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Dec 24 2006

Puh-rumpa-pum-puke

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:

violent boys-will-be-boyshood
the sappiest of all American decades, the 1940's
the American gun fetish
child abuse
consumerism
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.

51 comments

1 ping

  1. theogeo

    It is a true Christmas miracle that you managed for so long to never have seen that film.

    TNT or some channel plays it on a 24-hour loop from July 5 to about Easter.

  2. AoT

    Indeed, I’m really surprised you’d never seen or heard of it.

    And there is the one scene where the mother “accidentally” breaks that horrendous leg-in-a-high-heel lamp.

  3. LeanneC

    I have never seen this movie, nor do I intend to. I make every effort to avoid anything to do with Christmas, or any other holiday celebrated at the end of December.

    FYI, a Genie is the Canadian answer to an Oscar.

  4. PhysioProf

    “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.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! What a great song!

  5. jitsu

    As always you are a hit of oxygen just when I needed one. I love your pea pickin’ heart.

  6. Tanya

    That was awesome. Now I have another movie to put on my will-never-see list.

  7. magickitty

    I am mortified to admit that the Genies are the Canadian version of the Academy Awards. According to the IMDB listing, some of it was shot in Canada, which qualifies it as a “Canadian” film. OH THE HORROR.

  8. rootlesscosmo

    I’ve never seen it and don’t want to, but I can supply some background because I’m so old. During the mid-1950′s, when I was in high school in New York, there was a guy on late-night AM radio named Jean Shepherd, who mostly talked–anecdotes, riffs on minutiae of daily life, and (here it comes) stories about his Indiana boyhood. He was just unconventional enough, in that era of blandness, to attract a large following of listeners, mostly young, mostly male, and (as far as I could ever tell) 100% white, who saw being “one of Jean Shepherd’s people” as an element of the freemasonry of hipness–hipness of the “Playboy Bachelor Pad” variety, sports cars and skinny neckties, black tights and Villager dresses for the “chicks,” and an acqaintance with “cool,” “West Coast” jazz as performed by George Shearing, Stan Getz, and Dave Brubeck. (Quick, what do all these musicians have in common?) The thing about that variety of hipness was that it offered a way to seem original and daring without actually deviating from the basic rules of patriarchy, racial segregation, class privilege, and consumerism. It was, in short, the Cold War with its collar undone, and it’s entirely fitting that “A Christmas Story,” written by Jean Shepherd, should be its enduring legacy.

  9. Milt

    A witty comment, Twisty. I chuckled as I read it.

    Really, thought, the movie is a lot more transgressive than you’re giving it credit for. Obviously, Canadians have a more refined sense of these things.

    Ralphie and his Dad get a lot of imaginary-play pleasure out of their male rituals—toy guns, code words, changing tires—but they’re always portrayed as silly buffoons and parodied, especially the dad. The broken-lamp scene is hilariously subversive as mom quietly gets her way. She lets the father openly take the lead, but behind the scenes she’s the smart one (or at least the smarter one, because all the adults in the movie come across as a little slow). And the evil Christmas-store Santa and his leering helpers are simply hilarious.

    Twisty, as your punishment for being so far off the mark I sentence you to watch the move again.

  10. drbrazenhussy

    Thank you. I have been crabby all day and couldn’t explain why. You have explained it for me.

  11. Pinko Punko

    You are probably not aware of this, but when I go out into the world and am feeling especially contemplative, I compose little dialogs with the Twisty-sprite? gnome? angel? devil? that rides on my shoulder making me realize that there is not a goddamn thing on earth free from patriarchy. The visit to the mall yesterday had me checking off stores one by one (no…no…..no…..no….no….maybe….no). I realize the advanced blamer would have checked off the entire mall at the get go. However, since I was already in the jaws of the beast shopping in the first place, it’s pretty clear how much of a rook I am. The other place the fantastical avatar of Twisty shows up is when I am having my mind anesthetized at the cinema. On one level I’m zoning out like soggy eggplant to standard brain damaging Hollywood fare, but the three neurons that actually are firing are usually busy cataloging the garden-variety pernicious and all-encompassing patriarchical bullshit.

    Sigh.

  12. Meredith

    That is our family’s favorite Christmas song as well. My mother actually squealed with joy when it came on the radio.

