At Christmas time, I???m always a leg man.
You know the one I???m talking about???the one under the lamp shade, the iconic fixture of that great holiday film, A Christmas Story. Of course, there are many celluloid seasonal favorites that grace our screens during December???How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated one), Miracle on 34th Street (the black and white one), It???s A Wonderful Life (the ???what kind of idiot loses $10,000??? one), and countless others. I know one family for whom popcorn and The Sound of Music is the Christmas Day staple. And if you have older teenagers like I do, then the Dr Who Christmas special rules the day. And the deliciously twisted A Nightmare Before Christmas should be standard fare for a December lineup. But it really all comes down to Ralphie and that dang BB gun.
In his review of the film, Vincent Canby of the New York Times said it had ???a number of small, unexpectedly funny moments,??? but that you needed to ???possess the stamina of a pearl diver to find them.??? Well, if it???s bad enough for The New York Times, it???s good enough for me.
If you don???t know the story, stop reading this column and watch the movie. Now. The plot is simple: Ralphie Parker has a basic and typical 9-year-old Christmas request???a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Parental rejections, even Santa Claus???s stern warnings about shooting eyes out, won???t deter him from his quest. And the epic journey and comical sub-plots commence.
I???ve always been critical of reading too much into movies and simple stories (remember my tirade about Thomas the Tank Engine?), so I don???t want to fall into that trap here. But while I do think A Christmas Story???s popularity has everything to do with witty, nostalgia-driven dark humor, by peering back into our nation???s past it also offers a glimpse of what???s gone wrong in today???s over-regulated American culture.
Let???s start with Ralphie???s Dad, whom Ralphie simply calls ???the Old Man.??? Mr Parker, a deliciously gruff and seemingly distant father, wins a ???major award,??? for which the trophy is a lamp in the shape of a woman???s fishnet-stockinged leg. Needless to say, Ralphie???s Mom isn???t too thrilled with this new addition to their home???s décor, leading to a fierce ???Battle of the Lamp.??? And the Old Man???s epic battles with the beastly Parker home furnace result in some of the movie???s memorable one liners???like his profanity- laden rant ???still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.???
Needless to say, Mr. Parker was hardly a 21st century father but there are certain qualities you can???t take away from him. Guess which parent is more tuned into his kid, and leaves a cleverly hidden and oddly BB gun-shaped package under the tree for Ralphie to find? And I???m pretty certain, that just like a Rust- Belt version of Atticus Finch, we know the Old Man will be there when Ralphie ???waked up in the mornin???.???
And when dealing with the neighborhood bullies Scut Farkas and Grover Dill (two of the greatest names in cinema, by the way), Ralphie and his friends Flick and Schwartz take matters into their own hands. We all cheer with the Ralphie snaps and beat the crap out of Farkus. Now I???m not belittling the fact that we have bullies in today???s schools (and government too, for that matter???Lois Lerner, anyone?), but it???s refreshing seeing kids learn to handle their problems on their own, without their parents or school guidance counselors, constantly looking over their shoulders, and wind up just fine.
Equally refreshing is seeing kids learn from their mistakes. When Ralphie shoots his BB gun and it ricochets and breaks his glasses, he blames it on an icicle so Mom doesn???t get mad. Today his parents would be hauled before school board or local police for child endangerment. (OK, sure, technically he lied about it, but at least he recognized it was his problem!)
There are other mini-plots that I could mention. But go watch it yourself. Or describe your favorite scene in the comments section below. At the end of the day, A Christmas Story is nostalgic but not idealistically sappy.
I???m glad Jimmy Stewart gets to see his alternative life in Pottertown in It???s A Wonderful Life, and it???s nice that Clarence ???earns??? his place in heaven. But that world is not coming back. Today???s banking regulations killed off George Bailey???s dreams years ago.
For more on this holiday classic, tune in this weekend to RealClear Radio Hour???s nostalgia, kitsch, and entrepreneurship Christmas show, when Bill Frezza is joined by Brian Jones, owner of the A Christmas Story house and leg lamp business.
Merry Christmas one and all.
Lawson Bader is president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).