Kris takes Santa’s throne
Kris’s rave reviews as Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade are so good, Doris hires him play Santa at Macy’s flagship New York City store on 34th Street. He agrees, which is strange, when you think about how busy he should be at this time of year, supervising the elves and all. If he really is Santa, or even if he thinks he is, taking the job in New York is irresponsible.
His supervisor gives him a list of toys to “push”—toys that are overstocked. “Now, you’ll find that a great many children will be undecided as to what they want for Christmas. When that happens, you suggest one of these items,” Kris is told. “You understand?”
Kris says he understands, but later makes it clear in his comments to a co-worker, that he has no intention of “pushing” the merchandise.:
“Imagine…making a child take something it doesn’t want…just because he bought too many of the wrong toys.That’s what I’ve been fighting against for years!”
That being the case, there is exactly one thing Kris needs to do. He needs to quit. What he cannot do, and must not do, and has a clear ethical obligation not to do, is to accept a job when he has no intention of doing what the job requires. This is a sales job. If Kris doesn’t want to sell, then he will be accepting a pay check under false pretenses. This isn’t noble conduct, as the film would have you believe. It’s unethical conduct. It’s wrong.
Kris needs to put himself on his own naughty list.
Employer loyalty is not Kris’s thing…
On his first shift, a mother whispers to Kris, as Macy’s Santa Claus, not to promise Peter, the little boy on his lap, that he’ll get a toy fire engine for Christmas. “Nobody has any,” she says. Kris ignores her request (do we see a pattern here?) and tells the boy he’ll get his wish. Mom is hacked-off, but Kris informs her that another store, presumably one that the mother wasn’t aware of or hadn’t checked, has what she’s looking for, and at a great price, too. Mom is amazed, but grateful, and trots off to “Schoenfeld’s” on Lexington Avenue.
This is just the next step in Kris’s betrayal. The situation is exactly what he he was instructed to prepare for. “Oh, Santa has a much better gift in mind for you, Peter. You’re been such a good boy this year, what if Santa brings you a new toy cement mixer truck that mixes real cement! You’ll be the only one of your friends who has one! Ho Ho Ho!” (Actually, I had a truck like that when I was Peter’s age, and I liked it a lot better than a fire truck…)
Now, he’s not only not pushing Macy’s toys, he’s sending customers right out of Macy’s to another store! What else will Mom buy while she’s there that she otherwise would have bought at Macy’s?
Let’s pause a bit to ponder exactly what Kris, who we later learn, but now only suspect, thinks he’s really Santa Claus, thinks the iconic role consists of. Kids ask him for stuff, he sends the parents to buy it, and his function on Christmas Eve is…what, exactly? If he isn’t providing the toys, he doesn’t need a sack, or a sleigh, or flying reindeer. He doesn’t need a workshop or elves, if everything a kid wants is at Gimbels or another store. And if the job is for Santa to let parents in first world countries do his job for him, and he handles poor children elsewhere, why the hell is he hanging around Macy’s?
But I digress. Peter’s mother is touched and impressed with Santa’s apparently ethical, non-capitalistic conduct and, flushed with gratitude, tells Shellhammer, the head of the toy department, that she will now become a loyal Macy’s customer….after she buys the fire truck elsewhere. She assumes that Santa’s shopping consultant role is a store policy.
This is moral luck, Kris didn’t care whether his tip to the woman benefited Macy’s or not; it just did. Then Shellhammer overhears Kris as he excalates: a little girl wants ice skates, and Macy’s has ice skates, but he tells her mother to buy the skates at Gimbel’s, Macy’s arch rival, because their skates are better.
Coca-Cola has fired employees in the past for drinking a Pepsi.
Meanwhile, Fred Gailey, still lusting after Doris, takes the young Susan to see Santa. This would seem to contravene Doris’s explicit wishes: if she doesn’t want her daughter being enchanted by the Santa Claus myth, why is he doing this? In fact, he is trying to undermine Doris. His belief that her child rearing theories are harmful may be 100% right, but they are none of his business. This is a minor equivalent of trying to indoctrinate a neighbor’s child into a new religion or culture behind the parent’s back.
Doris catches Fred in his attempted counter-Doris mission, and tells him that she expects him to respect her wishes. In the process, she confirms his suspicion that its her own disillusionment with her broken romance with Susan’s father that is making her inoculate her daughter against illusions, hope, and idealism, which is what her campaign amounts to. Her reaction, however, when she blurts out a direct reference to her ex- is telling:
“They grow up considering life a fantasy instead of a reality. They keep waiting for Prince Charming to come along. And when he does, he turns out to be a…
…and she stops, embarrassed. Gailey says, “We were talking about Suzie, not about you.” So Doris knows, or should know, exactly what she’s doing,and should know it’s wrong.
Susan’s skepticism about Santa is shaken when she sees Kris speak Dutch to a little girl from the Netherlands. Hmmm. Wasn’t Kris Kringle Dutch? Kris is on a lucky streak, leaving the audience to wonder what would have happened if the little girl was from Mongolia. Alarmed that Kris’s verisimilitude has pulled Susan into–in her mother’s view—a dangerous fantasy, Doris asks him to tell Susan that he is not Santa. He refuses.
Ethically, this is a dilemma. She is asking him to lie to a little girl, from Kris’s perspective, since he sincerely believes that he is Santa Claus. (I suppose he could be a method actor: Daniel Day Lewis, on the set of “Lincoln,” reportedly insisted that he was Lincoln) refuses. Now what? She has a conflict of interest. Macy’s doesn’t care whether he’s a brilliant Santa portrayer or deluded–he’s a hit. Doris regards him as a threat to her indoctrination of her daughter. She decides to fire him, but she is biased in too many ways to be capable of an objective decision.
Before she can can Kris however, R. H. Macy himself calls her and Shellhammer for an audience. (Aside: Rowland Hussey Macy died in 1877, 70 years before the film. Showing him still alive is kind of creepy, making Macy seem like the immortal, rotting castle owner in H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.” The Macy family had sold its ownership of the company in 1895) Doris and the toy department manager are getting a bonus! Ah! Money makes Doris abandon her principles, and resolves her conflict.
Now Macy directs that sending customers to Gimbels and other stores is going to be the new store policy, creating good will. We see Mr. Gimbel presiding over an emergency meeting: the Gimbel’s Department store won’t be outdone; he directs that his staff be directed to show that Gimbel’s puts Christmas spirit over profit. It would now send customers to other stores if necessary, even Macy’s.
There really was a Mr. Gimbel when “Miracle on 34th Street” was made. Bernard Gimbel, head of the Gimbel’s chain and the latest in the line that began with the store’s founder, Adam Gimbel in 1842. As it turned out, Bernard Gimbel did have a heart and placed people above profit, once he had a little nudge. He attended an early performance of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway in 1949. The plight of Willy Loman, an aging traveling salesman being pressured out of the only employment he had ever known, shattered Gimbel. He was filled with guilt and remorse: his company had fired loyal employees who had become “too old,” just like Willy. After a sleepless night, he called his managers together in a real life emergency meeting, and told them and all of his stores that announced a new and, for the times, a unique policy. There would be no more firing of over-age employees.
So far, so good for Kris. But his luck is about to run out.
To share on Facebook, use this link: https://twitter.com/CaptCompliance/status/1212194811811381248