  13. Pony

    I’m Canadian, haven’t seen the movie, have no clue what it is and it’s going to stay that way thank you. Milt, hahaha. Yes, we all got a chuckle out of the post. So, you think feminism is women turning the tables and objectifiying and ridiculing men? Pffffht. Although, if you keep using words like “transgressive”, it could happen.

  14. Twisty

    Milt: “The broken-lamp scene is hilariously subversive as mom quietly gets her way. She lets the father openly take the lead, but behind the scenes she’s the smart one”

    See, this scene is precisely why the movie is a misogynist’s delight. I am THIS TIRED of seeing women depicted as having to resort to cutesy, wily “behind the scenes” manipulation in order to humorously get the best of their doofus hubby-opponent. That chick needs to take the lamp, smash it over the fucker’s head, and leave him forever. She should take the littlest kid with her, the one who is convinced that the dad is capable of child murder, but she should leave the Ralphy one, who is already a lost cause.

    So, Milt, as punishment for buying into that tired old “Mom really wears the pants in the family!” bullshit = some kind of feminist triumph, I sentence you to read the SCUM Manifesto. It’s about time for the annual holiday reading, anyway.

  15. deja pseu

    My favorite “Christmas” movie is The Thin Man. I love the Christmas party scene full of cops and crooks and drunks and loonies. Highballs and ordering more sandwiches from room service. My kind of celebration.

  16. johnieb

    I was busy; it doesn’t sound as if I missed anything worth going back for.

    Let us suffer through the season as best we can, friends, which need not preclude a little IBTP: oh, by no means.

  17. Ms Kate

    I actually own a copy of this movie, and showed it to my kids. They saw it as rife with patriarchy, and cheered when the narrarator noted that his mother hadn’t had a hot sit-down meal in 15 years, as she was expected to serve everyone and clean up after.

    What makes it good for me is the fact that it IS NOT overly nostalgic for a time when bullies ruled the school yard, moms were slaves, cars were not reliable, dads swore blue streaks but kids ate soap for a single “fuck”, people were allowed to let their dogs run free, and you sent away box tops for trinkets that allowed you to decode advertisements. At the end of it all, my lads were glad they live today and not then, actually.

  18. Ron Sullivan

    Wow, now I’m all torn. I owe my life to Jean Shepherd, at least the part after 1957, when I read “The Night People vs. Creeping Meatballism” and had my first glimmer of a clue that there were other people out there somewhere who weren’t Quite Normal, and furthermore they were having more fun.

    Doesn’t make me want to rush out and rent the movie, though. If I want to wallow in the patriarchy, I’ll just watch “Lord of the Rings,” where at least they dress better and have lots of horses. And pointy ears. Give me liberty or give me pointy ears!

  19. KTal

    From 1981 to about 1995, I was not up on popular culture. I’ve seen this movie on racks, like so many other movies, clothing styles, music or whatever else was going on at that time.

  20. scratchy888

    Americans are very sentimental folk. Yes you. (heh)

  21. Hattie

    Gremlins! See Gremlins! Best Christmas movie ever made. What’s that smell? Dad rotting in the chimney!

    I have a good Xmas joke:

    Kid wants a horse for Christmas. On Christmas morning he finds a piece of horseshit in his stocking. Dad says, “got you a horse, but it looks like it ran away.”

    And I leave you with my uncle’s favorite Christmas salutation, “Merry syphilis and a clappy new year!

    Christmas is loads of fun, but you must not take it seriously. It’s kind of similar to marriage that way.

  22. antares

    What an enormous ass Milt is for coming into the blog, patting Twisty on the head, and then ‘sentencing’ her to some ridiculous punishment – as if he has ANY authority to do so. I mean, damn, thats some impressive entitlement. If it werent so ridiculous, id be a bit upset by it.

    For the past 20+ years, ive not celebrated white mans version of christmas either. I see it as a commerce-driven, cuteified version of the godbag myth. You can get presents from santa, but only if youve been good. Does that not echo, “you can go to heaven, but only if youve been good”?

  23. lightly

    Fear not, ascerbic holiday movies sure to satisfy patriarchy-weary Blamers abound!

    As I write this, I am watching The Ref. (How can a film that begins with a wife dreaming of her husband “castrated florentine” disappoint?) If I can get my hands on a copy I will also watch Lion in Winter, the gold standard for portrayals of family dysfunction.

    Hat tip to Digby this morning for these suggestions.

