When A Christmas Story opened in theaters on Nov. 18, 1983, it was not one of the year’s biggest films. Thirty-five years later, that little movie looms large over the holiday season. You can buy “major award” leg lamps at any price point, tour Ralphie’s actual house that was used in the filming of the movie, watch the Broadway musical adaptation and, of course, spend 24 hours in front of the TV watching the annual Christmas Story marathon on basic cable. The film has become a Christmas tradition beloved by many — but not all. In this video, I make a case for why A Christmas Story, despite its title, is a terrible Christmas movie. (Note: The opinions of this contributor do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else at Yahoo, who likely see this video as the work of a deranged Easter Bunny.) Watch the video above to see the full case against A Christmas Story, or read on for the short version of why the depiction of Ralphie’s childhood fails as a great holiday film.
1. A Christmas Story is all about consumerism.
Most classic Christmas movies embrace the idea that Christmas means goodwill to all. Maybe the characters want presents or other selfish things, but ultimately they realize that the holiday is about so much more. In A Christmas Story, Ralphie really, really wants an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle. But by the end of the film, he has realized that the true meaning of Christmas… is shooting things with his new Red Ryder BB gun.
2. A Christmas Story is not especially about Christmas.
Yes, it’s set during the Christmas season, but the holiday is largely irrelevant to the loosely strung vignettes that the film calls a plot. So what is the film about? Well, a major theme is “children in pain.”
3. This movie wants us to laugh at the misery of its characters.
Instead of learning to be kind at the risk of ridicule, like Ebenezer Scrooge or Frank Cross or Buddy’s dad, our protagonist looks back proudly at how little remorse he felt for leaving Flick with his tongue stuck to a flagpole. It was a simpler time, you say! Well, everyone’s childhood was a simpler time. Which brings us to…
4. A Christmas Story is nostalgic for all the wrong things.
A lot of people like A Christmas Story because it’s nostalgic and reminds them of childhood. But the movie isn’t really about 9-year-old Ralphie, because everything we see is from the perspective of older Ralphie, looking back at 1940. So rather than capturing a sense of childlike wonder, the film gives us a childhood viewed through adult eyes, four decades later. It’s a middle-aged man in 1983 remembering everything from 40 years ago as great and hilarious. But was it?
Let’s look at what Reagan-era Ralphie is actually nostalgic for: A long-suffering mom who can’t have anything for herself. A dad who’s angry all the time. A childhood in which his biggest accomplishments were beating up a bully and getting a gun. A world where boys make the rules, and anyone who’s not like them — girls, people of color — doesn’t factor in. Worst of all: Ralphie looks back with fondness on a time when his family could openly laugh at Asian people.
The best Christmas films aren’t about retreating to an idealized past with clear rules and assigned roles for everyone. They’re about how the holiday spirit can bring hope and joy to a messy, cynical world like the one we actually live in.
5: A Christmas Story has no Christmas spirit.
Being a good person can be hard. Caring about other people makes you vulnerable. Having hope opens you up to disappointment. But regardless of which holiday you celebrate, the holiday spirit is about lowering these defenses, being kind, feeling joy and allowing yourself to believe, even for one night, that the world is good.
A Christmas Carol is about this. A Charlie Brown Christmas is about this. It’s a Wonderful Life is about this. Bad Santa is about this. Even Die Hard is about this. Whereas A Christmas Story is about children in pain, making fun of people who are different and learning that life is a series of crushing disappointments. (Although I will concede that the nightmare Santa-visit scene is kind of great.)
Enjoy whatever movie fills you with joy this holiday season, and try not to shoot your eye out.
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