Why I Love “A Christmas Story”

Merry Christmas to all!

I should be hastily packing for my trip to Ohio. Or eating breakfast. Or finishing up the last vestiges of work I need to do before I can declare myself on vacation. But instead, I find myself with a need to pay tribute to A Christmas Story.

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Last night, one of my friends posted that he’d seen the film for the very first time, and hated it. Why? Because the parents didn’t talk to each other about their conflict surrounding the lamp. The kids did stupid things and made poor decisions. The bullies hurt people for fun. The staff at the Chinese restaurant acted like racist caricatures. He couldn’t quite fathom why people love this film so much.

I ended up writing a long comment defending the film. And then decided to turn it into a blog post. Much of what is here is from my original comment, with a few changes.

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Many children do act idiotic. I don’t mean that in a nasty way. I mean they are still growing and developing and lack the cognitive skills to act like fully intelligent beings. Bill Cosby has a whole bit about how all children have brain damage. And kids giving each other stupid dares is pretty par for the course. Again, children have a different sense of safety, rationality, and fun than adults do. They’re not mini-adults.

Bullies do hurt other people for fun, sometimes. And when I watch Scott Farkas on screen as an adult, I think about how now, I see him as hardly intimidating at all. But you can see why Ralphie is scared. And I am reminded of how when I was a child, bullies were, in fact, terrifying. Because I was a child, and didn’t see things the way adults did.

The husband and wife have issues with communication, sure. But this was set in the 1950s, filmed in the 1980s, and in 2014? Couples still have communication problems. Sadly enough, that kind of dysfunction is encouraged. I can’t go a week without seeing a magazine headline in a women’s magazine encouraging passive-aggressive manipulation rather than open communication.

People love this film because it rings true. It’s funny, but it stings, because it contains realities of experience for so many.

Because it’s about a time in childhood when you’re starting to really learn that things can be tough and that life isn’t always fair. There are moments of sentimentality, to be sure, but it’s also unsentimental in that it shows that childhood can at time be upsetting, frustrating, and even scary.

Because it’s a film about people who are terribly flawed still loving each other and doing the best they can. Ralphie’s dad is a curmudgeon, but still wants his kids to be happy. The parents have communication issues, but still do love each other. People all over the world have flaws small and large, but still care for family and friends in spite of those foibles. And they recognize their equally-flawed loved ones are doing the best they can, as well.

And if you are not religious, that’s a pretty good lesson to keep in mind on Christmas Day. That we make lots of mistakes and generally muddle through, but still love each other and try to do right by our loved ones.

As for the racist caricatures? I blame Hollywood for letting that one through.

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