Depending on your perspective, this is either the most hideously wrong or amazingly hysterical commercial ever thrown at children. Santa Claus had a 900 number? Holy shit -- yes, Santa Claus had a 900 number. Exploiting one of the purest child wonders, some shady group of alien monsters tricked kids into thinking they could talk to Santa Claus for two dollars a minute. Even as someone who typically appreciates lowbrow schemes, I'm finding this one pretty sickening...

Sure, there's room for argument. You could say that the opportunity for kids to think they're listening to the real Santa is worth a few bucks. That's a good point, but easily the sole "pro" to face off against thirty-dozen warriors on the "cons" list. I guess it has more to do with the ad's design. While I wouldn't say that there were promises being made and not kept, still the ad reeks of insinuated false promises. If you were stupid enough to call this number, chances were good that you were also young enough to expect Santa to say "hello" and have a very reciprocal conversation with you. That didn't happen, of course -- it was just a slowly, very slowly spoken and entirely prerecorded rant about reindeer and the coups of being good for goodness sake. I'd say that the general populace of Faux Santa's callers was "normal stupid," but the few who actually weren't disappointed with the fruits of their dial "realllllllly stupid." Still, mere disappointment isn't my major argument here. You'll see the worst part of Santa's evil plot unfold in just a moment, but first, let's discuss the script.

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"The big ones go in the red boxes, and the little ones go into the green boxes! Got that?" Santa kicks off with this gem, speaking to the presumed unseen elves flailing about off-camera. Presents. Kids love presents. Kids wouldn't give a crap about Santa Claus -- I mean, they wouldn't care about the guy at all if they didn't get presents. Such an easy ass opportunity for the church to inspire a more religious flair in society's youngsters. Scratch Santa, and tell 'em that God's bringing the presents. Viola, you've instantly created faithfulness with the heavily coveted "young demographic." Santa tacks on a quick "...and don't forget to feed my reindeer;" something I've loosely translated as "...that's right kids! I really am SANT-TAH CLAUS!"

After some more bribing babblerbly, Santa announces his home phone number. Nine zero nine. Four three. Zero zero. Be sure to drink your Ovaltine? You have never, never in the history of 900-line commercials seen the crooks' digits spoken this slowly. I mean, kids had time to go grab a pad, paper, lunch, a movie, new "tacky glue" for their art projects, and an elusive Red Panda before Santa was even up to the second set of numbers. Plus, the ad wasn't just shown every once in a while. I remember it well, and the block of three-hour video from which these screencaps came from had Evil Santa showing up in virtually every other commercial break. Wills are always strong at first, but wills are almost decreasing by nature. So rarely do we hear of one "gaining will," but people lose will all the time. After seventy-six Santa commercials, the children lost their will. They called Santa Claus. With or without their parents' permission.

Fortunately, the price of calling wasn't excruciatingly high -- at least not when compared to more recent fads like psychic lines and numbers that cause new million dollar houses to find their way into your possession. Two dollars for the first minute, 45 cents for each additional. Though the cost was spoken by the narrator around 10,000 times faster than Santa's number read-off, and at least 5,000 times faster than the very same narrator immediately repeating it, at least kids weren't going to be spending a ton of their parents' money on the calls. Or were they?

The narrator also tells children of a "free letter" they could receive from Santa Claus. He advises calling the number to find out how. Now, how long do you think it took to get up to that point in the call? Five minutes? Ten? Six hours? Santa could string you along for as long he wanted. What's he got to lose? His only goal is to keep you on that phone for as long as possible, collecting as much money as possible. Would the real Santa Claus do this? I don't even think a mall Santa would do that. It's just so inherently Unsanta.

Course, Santa would only repeat the same loads of crap no matter how many times you called. Was this some sort of red herring Santa threw at us whenever he wanted to go food shopping? Like, keep the kids thinking you're up north so they don't swallow around you during outings with Christmas lists and autograph books and those fun little disposable cameras they stole from Table 3 at Auntie Jena's wedding party?

There's one other thing, too. Let's keep track of the major bullshit points: first, it's tricking kids into thinking they're tapping into the real honest World of Santa -- but not in the same, cool way all of the other companies do it. In new, terrible ways. Second, it's promising a free letter from Santa for any kid capable of keeping that call going for thirty-seven minutes without their parents cutting the wire or breaking their cardinal rule of "no corporal punishment." Finally, the third point is probably the worst...

