I Liked Scrooge Better Before: 3 Christmas Movies I Hate
I'm not a big fan of Christmas. It requires me to take time off work and venture into the cold to waste time with people I don't like, and who don't like me back.
I've felt this way as long as I can remember.
As a teenager, I'd start having mini-anxiety attacks around June, anticipating the annual ritual:
Getting dragged to my aunt's house, where even the toilet seats had "Santa" covers, and a fading twenty-year-old Johnny Mathis Christmas TV special played in an endless loop.
Every year, that side of the family insisted that we all "have fun" by playing games.
Every year, they dusted off the Trivial Pursuit board.
Every year, I won.
("How can you NOT know the names of The Beatles?! Again?!")
Every year, they pouted, then whispered behind my back that I was "weird."
Especially after I pointed out that their quaint "Victorian Christmas" figurines had likely been, in real life, spreading communicable diseases with strange names to vitamin-deficient child prostitutes.
In one of her innumerable memoirs, Shirley MacLaine says the trouble with going to therapy is that you go home for the holidays and instantly realize to your horror that no one else in your family has gone to therapy.
Or, in my case, read a book.
Years later, my aunt confessed that she'd hated "having" to host these yearly get-togethers as much as I'd dreaded attending them.
And here I'd thought that part of being a grown-up meant you could more or less get out of doing things you didn't want to do.
That's how I've approached my adulthood, anyway.
So these days our Christmases, such as they are, involve one fairly hasty meal with bits of my husband's family -- my own relatives being now either safely dead or estranged.
Our house is poinsettia- and tree-free on account of our cat.
Besides exchanging gifts with my husband and devouring too much Costco panettone, the holiday season isn't that much different than the rest of the year.
I avoid what may be the most popular of all the Christmas movies, though -- partly for what I'll pompously call "ideological" reasons and partly because I grew up watching two of them in heavy rotation anyhow.
The first one I'm writing about, I more or less lived.
My husband and I disagree about very few things, but one of them is the relative merits of A Christmas Story.
Maybe it's a "guy thing," but I can't fathom the affection so many people have for this movie.
Yes, I realize it is nostalgic without being sentimental, which is an almost impossible feat to pull off.
The trouble is, the mother and father in the film push all my buttons. (See, "therapy," above.)
I spent the first 20 year of my life trapped in a tiny apartment with a bellicose stepfather whose idees fixes were always broken, and a too-nice mother who wouldn't or couldn't tell him off.
So I certainly can't spare another 90 more minutes being cajoled into agreeing that that situation is somehow hilarious and heartwarming and "Christmas-y."
I might as well just glue plastic holly around my TV and put on Hostel.
I actually have an adverse physical reaction to A Christmas Story, including rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath (and temper).
It should come with a warning label: May cause you to WANT to poke your eyes out.
A Christmas Story was filmed partly in Canada, but so is pretty much every other movie. I like to keep it really patriotic by rewatching the Trailer Park Boys Christmas special instead, the title of which I can't write here.
[Language and content WARNING:]
Yes, I admit it:
Every time Clarence gets his wings, I cry.
But I cry at the end of every movie, and by "every movie," I mean Galaxy Quest.
Proof that received wisdom is 99% wrong:
Frank Capra gets a bad rap as a shallow sentimentalist who produced little more than "Capra-corn." In truth, his films are almost as relentlessly, corrosively cynical as Billy Wilder's.
The difference is, Capra tended to tack on over-the-top happy endings, the conclusion of It's a Wonderful Life simply being the most familiar to millions -- due to a paperwork glitch.
That’s why, in the last scene, George looks at his friends with terror. He’s happy to be alive, but he’s disillusioned, wised up in just the worst way. He finally knows the world as it really is, what his friends are capable of, the dark potential coiled in each of them. (…)
Simply put, George has been cursed with knowledge, shown the truth of the world — seen hidden things. It’s the sort of vision that makes a person go insane.
My objections are more, well, "objectivist." Thwarted architect George Bailey is the anti-Roark.
As elucidated by Michael Graham:
Smart, ambitious George gets stuck at the modest Building and Loan back in Hickville when his brother marries into a cushy corporate gig and his father dies. After years of dreaming of going off to college, traveling the world and becoming a top engineer or architect, his life is spent scraping by, and helping others do the same.
Somehow the movie — like the Occupiers of today — tries to turn that into a virtue. Despite his wife and kids, George turns down $20,000 a year so he won’t have to work for that “evil banker,” Mr. Potter.
Occupy Bedford Falls!
Indeed. Loyalty to one's home town is one of those human traits that baffle me. Why does an accident of longitude and latitude inspire your undying passion?
(Batman, I'm looking at you...)
George Bailey should've told everybody to drop dead and gone off on the adventures he'd been dreaming about since childhood.
The story of America is the story of hundreds of thousands of individuals who waved farewell forever to their loser, backward families in the Old Country and struck out on their own in the New World.
(And if he was bound and determined to stay in Boringtown, the very least he could do was fix the damn knob on the staircase.)
There is has to be a debate as to who the true villain of this film is: Potter or Uncle Billy.
But hey, at least I'm not this uptight Protestant guy:
I have to say that there are too many negative things in It’s a Wonderful Life—things like the language, the sexual content and the worldview—for me to be able to enjoy it as fully as I should be able to enjoy any movie I watch for pleasure.
He doesn't approve of all the cigarette smoking, either!
Wow, what a Scrooge...
A Christmas Carol (1951) is one of the finest British movies ever made, and Alastair Sim's performance in the title role is one for the ages.
But again, the message is dreadful.
If you can't afford all those kids, stop having them, Cratchit. You're lucky you have a job.
Yes, Scrooge's first employer, Fezziwig, threw lavish Christmas parties every year -- and went out of business.
As for those "prisons and workhouses," Scrooge has been "paying his fair share" to keep these horrific (and, not incidentally, state-run institutions) operational:
"I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.''
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die,'' the man continues.
"If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that.''
"But you might know it,'' observed the gentleman.
"It's not my business,'' Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!''
Progressives live in the past. Their irrational railings against "right to work" legislation and so forth continue to have traction because the spectacle of poverty in Dickens' time is broadcast into our homes every December.
Today, no one who works indoors needs a union. Factors that kept people poor, sickly and helpless in Victorian times -- restricted access to education, a rigid class system, human filth literally flowing through the streets -- have been ameliorated in the (Anglo-Saxon) West, thanks in part to Dickens' own literary exposes.
However, Dickens' valorization of the true poor blinds many to the fact that for the most part, today's "poor" are the rich Jesus warned us about: lazy, entitled, selfish, caring only about their immediate gratification.
There are "poor" people in my city who, unlike me, have multiple cell phones, satellite TV and a couple of cars; thanks to generous benefits and tax breaks, their disposable income is higher than mine.
In Dickens' era, they might have been sentenced to walk "the Treadmill" to earn their keep. Frankly, given the sheer size of them, such a fate might do our "poor" folks some good.
So, yes: I liked Scrooge better before.
Now if you'll excuse me, Die Hard is on again.
Related from Kathy Shaidle:
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