We need a new Christmas Story

Holiday "classic" reveals to father that even a speech maker extraordinaire like President Obama can't articulate how deep we will have to go to change.

I’ve been ill for a few days, as have my kids, battling through the sort of persistent upper respiratory infection that almost every household in the Midwest deals with this time of year.

As a result, I have been doing exactly what experts tell you not to do, watching the non-stop media coverage of the horror in Newtown, Connecticut. Immersing yourself in this, psychologists and others argue, causes the event to amplify, seem greater that it is.

In brief, if you watch something hundreds of times over your brain will begin to think that is all there is. You can become angry, paranoid, detached, de-sensitized. For children, of course, the effects are even worse.

I have managed to keep my kids away from the media, more or less, per the “experts,” but I keep coming back even as I try to distract them.

With my son, for instance, I watched the now classic holiday film “A Christmas Story.” As most know, the plot revolves around a young boy’s (Ralphie) desire for a “Red Ryder BB gun” as a present. His mother objects because he will “shoot his eye out.” His female 3rd grade teacher knows well the reckless, self-destructive capacity of little boys (with the help of firefighters and police she helps rescue a panicked little genius with his tongue frozen to a metal pole) and concurs. Even a surly department store Santa issues the same refrain.

The old warning is something of a running joke throughout the film. At moments, the warning takes on darker undertones. Ralphie, angry at being disciplined, imagines the parental sympathy he would receive if actually blinded.

But on Christmas morning Ralphie’s gruff father surprises him and Ralphie’s mother – and, to a certain extent, the film audience – by revealing a wrapped BB gun “left by Santa.”

The moment is moving because throughout the father has been portrayed in a traditionally American male way: angry, detached, de-sensitized and thoroughly self-absorbed in fantasies of his own abilities (a great comic bit has him believing he won a “major award” in crossword contest, an award that turns out to be a plastic lamp crafted to look like a dance girl’s single leg with fishnet stockings). An audience delightfully discovers, then, the father has been tuned in to the son’s deepest desires all along and, in fact, empathizes: he had a BB gun as a kid, too.  

Even the anti-gun mother, happy at the paternal bonding, acquiesces, asking only that Ralphie not shoot backyard animals. The father – in a bit of nasty irony I have used myself – says the noisy, ill-trained neighbor dogs are fair game.

So light is the touch in this film that even those who have seen it countless times may forget the near tragic ending. A ricochet off a backyard target almost blinds Ralphie, thus fulfilling his mother and his teacher’s prophecy.

 The minor injury he does sustain is instead played for laughs and creates the chaos that leaves the very Midwestern family eating Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant, laughing at heavily accented English. The last shot shows Ralphie drifting off to sleep, thinking of the “best” Christmas gift ever, dreaming of spectacular “hip” shots and other gun play.

The gun has been the best gift because it is what Ralphie wanted most, but also because it marks his father’s recognition of him.

This was my almost 8 year old son’s second time watching the film.

I, again, encouraged it as a distraction because I like the film and indulge the nostalgia it evokes (my teacher/ mother’s elementary classroom in Detroit looked just like Ralphie’s, and for a long time she had a drawer full of confiscated goods just like Ralphie’s teacher). I can’t count how many times I have seen the film. The first time was in the movie theater at or near Eastland Mall in 1983. I can’t remember exactly. I have a vague recollection, too, that a double-date was involved but such things are hazy for the near 50 crowd like me.

The film, however, is deeply embedded in my psyche, in part because the movie embeds so much of American culture and history in a thoroughly charming way. The material in the film, in other words, was in me long before the film was made -- hence its attraction.

So when President Obama called for America to “change” on Sunday evening at the Newtown High School I understood. But I found the ususally great speech maker utterly ineffective. This is in part, perhaps, because even a great speech maker can’t articulate or measure the depths we will have to go to truly change.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Amy Cardin December 17, 2012 at 09:24 PM
When the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy occurred I was blissfully unaware in paradise. At the far west coast of our state, high up on a dune in a cottage that has no Internet access, no TV and I don't have a smart phone. We were sharing some family time with our youngest who had just finished her college finals. That evening the sunset was remarkably beautiful (in reality they ALL are) and I had snapped a photo on my dumb phone and sent to a few friends who could relate...they having been to this cottage before. One friend texted back immediately that it was a moment of beauty in a world gone mad. I replied "what's up?" And that was my initiation. I made my husband get out his smart phone which we had relegated to the bedroom and so began my heartbreak. I was not able to view the nonstop news and clips of families crying, I did not see the surviving children running into their parents' arms, or worse, the covering of bodies with tarps. I just saw small snippets on a screen nearly too small to read, but I felt it just the same. I thought of the awful timing, coming so close to the holidays and thought that those families will never have another joyful celebration. I thought that those parents should have been picking out Christmas gifts, not coffins. I found myself tearing up several times during the remainder of the weekend. I simply cannot imagine the depth of that grief. Change must come and it starts with each of us. I hold the town of Newton in my heart and prayers.
Marcia Robovitsky December 18, 2012 at 12:27 PM
A friend sent this to me this morning. It is too long for one Patch space...so please finish the story in the second part. Merry Christmas Twas' 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38 when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate. their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air. they could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there. they were filled with such joy, they didn't know what to say. they remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day. "where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse. "this is heaven." declared a small boy. "we're spending Christmas at God's house." when what to their wondering eyes did appear, but Jesus, their savior, the children gathered near. He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same. then He opened His arms and He called them by name. and in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring those children all flew into the arms of their King and as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace, one small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face. and as if He could read all the questions she had He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of mom and dad."
Marcia Robovitsky December 18, 2012 at 12:27 PM
then He looked down on earth, the world far below He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand, "Let My power and presence re-enter this land!" "may this country be delivered from the hands of fools" "I'm taking back my nation. I'm taking back my schools!" then He and the children stood up without a sound. "come now my children, let me show you around." excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran. all displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can. and i heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight, "in the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT." Written by Cameo Smith, Mt. Wolf, PA
Joan G. Berndt December 18, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Thank you , Marcia. I, too, received the same e mail from two different friends. If there is comfort in words, this would be a good example. I just can't get my mind around such great evil. May God have mercy on us all and comfort those who mourn. "And Jesus wept" (shortest verse in the Bible and most profound).


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