Sunday, December 25, 2011

It was the Worst Christmas Special Ever

There is a lot of junk that comes along with Christmas.  Junk presents, junk songs, junk movies, junk such as starting the shortened NBA season on Christmas Day as if it were a sport like football or baseball that people actually have a deep emotional connection to.  These are the things we dredge through on the way to all the quality aspects of the holiday.  Personally I prefer Christmas Eve over Christmas Day anyway, as my family has a fantastic tradition of each person making diverse and unique appetizers for dinner.  But I digress.  I'm here to talk about the junk.  Specifically this Christmas special I saw on the usually reliable ABC Family last night.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (link to Wikipedia synopsis.  I'll send you to the YouTube at the end of this)

You would think perhaps from the title that this was a retelling of the popular but really not that good poem we all know (Fun Fact: actual title is "A Visit from St. Nicholas").  I'm fairly certain that this title was chosen simply to draw in unsuspecting viewers hoping for something familiar.  What you get instead is a heavy-handed morality tale that itself is actually quite immoral.

The story is about a fictional town named Junctionville, NY where mice and humans oddly coexist.  Someone from the town publishes an anonymous letter to Santa signed "All Of Us" proclaiming that we all know you're fake it's obvious there's no way you can possibly exist why did you lie to us.  Santa for some reason reads the Junctionville Register (oh, that's how he keeps up on who's been naughty: police blotters in local papers) and returns all letters from Junctionville unopened.  The town clockmaker tries to program their clock tower to play a song which will convince Santa he is still loved and cause him to come to town, but it breaks and EVERYTHING IS RUINED.  Until the little mouse who wrote the letter in the first place comes and fixes the clock and Santa returns.

I'm not here to complain about the shoddy quality of the animation, the kind that's clearly turned out quickly for a Christmas special, though let's take a peak:
What is with your eyes, girl?

I take offense to the messages here.  Christmas is one of those interesting cultural artifacts that everyone is trying to put their own definition on.  "Christmas to me means..."  And there are so many conflicting definitions.  What's interesting is that no one is vetting these interpretations, except me and my warrior blog.  Any time a song mentions Santa or winter or snow (but please not Jesus) it gets automatic radio play and becomes part of the cultural definition of the Christmas season.  Doubly so with TV shows, as we have that week before Christmas where networks only play Christmas specials and we all gather around to watch them.  But what comes of this is whenever someone has the power to to make a television special about Christmas, they have the power to redefine Christmas.

Generally this is a good thing.  Not many people are going to disagree with the message of "It's A Wonderful Life."  A good version of "The Christmas Carol" will teach you a lot about life.  I saw one the other day with Patrick Stewart that apparently was made by the SyFy channel but it was AWESOME.  It starts to get shakier between those two.  Elf, for example.  Excellent movie for its entertainment value and one of Will Ferrell's funniest roles.  But you leave the movie with the message that Christmas is about singing a lot and being cheerful for no specific reason.  Nice message, I guess, nothing wrong with positivity.  My honest belief is that they loved the character of Buddy immensely (who wouldn't?) but just had no way to end the movie so they did it that way.  Dumb message, but no harm done.  Whereas "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is openly bullshit.

There's a very clear agenda going on in the story.  The wording of little Albert the Mouse's proclamation to Santa sounds like an atheist manifesto where the word God has been crossed out and replaced it with Santa.  This mouse is highly intelligent and into science so he doesn't have time for Santa.  Boo hiss.  Eventually he comes around to the Santa party and the message is that a man of science can still be a man of faith, which isn't a bad message, but it's so over the head.  It's not a realization that you come to through the course of the story; it's evident in the first two minutes.  The innuendos in Katy Perry songs are more subtle that the message of this film.  But that's not what irks me; that's just bad scriptwriting.  Plus it brings us such awesome wacky lines as "You may know algebra, son, but this time the whole town's counting on this clock.

Here's the real problem.  The way that Albert is convinced to come around is by everyone in the story being a complete dick and guilting.  After it comes out that he wrote the letter his father takes him around to show him all the ways he ruined Christmas (his words, not mine).  When the clockmaker's clock doesn't work the whole town turns on him as if HE had ruined Christmas, and then denies him further access to try and fix his mistakes.  But worst of all is Santa.  What the hell Santa?  You see one letter claiming don't believe in you and you're so petty that you tell the whole town to piss off?  This is where you can't just have any hack screenwriter churning out these Christmas specials.  That's not how Santa would act, not at all.

I believe one of the many purposes of Santa is to begin to introduce children to the more difficult concepts of Christianity.  Christianity Lite.  A child's mind is not developed enough to understand ideas of sacrifice.  But they can understand someone who gives and asks for nothing in return.  They can't truly understand sin but they can understand that you do better if you're on the nice list.  Yes it's weird to do it in such a commercial way; I'm not saying there's much of anything right with modern Christmas traditions.  But whether or not you're a Christian I can't see anyone getting behind the idea that Santa gives out presents so that people will thank him and sing him songs.  Or that Santa will stop as soon as we say one mean thing about him.

You may think I'm putting too much thought into this.  I also realize that when put into words I sound a lot more fired up about this than I am; really I just found this to be a laughably bad Christmas special.  But these shows are supposed to warm our hearts and inspire us to be nicer to each other, and all this one did was make me think Santa's an asshole.

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