The Twelve Despicable Entertainments of Christmas, Part 2
It's a Wonderful Life? Not really, when you think about it.
The dismal march through Christmas kitsch continues. While we value love, kindness, faith and redemption, when you fetishize any values and work them over for their commercial value, they ossify. They sour. They become shorthand for real feelings. Then they take their place entirely. That's when they become despicable. That's the case with our twelve despicable entertainments of Christmas. We've already unloaded the first six; here are the rest.
6) Miracle on 34th Street
What hath Valentine Davies wrought? His simple little 1947 novella, an adaptation of his own Oscar-winning screenplay released in promotional conjunction with the film's release, is an early example of film novelization. It's spawned four remakes to date, and a stage adaptation, and a musical adaptation. And a puppet show. No, really.
The plot hinges on two impossible events: first, the American legal system errs on the side of compassion and second, the Post Office delivers something desperately needed just in the nick of time. It takes far more faith in these entities than it does in Santa Claus to make this shaky story work.
Additionally, watching the conversion of a skeptical little secular humanist into a goggle-eyed Santaphile is just too sad. And I'm talking about the late Maureen O'Hara, who plays the mom! Although I am happy for John Payne's character; without Maureen's spiritual conversion, he wouldn't have had a hope of getting in her pants. P.S. I don't believe Natalie Wood for a New York minute. She's all about the house.
It's odd, too, that we coo and chuckle over cute little old crazy-as-a-bedbug Kris Kringle, but would cringe, shout and flee if anyone tried that on us in real life. Oh, and by the way, Kris: Daniel D. Tompkins was NOT John Quincy Adams's vice president. John C. Calhoun was. Get it together.
5) It's a Wonderful Life
The most terrifying movie ever made, It's a Wonderful Life is a fever dream of redemption in the mind of a dying suicide. George Bailey actually lives in Pottersville, and desperately dreams of an alternative, "wonderful" life as he drowns. A fruitless life spent sacrificing for others leads to a snowy bridge and a watery grave. Waah.
Put Gordon Gecko in George Bailey's place — THEN you have a film.
At least, that's how we like to think of it. Merry Christmas, everybody! “Out you two pixies go, t’rew the door or t’rew the winder!”
4) "A Visit from St. Nicholas," aka "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"
A glance at the illustration above is enough to send any self-respecting parent into paroxysms of protectiveness. Look at what's happening in this home-invasion poem! Disturbing the peace. Airspace violations. Trespassing. Breaking and entering. Animal-rights violations ("He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot"). Second-hand smoke. Disturbing behavior. Illegal dumping. Levitation.
Make it stop, Mommy. Make it stop. Don't let the bad man in the house!
3) The living Nativity scene
When I was twelve, I enthusiastically volunteered for duty at our church's living Nativity scene. I was a shepherd. I chopped a nice staff off the maple tree, and forced my mother to sew a patch over the embroidered "W" on my dad's blue bathrobe (always the drive for authenticity in performance — I did not find any mentions of monogrammed clothing in the New Testament).
Little did I suspect that one of the coldest, snowiest Christmases in Colorado was in the offing. That special night, we assembled outside the front of the sanctuary. In the name of realism, none of us wore coats. Or gloves. Or hats. Or long underwear. Boots were a hard-won concession from the pastor.
Out in the raging blizzard we stood for hours, as cars drove by and honked, and delighted people walked up and took photos. We knelt or leaned in, centered in shivering adoration of the plastic baby doll in the manger (no one was willing to give up a real infant for the cause).
Ever since then I've just had a thing about that kind of event. A shudder of sympathy overwhelms me. Brrr. Friends don't let friends do living Nativity scenes. Outside. At night. In a blizzard.
2) A Christmas Carol
Historians now agree that Charles Dickens invented Christmas. His 1843 classic reignited what we now think of as the classic Western Christmas traditions. His story of redemption and personal transfiguration is great, regardless of the seasonal theme, and profoundly written.
But madre de dios! Porque eso? Hundreds of adaptations of the 1843 classic litter the stage, screen, television, radio and bookshelves. There are Western versions, contemporary versions, zombie Carols, a Batman Carol, a Klingon Carol. (Oddly, this film is categorized in many places as a science fiction film. Hmmm.) The story's adaptability to any and all genres and audiences makes it the corner streetwalker of Christmas stories. It will hop in your car and do you, for any fee.
The Nutcracker — I'd rather take the kids to a strip joint.
1) The Nutcracker
First of all, I hate Tchaikovsky. He's so damn melodic.
Second, hate ballet, dance and/or movement, save that needed to get from one place to another.
Third, hate that creepy Nutcracker story. True, it was written by one of my sentimental favorites, the crazy, syphilitic, drunken E.T.A. Hoffman, but the psychosexual overtones of one-eyed godfather Drosselmeyer giving little innocent Clara a wooden soldier are just too disturbing to go into in any detail. Evil mice, followed by a procession of cloying solos performed by candy? Stop. It’s diabetes in a tutu. This is what you show me when you tie me to a chair like Alex in A Clockwork Orange.
I call for a five-year ban on productions, or at least a boycott. Occupy Christmas, people. Together we can change the zeitgeist!
Now you're saying, "Okay, smartass. Is there ANY Christmas-themed cultural event that doesn't work your last nerve?"
Yes. There are four. Not surprisingly, all four are funny. The humor not only lets in the welcome contrast of cynicism, it leavens the deadly-serious sentiments encoded in their holiday DNA. You can play these over and over and over — I will never tire of them! And they are: A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original animated TV feature, NOT the horrible feature-film adaptation or the stage musical) and A Christmas Story . . . not the stage adaptation or the Tony-nominated musical version. Dammit! Do you have to wring every dime out of Christmas? Can't you just leave it be?
And of course, all humans extant love A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!, which somehow features Elvis Costello in scary clown makeup, Willie singing about weed, and Jon Stewart performing the best Chanukah song ever written.
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