    I also have a copy of Home for the Holidays, which is technically about Thanksgiving, but has the perfect holiday spirit for any season.

    Here’s to a patriarchal apology-free holiday for Blamers everywhere!

  24. antares

    For the past several years ive been living in the catalunyan region of spain. The catalans have a christmas tradition that’s worth sharing

    Particular to catalunya is an additional character to the traditional nativity scene. He is called, the ‘caganer’, which means, ‘the shitter’. The figurine, a man with his pants down, squatting, with poop beneath him, is placed on the outskirts of nativity scenes – even in public re-creations of it.

    Officially, catalans say the figure represents the cycles of life, and the way humans give back to the Earth. However, ive heard from catalan people myself that the figure was added during Franco’s reign in retaliation for his forcing the people to practice catholicism. HAa!

  25. vera

    That makes at least two of us who had never heard of this movie. My story is worse, though. I have before me on my very desk a postcard announcing “The Christmas Movie Classic Comes To The Stage.” It is being performed live in San Jose, and the child actor — the one who apparently wants a rifle for Christmas — is played by the son of a friend of mine. I believe it is the same story to which Twisty alludes.

  26. Sylvanite

    Eh. My annual yuletide movie is “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” Only bearable when MST3Ked. A movie so misbegotten that one can only marvel that some people were actually convinced it was a good idea. So wrong it’s right! I have it in a movie pack with the even more execrable “Manos: Hands of Fate.”

  27. I Heart Twisty

    My annual yuletide movie is “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

    If you live in Southern California, a theater company has revived it as a play!

    http://www.mavericktheater.com/

    It’s on until Dec.30; here’s a review:

    http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/entertainment/arts/nowoc/article_1369931.php

    I bought “A Christmas Story” several years ago because I’d read Roger Ebert’s description of it as a classic movie, and I usually agree with Ebert:

    http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20001224/REVIEWS08/12240301/1023

    I wasn’t nearly as impressed with it as he was, but I’m also not a very nostagic person (and that wasn’t my era anyway). Now that I’ve read Twisty’s review, I’ll have to watch it again with new eyes!

    –Susan M.

  28. Buttercup

    rootless cosmo, they all worked with cal tjader?

    otherwise, i give up.

    a similar 50s hipster feel and ethic, can’t think of anything more specific. What is it?

    I hate that fucking movie, too. It’s stupid, stupid, stupid. The voiceover narration is annoying. The stereotypes are annoying. The kid is annoying. Fuck that movie. Last night, after everything was wrapped, we put on “fear and loathing in las vegas” with terry gilliam’s commentary track running and watched that. Much more apt for the rampant commercial puke that is giftmas these days. Ugh.

  29. yankee transplant

    I inherited my hatred of the Little Drummer Boy from my late father, who recoiled in horror every time it came on the radio. And that movie? Gag me with a pitchfork.

    Great movie review, Twisty. You always make my day.

  30. rootlesscosmo

    All white. I like Getz a lot, Shearing was OK if a little bland, couldn’t stand Brubeck; my point isn’t to blame them for being white(which they could hardly help) or to claim that white folk can’t play jazz but to note how jazz was made palatable as a “crossover” genre for white audiences. (There’s a book by a Black cultural critic on the subject of what whites took from Black culture; the title makes the argument: “Everything but the Burden.”) I got out of jazz in part because I felt increasingly like the beneficiary of music business racism; I didn’t create it or will it, but I couldn’t figure out how to avoid profiting by it. And I think that 50s hipster feel you mention, and which being one of Shepherd’s “Night People” was part of, was a crossover appropriation–if you want something really enraging to distract you from “A Christmas Story,” try revisiting Norman Mailer’s late-50′s essay “The White Negro,” or Kerouac’s lyrical riff (in “On the Road”) about how he wishes he were “a Mexican or a Negro” because they lead such uncomplicated emotional lives.

  31. Becker

    Twisty, I do hope at your family gatherings you remember to serve egg sauces on freshly-cleaned hubcaps.

    Because there’s no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise.

  32. TP

    Shooting fish in a barrel, Twisty. You can even make the unremarkable remarkable, though.

    As an avid TCM watcher, I have to second the insight of some feminist movie critic I once read who noted that the 1940s are a turning point for women on the screen. It might very well have been a turning point for all the women in america, and those who are influenced by our culture. Maybe it was the weird sexual segregation of the war years – an entire generation of men in the most sexual time of their lives forced to experience femininity only as photographs and prostitutes.

