Favorite Daughter and I have been watching Christmas movies, lots of them. Hilarity ensues. We grade them by a complicated and quirky power of story checklist we’ve developed over years of good, bad and ugly Christmas film fiction fare.
The other night we sat up late to wallow in a recorded made-for-tv movie that promised to be a twist on It’s a Wonderful Life, where a mom sees how differently her life could have turned out if she literally had been someone else by building her life on different values and choices, called Holiday Switch.
But for us, it was a moral morass and no one deserved a visit from Santa, much less a Christmas Angel to magic away their misery and make their dysfunction fun. Unlike the Cratchits or Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, who were just as fun and functional rich or poor, this woman was dysfunctional rich or poor! What a pill she turned out to be. We were so annoyed after sitting all the way through it that we’ve nominated it as top rival to our Worst Christmas Movie Ever:
From FavD’s 2007 review of “One Magic Christmas” —
This movie features Mary Steenburgen as a desperately poor mom at the end of her rope with two guilt-ridden children and an emasculated out-of-work husband. Needless to say, they can’t afford a merry Christmas. Enter Happy Christmas Angel to show them how much they love each other! Right? Well, almost.
The angel, a hangdog Harry Dean Stanton in a trenchcoat and fedora which make him look just like the polygamous cult leader I always think of him as, is not exactly Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life.
Harry decides that the best way to make Mary appreciate what she’s got is to magically disappear what little money there is in the family bank account. As you may imagine, this turn of events only makes Mary more shrewish, snapping at her kids, screaming at her useless husband, and generally raging at God.
Since she failed to respond to this brilliant tactic, the angel magics a bank heist next to Mary’s work. Mary’s husband gets shot, and the robbers try to run away his car, in which the kids were waiting. The robbers drive the car into a river in their haste, drowning the kids. Yes, you read that right: the Happy Christmas Angel just killed Mary Steenburgen’s entire family in front of her.
Feeling jolly now, Mary? Are ya?
Ho ho ho. . .
Let’s put more bourbon in those bourbon balls next batch, shall we??
But at least that’s all just made-for-tv dysfunction. Real social and economic dysfunction delivers no holiday fun despite its spelled center, and there’s no honest-to-god redemption at the end of a real greed and exploitation story for the rich OR the poor — not even on Christmas Morning.
C.S. Lewis once explained power of story as real, writing about his friend’s Lord of the Rings trilogy:
‘But why,’ (some ask), ‘why, if you have a serious comment to make on the real life of men, must you do it by talking about a phantasmagoric never-never land of your own?’
Because, I take it, one of the main things the author wants to say is that the real life of men is of that mythical and heroic quality. . . The imagined beings have their insides on the outside; they are visible souls. And man as a whole, Man pitted against the universe, have we seen him at all till we see that he is like a hero in a fairy tale?
. . .The Value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden . . .
We do not retreat from reality, we rediscover it. —
So in my Christmas power of story, real-live Scrooge and Marley Madoff clones meet their real-life capitalist comeuppance right here on earth, rather than leaving their long-suffering victims with no happy ending even in a Christmas fantasy, much less in real life:
Bob Cratchit needs to learn the “Save, Give, Live” lesson of life. . .Living off only the remainder of one’s income takes patience beyond the capacity of most Americans. . . [and] requires willpower.
Because Scrooge has saved and invested, he is able to help the Cratchit family. But you should not count on a reformed Scrooge to bail you out financially. Sometimes life demands that you become a reformed Cratchit instead.
Perhaps this is why the Spirits visited Ebenezer. It was easier to make a frugal man generous than it was to make a spendthrift father financially responsible. . .
So this real-life Scrooge and Marley echo these new made-for-tv movies that FavD and I reject as incoherently immoral, in which the poor and miserable are to blame for their own wretched circumstance, hence are cast rather than the rich and privileged as central characters (in both fiction and fact) whose values and choices require hard lessons and reform. How Ayn Rand and Gordon Gekko, to cast as admirable hero he who amasses and hoards wealth, counts it alone on Christmas Eve and experiences reward for his clearly superior virtue in cold, hard cash.
Cold. Hard. Cash. Hold hands and sing a Christmas song with Santa, all you happy Whos in Whoville — the king was in the counting house, counting out his money . . .