TIBBY IN THE SLUSH
a radio play about a post-truth Christmas
The story is a behind the scenes journal of the creation of the article ‘Santa, Maybe?’, which is one such prestige Christmas related content output in the fictional tabloid’s calendar. There is something interesting about this because there are layers of false, pulpy, cheesy elements in Christmas articles and adverts, which mirror the traits of Santa Claus. Additionally, the image of cheap, clickbait articles in a tabloid left at the door in the slush of fake news seemed relevant in the post-truth world of 2016/17.
Santa Claus is a very interesting character in Western culture as he is almost part of what you could call an active contemporary mythology in that he is a character used for a specific ritualistic purpose. He also is a conglomerate of several ideas, not just Christian – he has links with paganism, in particular the elves, conifer trees, and reindeer that he can be depicted with. He also has been moulded into consumer culture, such as his usage by Coca Cola. 'Tibby in the Slush' seeks to reinterpret the character and think realistically what it would be like if someone like that existed.
The idea for 'Tibby in the Slush' fits together in pieces. Firstly, it is a satirical take on prestige Christmas adverts, which are built in large marketing campaigns in the lead up to the 25th of December.
What would be the psychology of Santa and how would he perceive himself if one sat down with him and had a sober chat? If Santa was alive today he may be a visionary CEO like Steve Jobs. He may also be an isolated mystagogue protected by U.N. intelligence who works on governmental research concerning the magnetism at the North Pole. This is in line with his own research expertise in mysticism, esoteric ritual, paganism and theology. Essentially Santa could be a reclusive, eccentric scientist - someone more akin to the Wizard of Oz or Merlin than a fat, benevolent elf. This is a more interesting character to interview as he is more ambiguous and his legitimacy is questionable - someone Louis Theroux would love to meet.
Still from 'Tibby in the Slush', by Hamish Muir, 2017
There are many influences to the style and story, some more obvious than others. Raymond Briggs’ 'The Snowman' is probably the most obvious as it is a beautiful tale and the artwork carries the story like illustrations in a book. Whilst tonally Tibby is very different to Briggs, the story is similar in that it starts in the normal world and then slowly journeys to the surreal realm at the end. There is also a direct homage to The Snowman at the end of the story when Delia and the Banana man fly by. Werner Herzog’s documentary 'Encounters at the End of the World' is also an important influence. I think this a wonderful film about polar landscape and the sci-fi, spiritual, harsh quality to it. It also has a strong ecological message. There are some Gothic influences. The drama is intended to have the intimacy of a diary, in this case, the diary of the interviewer, which adds a layer of subjectivity. This idea comes directly from the diary of Jonathan Harker when he travels to Transylvania to meet Count Dracula and encounters his own surreal experience. Hans Christian Anderson and Scandinavian/Germanic folklore is also important. Whilst Santa has a strong sense of a 21st century reality in that he is a government researcher and CEO, there is a spiritual aspect to his character. A character like The Snow Queen is a wonderfully dark and fantastical character that links to the beauty, majesty and danger of winter.
Ladybird cover of the Snow Queen Source:
Photograph of a dead reindeer Source:
Elsa Beskow illustration Source:
The surreal nature to the climax is influenced by Rankin/Bass Christmas films, which are absurd and esoteric. At the end of the story, Santa shows his true form, which is in some ways the opposite of what he is in reality. This is linked to how the surreal realm functions and how, as Santa says, ‘waste in our world is resource in this one’ – everything is balanced in equilibrium. This is where some of the inspiration from the environment comes in and how the environment is about the distribution and flow of matter rather than what the matter is. This presents Santa as having an ecological function in his distribution of toys around the globe. He gives presents and transports resource to maintain a material flow.
Another aspect that is influenced by environmentalism and links to paganism and mysticism is the idea of being transported to another realm by hallucination. In the story Santa gives the Interviewer a fairytale-like poison apple and it takes them into another plane of existence with the help of the gyroscope. This links with some of the work of writers such as Terence McKenna and the usage of nature to achieve some form of magic. 'Embrace of the Serpent' is a brilliant film that explores the idea of nature being a resource for all needs: spiritual, emotional and physical. Nature is directly addressed in Tibby when Santa explains about the wildlife in the area, which is underpinned by mortality. He does not feel part of nature because he is immortal. The sentient trees also parody the idea of intelligent nature and kitsch Christmassy depictions of talking Christmas trees.
Blake, Bosch, Fuseli and Ralph Steadman influence the style of the illustrations. The very geometric compositions used by Wes Anderson in his actor blocking influenced the layout of the image. Indeed Anderson and Stanley Kubrick’s use of Futura is an influence on the opening and closing credits.
There is also a graphic novel quality to the piece. The stark, cold, sci-fi tone contrasts with the more comedic moments. Particularly in the final frames, we only glimpse the interviewer briefly at the end and but there is a clue about his fate in the final shot if you look closely.