O what a sappy, magical time! It has just been brought to my attention that there exists a movie called “A Christmas Story” and that it is considered (at least by the guy who introduces films on Turner Classic Movies — I don’t mean the old avuncular guy, I mean the aging hipster who drives around Hollywood in a convertible cracking wise about Golden Age binge-drinking movie stars of olde) to be a “Christmas classic” à la “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the repellent “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The way I found out about it was this: it being all-Xmas-all-the-time — you’d think it was climbers missing on Mt Hood or something, for all the press Xmas is getting these days — Turner Classic Movies ran a little moviementary about the real-life dweeb who had bought the house used in the film for exterior shots and turned it into a full-on “A Christmas Story” shrine. The moviementary showed what looked to be thousands of worshipful “A Christmas Story” pilgrims lined up in about 20 feet of snow for their turn to tour the house, all effusing enthusiastically about what an enormous part of their lives is encompassed by this movie (I felt a pang of sorrow for these people then, but it was not nearly the pang I would feel when I finally saw the film. Yeeouch.).
Once apprised of the existence of this extensive fandom, I — having become an accidental Hollywood film buff while passing the time during my convalescent Year of the Tumor — narrowed my eyes and rolled them upwards to the right in what I think we can all agree is the quintessential facial expression of the cogitating genius. Two burning questions eventually erupted from the magma of my contemplative exertions. The first was this:
How does a movie I’ve never heard of emerge in 2006 as a “Christmas classic” beloved of Joe and Josephine Sixpacks across the country? Like, I’m no schmoe. I pride myself on a first-rate awareness of and contempt for all the Christmas classics ever made, including those of TV, film and song. For instance, you may have yakked in your life, but you haven’t yakked until you’ve been made to slog through “The Little Drummer Boy” as twitteringly interpreted by Joan Baez. In fact, the only bearable Christmas ballad is Robert Earl Keen’s, and that’s mostly because it’s the only country song ever to mention tampons.
Anyway, I looked up this “A Christmas Story” on IMDB. As everyone on earth except me apparently knew already, it does exist. It was released in 1983 and won two Genie Awards, whatever that is. IMDB user commenter #1 gave it about 257 stars and bubbled “Add this to your Christmas Classics and place it right next to ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’!” leading me to speculate whether IMDB user commenter #1 and the aging TCM hipster aren’t in fact the same dude.
I made some quick calculations, and determined that 1983 was one of those fuliginous years between 1977 and 2001, notable to my biographers as the interim during which I was a self-conscious, cynical rock band Boho artiste dilettante inhabiting a fashionably crepuscular universe so distant in look and feel from the mainstream that it couldn’t even see the mainstream anymore. In other words, I was simply too cool to have heard of “A Christmas Story.”
I now wish that my blissful self-absorbed ignorance of this film had remained intact.
The second of the burning questions to which I previously alluded arose after I tried to watch the film. Sadly, I knew the answer even as the question formed itself. That question was, “how in the world could anybody love this crappy movie so much they’d buy the house where it was filmed and charge money for masses of aficionados to look at it?”
The answer was: because “A Christmas Story” is a nostalgic, encapsulate endorsement of the patriarchal paradigm, and people love that patriarchal paradigm!
[If you haven't seen "A Christmas Story," by the way, don't bother; it pretends to be dark and transgressive, but in fact it merely romantically nostalgifies, using one of those nauseatingly cute child actors, the following cornerstones of the honky American narrative:
the sappiest of all American decades, the 1940's
the American gun fetish
the nuclear family
the bitchy grade school teacher in the lame-ass jail of a public school
the servile, dopey mother
the domineering, distant father of whom the children live in mortal fear of physical harm]
People especially love their patriarchal paradigm at Christmas, when idealized caste roles — the en-aproned, pie-baking wife-mother, the pampered rosy-cheeked child, the downtrodden cripple so deserving of our charity– are shown in such extreme, reassuring relief. Christmas flatters the hell out of white male dominant culture with its mandatory, highly ritualized display of the servility of its minions and the opportunity for self-satisfying annual magnanimity.
Many Christmasarians present with elevated stress piggybacking on a pathology of yearning for a mythical childhood ideal focused on meaningless, patriarchy-loving Christmas rituals. This is a morbid, sentimental longing that borders on a kind of mad melancholy of the sort that leads to obsession with iconic Christmas movies. It’s not that regular Hollywood movies endorsing the patriarchal paradigm aren’t legion, but somehow nothing offends the spinster aunt more profoundly than the trite, pure cane syrup of the morbidly sentimental American Christmas classic.
No wonder people snap at Christmas like No. 2 pencils. They’re trapped in a cycle of cognitive dissonance: it’s the ice-skating, wassail-hoisting Victorian England Christmas they’re supposed to be having vs. the isolated, stuck-in-traffic, half-flaccid inflatable lawn-Santa Christmas they really are having. Even for the cynical, anti-consumerist atheist, there is no opt-out, no escape from holiday bustle. Fa la las are everywhere.
And you know, many sensitive humans of a certain temperament are not sufficiently constituted to endure the physical and emotional demands of bustle of any sort; we are easily crushed by the teeming throng, are nauseated by the inescapable smell of cloves, and experience episodes of tinnitus from the ubiquitous sleigh bells ceaselessly jingling, jingling, jingling from every fucking cranny.
Jingling, jingling, jingling. What an inane, abrasive sound it is.