Dashing to decipher the reindeer dilemma
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000
Neither one of them, apparently, is named Rudolph, but two of Brian Long's reindeer have definitely gone down in history.
Long, for those of you out of the Hernando lawn ornament loop, is the owner of two plywood lawn-decoration reindeer that are displayed as . . . well . . . making more reindeer.
Now, in a county where a sizable part of the population can get upset over the prospect of human sex and who is having it, (They popped a major hissy over a library display on famous gays.) you can imagine the reaction from public depictions of reindeer sex.
Especially since, unless Vixen was a female and is one of the participants, (The poem that gives us their names isn't gender specific.) the reindeer in the front yard of Long's Spring Hill home are both male -- making it even more likely that Hernandoites would get upset.
Long, of course, calls what the reindeer are doing "dancing," and has a point. Go to any club in Ybor City tonight and you will see humans doing things on the dance floor that make Long's deer look like a Martha Stewart centerpiece.
My colleague Jennifer Farrell, who wrote the original story on the reindeer, already used the "more naughty than nice" line, but I came up with a couple of good ones -- which were immediately nixed by editors tired of being asked "how did he get away with that?"
I can understand some of Long's neighbors' angst, but if you take a step back and look at things from a different perspective, copulating reindeer don't seem to be that big a deal.
Here we tell kids about a little fat guy with a slave-labor elf sweatshop who will bring them presents if they conform to society's norms. We present him as someone omniscient ("he knows when you are sleeping . . . he knows when you're awake), judgmental (making a list) and omnipresent (manages to be in billions of households at the same time). We present him as sort of a deity who must be placated with good deeds, milk and cookies and who enters houses through an aperture that is relatively rare in Florida homes.
In effect, we present children with the first firm evidence they will ever have that their parents are delusional and must be patronized and condescended to. The rest will come when they learn the truth about the electoral process.
And then we get upset over something as simple as a straightforward depiction of something every farm kid grows up around: animals mating.
But maybe the real fear here is that Long, who is already talking about adding a couple of voyeur reindeer to the display, may just be putting our feet on the first step on the slippery slope of lawn-ornament sex.
If you think reindeer are bad, just imagine what a creative mind can do with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (I don't have to, I've already seen the movie, and I'm not talking Disney here.) Pretty soon we'll all have to turn our politically correct Caucasian jockeys' heads to the garden wall.
A friend of mine in Dade City has, for years, displayed a massive "Christmas Card" sign in his front yard. It shows Santa and sleigh crashing into an outhouse and has a caption that involves a word play on the building being the "Schmidt" house. It upset the patrons of several nearby churches for years, but finally became one of Church Street Christmas' centerpieces.
And you ought to see the one he was talked out of.
There were complaints that Long's display was seen by schoolchildren (who seem to be among the only ones who actually got the joke) so he has agreed to bring it inside during the weekdays that their school buses pass by.
But the case still raises some interesting questions.
"Wouldn't that (his display) be considered freedom of expression?" Long asks.
What if Long's tastes ran a little more on the artsy side and he wanted a lawn statue of Rodin's Lovers with Michelangelo's David and Botticelli's Birth of Venus looking on.
Sometimes it's better to just go with the flow.
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