were once content to believe whatever the media or corporate interests told us. Yes, Rock Hudson is a ladies’ man. Yes, cigarettes are healthy appetite suppressants…. And the list goes on. Today, a healthy skepticism has been replaced with a cynic’s view of the world.
The ink, virtual and otherwise, had not yet dried on stories about the NYPD officer who stopped to buy a cold, apparently homeless, man a pair of boots in Time Square, when the Internet and media burned with questions, allegations and investigations. Was the man really homeless? Was it a marketing campaign for Skeechers? Was it for real?
Everyone was looking for that “gotcha’” moment. It’s that moment when we would learn that the man was really a billionaire slumming it on the streets or that a beer brand was staging an elaborate hoax. Could he possibly be the “most interesting man alive?”
We did in a matter of moments, it seemed, that the man had a name, Jeffrey Hillman, that he had a criminal record and that he had a home paid for with various forms of state and federal aid. We also learned that he had put the boots away for safe keeping and was once again wandering the streets barefoot and that he suffered from episodes of erratic behavior. Well, we got to the bottom of that one.
This story is just one example of how we’ve been convinced or trained never to believe what we’re told. The result has been the constant pursuit of all celebrities, real and imagined. It’s an age where even the Kardashians, initially famous mostly for a sex tape, can get their own tell-all reality show, so that we can find out even more about them. In the meantime, they’ve created a brand and gotten rich off all if it. Certainly, we’re not having the last laugh there.
Which brings us all back to Santa. If he first appeared on the scene today, we’d know all about him within hours. He might even have his own series, appear as a guest judge on America’s Got Talent or be exposed for visits to an adult theater.
This is not all to say that we should suspend belief at everything that we’re told. There is room for skepticism, doubt and investigative reporting. Often where there’s smoke there really is a fire. But sometime’s there’s not. Perhaps this holiday season, we should take a few days to put our feet up and take just a little bit of a break. And, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.