"...and a special present, too!" Those words were tagged on to the "free letter" pitch from the narrator, and it's here that we find the ultimate crime. No benefit of the doubt can be given with this one. There's no way that "free gift" wasn't a Santa-shaped eraser top with a 5.95 shipping & handling fee, or worse, nothing at all. Right, I'm sure the company was giving away free Hess Trucks in an effort to develop faith in the little tested but possibly viable form of unmentioned, huge-but-fruitless promotions that cost millions of dollars. There's a lot of fake Santas, but this fake Santa is a real schmuck.

Ho Ho Horrible. Click on the link below to download and view the commercial, and you can judge for yourselves. Is it just your typical shameless moneymaker, or something far more insidious? By the way, I swear to God, I did not learn the word "insidious" out of curiosity for the meaning of villain names from the Star Wars Universe. I knew the definition going in, I promise.

Unbelievably enough, what we've seen was just one of several "Santa 900 lines" that've existed over the years. For a while, this was a highly competitive market. You had Santas of all shapes and sizes offering gorgeous bounties for all who'd dial his number, each more viciously used car salesmen-like than the next. The second one I'm about to show you is different, if only because I'm not exactly sure who it was targeted for. Well, I do, but I can't believe anyone thought the target audience would buy into something like this. It's Santa's Rap Line!

"The Christmas season, once again is hear! An' Santa's been selected adda man of da year" It's 1-900-909-RAPS! I'm pretty sure this was ripping off those old DJ Jazzy Jeff 900 lines, replacing somewhat known rappers with tons of generic grapplers and Santa Claus himself. There wasn't any kind of false advertising with this one -- you clearly knew what you'd be hearing. A bunch of fleetingly coherent limericks about Santa Claus and Christmas and breakdancing. If that's what you wanted, you'd be satisfied. Who would want that is another question entirely, and as a suburban whitey with prissy perfect Lee Press-Ons, I just can't answer that.

Yet, I do seem to recall a time when rap was presented as a sort of novelty for youth. Through its funneling down into the cartoon characters we watched and to the other popular icons of the time, I was one of many kids who grew up thinking that rap was about dressing like a colorful astronaut and placing strong emphasis on the wrong syllables. It was a personality fad, like when they made every cartoon character wear a skate helmet a few years later. It's possible that a few kids were taken by this strange hybrid of Santa Claus and rap, but how many could there have been? Enough to fund repeated runnings of this commercial all across network television? I doubt that, and it's for this reason that I have to believe the people responsible for Santa's Rap Line ultimately went broke and killed themselves. The suicide rate's supposed to be higher around Christmas anyway, isn't it?

That's Santa Claus. Yes. That's Santa Claus. A sixty-year-old Dwayne Wayne. How do I know it's Santa, aside from the beard? Well let me tell you! After one of the other rappers yells "Santa's got the word!," the guy up above says "Word." He's Santa, and he's got the word. Word.

I gotta give 'em credit, though. This ad is at least ten years old, and I still never forgot that number. "1-900-909-RAPS!" It's probably been burned into the permanent memories of millions by now. I have to wonder if the line is at all active these days, but I ain't calling. Somebody else call. You, one of you. E-mail me the results. Tell Santa to get me a boom box and some phat British Knights.

Most impressively, the ad runs for just half the time of White Santa's 900 line commercial. They said a whole lot more in a whole lot less time. Actually, I'm not sure it's possible to say more words than these guys got out in a scant thirty seconds. They may not be champions on the Billboard charts, but they've gotta be in the Guinness Book somewhere.

Follow the link below to see the action, and keep an eye out for the multitude of special effects used. You'll see Santa flip vertically, the always popular "slow motion," and even some graphics of BLINKING LIGHTS!

Santa Claus, if you're listening -- dude, you gotta show your face more often. All this reclusive bullshit is allowing others to totally frig up your good name. Get your fat ass down here and bust some skulls, North Po' style.

For more Christmas commercials, and an ever-growing look at this year's crappy "holiday edition" merchandise, be sure to keep checking up on X-E's new Advent Calendar.

- Matt (12/2/03)



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