‘What’s wrong with sentimentality?’ someone asked me the other day. (We were reading Dickens at the time so you can probably work out where the question came from.) The trouble with sentimentality, I answered, is that it presents a simplified emotional response to a situation.
Of course all writing is to some extent a simplified description of reality; otherwise it would be reality. But there are degrees of simplification. At this time of year the sentimentality count goes right off the scale.
Take, for example, the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. The song goes like this:
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games
Then one foggy Christmas night
Santa came to say,
‘Rudolph with your nose so bright.
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?’
Then all the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
‘Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
You’ll go down in history!’
Consider for a moment the difference between the first verse and the last. In the first verse Rudolph’s peers are laughing at him and calling him names. Then, simply because Santa chooses him to pull the sleigh, they don’t merely stop their unpleasant bullyting behaviour – suddenly they love Rudolph!
Is this likely? I don’t think so. Surely what would really have happened is that the other reindeer would have waited until Santa’s back was turned and then they would have kicked the shite out of Rudolph. Can’t you just hear them. ‘Think you’re so special, do you? Well here’s a Christmas present from us!’