Christmas Eve our family watched the original Miracle on 34th Street. For those who may need a refresher, it’s about the crusade of Kris Kringle, a fill-in department store Santa who tries to get a single mom and her daughter to believe again (with the help of a prince-charming neighbor). In the process Kris raises the hopes of a whole city, all while rescuing Christmas by converting Macy’s from its rampant consumerism. I like the movie and It got me thinking. Not so much about Christmas and consumerism, but about personhood and belief.
In the movie, Christmas is in real trouble when Santa gets committed for saying who he really is. The handsome next-door lawyer comes to his rescue, but wants to keep St. Nick out of the looney bin by proving he is the real deal. During the course of the highly-publicized trial, the judge has to admit it can’t rule on maters of personal opinion (or belief). Although the court can’t rule on the existence of Santa, it can commit Kris for saying he’s the real deal without authoritative proof.
The film plays on the problem of extraordinary claims of personhood. Society takes real offense at people who claim to be something but are not. Sometimes it’s criminal, but even when it’s just a YouTube fame prank, people are outraged. There might be more than one reason, but I think our indignation stems from the violation of the root of our certainty: personhood. The world isn’t exactly full of credibility these days, and between those selling and those buying truth, about the only thing we can be sure of is who we are — our authority is our own story. So whenever anyone claims to be something the are not, they take away some power for each of us to define ourselves and erode our trust in the authenticity of people in general.