    She seemed to think that women, even though hopelessly dominated by men in any case, were more liberated in the twenties and thirties, at least from the old movie standpoint. She had lots of examples of smart, interesting women like Betty Davis and Myrna Loy who had all the good lines and who created characters who were defined by real personalities that seemed much less dependent on men, even though they always ended up submissive to some extent.

    But if you look at women after world war two in the cinema you start to see more Marilyn Monroes than you see Jean Harlows. The women just hollow out; men are more completely in charge than ever before, women writers become far rarer, women’s roles become more and more like lamps or couches. Post-war cinema declines to the nadir of the swinging sixties before it gets back to anything resembling realism in the 1970s.

    The patriarchal/conservative dream of male privilege was born in the nineteen forties; and women have been suffering for it ever since. Hence the reprehensible yet realistic portrayal of this disfunction in Jean Shepard’s movie.

    I read the story when I was a teenager and loved it. When I saw the movie I was totally disappointed. Nuance was lost, even though the story is about the same. I can laugh at sexist crap about a sexist time when it’s well-written, but a poorly made movie is a bitter disappointment.

  33. lightly

    Actually that forced return to domesticity was the very topic of Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, the “problem that has no name”. The unhappiness of women confined to the domestic sphere and shut out of the wider culture had no name because even then the media did a good job of elbowing out any information that might have helped women figure out why they felt bad. That’s why consciousness-raising groups were so explosively effective. They were a pre-netroots way for women to start informing each other from the grassroots up. That’s why “the personal is political” was the catchphrase of the day. Women were raised to think that any dissatisfaction we felt with our cultural lot was just a personal problem. (And check out the movie Swing Shift for a bittersweet portrait of women forced back into domesticity after WWII.)

    If you read some womens’ history you will also find that this process did not begin in the 40s in the U.S. by a long stretch. Just look at the early years of the Christian churches or, more recently, the Sandinistas. When a church or political movement is in it’s early days women are recruited, when it is time to be martyrs or risk death or torture for an ideal. We are always beside “our” men on the barricades. But when a religion or political party gains power and becomes a source of wealth and influence, only then do women somehow get elbowed out, only then are we somehow not qualified to participate. That’s why it was so brilliant and so very feminist when Cat McKinnon pointed out to Phyllis Schafley how Schafley was being used by the Republicans.

  34. Sara

    Thank you. I have always hated this movie, finding it smug, smarmy and grotesque. I always thought I was the only one.

    “That chick needs to take the lamp, smash it over the fucker’s head, and leave him forever.”

    Yes. Yes, she does.

    Jean Shepherd may have been wonderful and hilarious. I don’t know. This movie, though, is not.

  35. finnsmotel

    The kid who played Ralphy was also the star of commercials for a brand of chocolate milk – likely as an extension of the film character’s obsession with Ovaltine. His character was called Messy Marvin.

    http://www.advertisementave.com/tv/ad.asp?adid=358

    I had the misfortune of looking almost exactly like him at that point in time.

    As a result, my freshman year of college was spent with the nickname Messy Marvin, later shortened to just “Marv”.

    I’m living with the pain to this day.

    -finn

  36. ginmar

    Oh, goodie, another movie to avoid. I’ve managed thus far and now I have something to shoot for—and at.

  37. Pony

    Maybe we need a list of movies for feminists. We did have one couple months back, but it was pitched to children more than less.

  38. Ann Bartow

    If I’d written this post I’d have used a vastly inferior title like “You’ll (Want To) Shoot Your Eye Out” but what I can positivley contribute to this thread is this:

    http://www.starz.com/features/christmasstory/

  39. Occasional Expositor

    Pony,

    If you can possibly find it, try A Question of Silence. Now that’s a feminist film!

  40. Pony

    The Dutch. I loved Antonia’s Line, so I’ll look for this hoping and expecting it to be similar. I am also going to watch Elizabeth. No idea how the director will do it. I like Cate Blanchett though and as far as I know, she’s the last remaining female star not to announce she’s bi (bi being the latest dude titillating marketing strategy for brand girl).

  41. norbizness

    Maybe Tilda Swinton as well. In any event, there is a sequel planned for Elizabeth, entitled The Golden Age (same director, Shekhar Kapur) with Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh.

