Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Redemption: Christmas Movies and the Warped Scrooge Motif

In general, modern Christmas movies offer a version of holiday redemption, usually a lesson about the importance of family and a reminder that materialism doesn't lead to happiness. However, often it seems that this theme is misplaced. It doesn't actually belong in the movies that exhibit it, resulting in a sexist display against men.

The Scrooge Motif

The classic example these movies follow is, of course, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. In this story, Ebenezer Scrooge placed such value on money that it caused him to undervalue his family and community. As a result, he withdrew from them and used his wealth and power to oppress others. However, a Christmas miracle causes him to reevaluate his views. He repents and God bless us everyone.

The two "Christmas" movies I have watched thus far this year have, on the surface, mimicked Dickens' theme of redemption, but after reflection are more of an attack on manhood. These movies are National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Christmas with the Kranks, both of which I watched for the first time this year.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) stars Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, the father of the Griswold family who holds impossibly high standards for the big family get together. As each Christmas tradition falls comically about his ears, Clark predictably undervalues family and overvalues stuff or--his personal crutch--everything working smoothly. He begrudges his brother and his family who comes unexpectedly and the many older relatives who require extra care. When the Christmas lights don't work, he stays outside trying to fix them instead of coming in and spending time with his relatives. His wife tries to convince him not to behave this way, especially as he comes under more and more stress.

Clark is short-tempered, foul-mouthed, and lewd, but I cannot accuse him being a true Scrooge. As the film progresses, he reassures his niece that Santa will visit her and sets aside his differences with his brother to help make that happen. While his own finances are tight, he gives to the less fortunate members of his family. When the turkey dinner turns out extremely dry, he eats it and tells his sister-in-law who cooked it that it tastes good.

However, he still needs to be redeemed from his Scrooge-ness.

Christmas with the Kranks

Christmas with the Kranks (2004) stars Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as Luther and Nora Krank, who find themselves alone for the first Christmas in over twenty years while their daughter is out of the country. Luther, after a particularly trying experience with Chicago weather proposes to Nora that they skip Christmas and go on a cruise instead. The Kranks decide to skip all the Christmas traditions, forgoing a tree from the local boy scouts and a calendar from the police force. No Christmas cards for Christmas Eve party, either. He explains in a letter, "I am not angry, and I will not yell 'humbug' at anyone who offers me a holiday greeting."

The first half of the film is the two of them fighting with their community over this decision. Luther says to his pushy neighbor, "If you're trying to make me feel guilty, get off of it. And you know what else? I'd appreciate it if you and everyone else around here would just respect my wishes." When they discover that the Kranks do not leave until Christmas day, Nora's friends, who usually attend their party, ask, "Oh, then why don't you have the party anyway?" Nora replies, frustrated, "Because we don't want to!"

Luther "Scrooge" Krank

In this endeavor, Luther is painted as the villain by his community. Although the Kranks will save $3000 by taking the cruise instead of celebrating Christmas, he repeatedly says the issue is not about the money. They are simply taking a break and spending their time a little differently. However, the people around him continuously refer to him as a Scrooge. His only motivation is pinching pennies, and he is consumed with himself. He is a cheapskate who doesn't understand the true meaning of Christmas. While Luther cannot be said to undervalue his family, he does undervalue his community, who believe Christmas to be a "neighborhood thing".

However, he and his wife present a united front against their neighbors, even if Nora is a little less firm about her conviction than her husband. That is until their daughter surprises them with a call Christmas Eve, saying she will be there tonight with her new fiance. Then, Nora changes her mind. Suddenly, Luther's idea is no longer "genius," it is "stupid" and she repeatedly tells him so. They must now pull together a Christmas celebration--including the party--at the last minute. The neighborhood comes together to help them in time for their daughter's arrival, and they have a wonderful time.

Luther, though, is unhappy, and Nora tells him he needs to think of others first instead of himself. He, like Clark, needs to be redeemed from his behavior.

Sexist Redemption

These portrayals are distinctly sexist against men. The wife in these situations knows best, and the husband is the one who must be redeemed, but why? Clark's desire to make an ideal Christmas for everyone is not wrong, and his stress and frustration is understandable when electrocution, fire, kidnapping, and explosions are contributing. Spending Christmas on a cruise is not wrong either, but even if Luther's goal had been to save money, such a thing would not be sinful. What exactly, then, are these husbands being redeemed from?

Clark's wife tries to keep him from reacting or overreacting to the things that go wrong. When he cannot, he is misbehaving. Nora legitimizes Luther's cruise goal, but as soon as she changes her mind, the idea loses its credibility. Her goal of keeping her daughter from knowing about how they overturned their own plans to cater to her becomes the most important one. When Luther fails to appreciate this, he has failed. In both of these films, the husband's hopes, dreams, and disappointments are simply selfishness.

To be redeemed, both Clark and Luther must give up their own feelings and goals and adopt the ones that their wives sanction. When they do, they become generous, Christmas-spirited husbands. They are redeemed, but this redemption has nothing to do with Christmas.

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