A Seasonally Appropriate Blog About... Christmas!
Or, more accurately, Christmas cartoons.
In order to prep myself for the coming onslaught of assorted horrors that arise while working retail during the Christmas season, last night I arranged a sort of impromptu Christmas Special marathon to lighten my spirits somewhat. It consisted of your usual allotment of "classics" - your Grinches, Red-Nosed Reindeers, et cetera - as well as Christmas-themed episodes of my favorite cartoons - The Simpsons, Tiny Toons, Mickey's Christmas Carol, et al - but I made a fatal error in judgment:I placed A Charlie Brown Christmas at the top of the playlist. The result, of course, being that all of the following Holiday specials rang about as hollow as the blackened souls of all my ex-girlfriends. Ah, well: most of my ex-girlfriends.
Kidding aside, the Grinch and the Rankin-Bass puppet shows are fun in their usual nostalgic way, but I've yet to see or read or hear anything else outside of Dickens perfectly nail the idea of the "Spirit of Christmas" so poignantly as Charles Schultz's melancholy masterpiece.
Its perfect because its cynical and slightly subversive without trying in the least to be edgy; Charlie Brown isn't some renegade crusader out to expose the lies and hypocrisy of the capitalistic greed that has cannibalized the Judeo-Christian holiday, but rather criticizingly examining the selfish motives behind his so-called friends and loved ones during the wintery celebration, all the while trying his damnedest to figure out what, exactly, Christmas is all about on a personal and spiritual level.
Of course it culminates in Linus' wonderful rendition of the Gospel of Luke, but strangely, the rote reading of Bible verse never comes off nearly as didactic and preachy as any ham-fisted Christmas soliloquy by more secular outlets. In a brilliant move by Schultz, neither is there any explanation or further extrapolation on the Biblical text: it blindsides the viewer with the brutal honesty that, yes, Christmas is "about" the birth of Christ, but its "spirit" lies in each of us.
Which is to say nothing of its other qualities. Its still bitingly, achingly funny, with my favorite scene being Schroeder's frustration in playing his own composition of "Jingle Bells" to an adamantly ignorant Lucy, and the increasingly bowdlerized versions he performs until she finally "gets it."
Nearly every other Holiday special, movie, album, et cetera, that has since attempted to expand upon the "spirit of Christmas" sadly falls into the same class of crass, commercialist claptrap that Charlie Brown crusaded against. Which then leads me to wonder, since A Charlie Brown Christmas has been such an enduring pop-culture hit for the past 42 years: do people really "get it"? When I ride around and see opulently horrendous Christmas monoliths strewn across the bone-dry yards of uptight yuppies in Tucson Arizona, I wonder if the message has ever sank in. To say nothing of the day-to-day grind working in a mall bookstore the entire month of December. Is sweating it out with literally hundreds of other aggravated shoppers in a busy mall in order to buy your boss' wife a ten-dollar gift card really worth the irritation to yourself and others?
Nonetheless, I certainly enjoyed the other Christmas specials I watched, I guess, on a purely entertaining/nostalgic level. I have fond memories of wearing down my VHS copy of Mickey's Christmas Carol to a fine magnetic pulp, mainly because Disney hadn't cross-pollinated their stable of cartoon characters in such a way back then, and because its an unusually lavish production, especially considering it came on the coattails of the massive financial failure of The Black Cauldron. Still, though, Mickey and Goofy aren't entirely the right characters to make the many themes of Dickens' classic come to life without seeming like, well, treacle. Which is what Mickey's Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas, and virtually every other Christmas episode of every cartoon show is: overly-sentimental and distinctly Hallmark card-esque. Besides, Dickens' story was better adapted ten years prior in Richard Williams' own half-hour animated special.
That said, no amount of Peabody-winning cartoon genius can keep from bemoaning the long hours, cold weather, and general feeling of soul-crushing annoyance from idiotic, drooling customers this Christmas. Ugh, and bah humbug.