    As for A Christmas Story, it got old about the 498th mandatory viewing. Give me The Junky’s Christmas any day.

  42. Pony

    I’m making my way through these. Different. Really interesting filmaking, and actors you’ve never seen before.

    http://www.filmmovement.com/filmcatalog/index.asp?PAGE=2&

  43. pheenobarbidoll

    Ah well, I love this movie and watch it every year.

    “it pretends to be dark and transgressive”

    In what universe?

  44. Mar Iguana

    Big Tilda Swinton fan here. Orlando. The Beach. Constantine. I would watch her read a phone book. I think I’ll have a Mar’s Tilda Swinton Film Festival (thank you Netflix).

  45. Betsy

    I only wish I *could* find pure cane syrup. This stuff they sell nowadays is actually “cane sugar syrup”, which is not the same at all. Where is a good ghetto supermarket when you need one.

    Oh, sorry — I got distracted by the food. I’ve always hated “A Christmas Story,” too. Especially the men-act-like-buffoons-and-the-savvy-ladies-quietly-rule-behind-the-scenes schtick.

    Worse than the schtick is having a dude come in here and tell us that the schtick = some kind of triumph of feminism.

  46. magickitty

    Could someone (do my work for me and) point me to the list of feminist films for children? I need to prepare my arsenal for future family viewing.

  47. greg

    Pony, have you found “Alexandra’s Project” yet? Since I am still clueless after all these years, I would love to know if you consider that a feminist movie or not.

  48. Pony

    I don’t know that movie Greg.

  49. Pony

    magickitty here’s your link:
    http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2006/04/17/a-cinema-post/

  50. Kugelmass

    Twisty, I thoroughly enjoyed the final section on Christmas sentimentalism, but I think you’re getting the film mostly wrong.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been away from a computer, and fear this is a dead thread, so I’ll just gesture towards the kinds of elements that made me enjoy the film, even though I have no interest in guns or Norman Rockwell.

    “violent boys-will-be-boyshood”

    OK, yes, the movie has a scene where Ralphie fights back against a bully, and his mother protects him from being punished for it. It seems to me that fighting back against physical assaults is the sort of thing that you and I might consider reasonable. Bullying is treated with a bizarre tolerance that comes directly from patriarchal notions of hierarchy and the value of intimidation.

    Furthermore, the scene where the bully and the toady are punching each other leads to the toady rubbing his shoulder in genuine pain. So much for the “playfulness” of violence.

    “consumerism”

    One of the funniest scenes in the film involves Ralphie using his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring to uncover the message, “REMEMBER TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE.” He says, in response, “A crummy commercial?”

    Certainly the father is valorized for buying his son the air rifle. At the same time, the point of the decoder ring scene (as well as the final scene with the broken glasses) is that a child learns about the world partly by having a certain amount of freedom to make mistakes, including the mistake of consumerism. Ralphie is continually satirized for repeating the exact language of the air rifle advertisement. (That’s why he gets a C on his writing assignment, even though one doesn’t sympathize with the moralizing teacher.) His dream of protecting his family from some imagined pack of villains is just that — a dream. The alternative, forbidding everything, puts the child in an impossible situation.

    A lot of the things you describe as brutal realities of the holiday — decorations going awry, isolation, and so forth — are right there in the movie. Think of Flick getting stuck to the pole and being left behind to suffer. Think of the family forced to have Christmas dinner at a restaurant.

    The fact that the film maintains a tone of compassionate amusement does not make its critique any less memorable. I could imagine having a wonderful conversation with a child about the dismembered female body in the lamp scene, or a discussion about male privilege beginning with the line “my mother had not had a hot meal in over fifteen years.”

    The portrayal of a set of characters does not equal a total identification of the film’s “message” with the ideas of those characters. And no good work of art thrives on an icy absence of understanding of desire (e.g. Ralphie’s consumer desire), even if it ultimately calls those desires into question.

  51. Twisty

    An excellent and thoughtful counter-argument, Kugelmass. Thank you. Now we’re bloggin’!

  1. Christmas Movie Followup » Comics Worth Reading

    [...] Some people REALLY don’t like A Christmas Story. I don’t know if I feel as strongly as she does about it, but she does hit on some things that help explain why I don’t like watching the film. As a boy’s story with too much nostalgia, it doesn’t have much to say to me. [...]

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