When I was a sophomore in college, I wrote for The Georgetown Independent’s point/counterpoint column about why “A Christmas Story” is a better Christmas film than “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The article has since disappeared from the Internetz, so I am reproducing here, as it is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written and an opinion I still would fight to the death to defend. Happy holidays! And happy 24 Hours of A Christmas Story!
"A Christmas Story": A Holiday Film We Can Believe In
Everyday, when I make the trek through the Walsh Courtyard to my LXR dorm, I look to a window on my right to see a symbol of the beloved holiday of Christmas. As I glance at this glowing emblem, I can feel the yuletide spirit wash over me, smell the aroma of my mother’s cooking, hear the delighted squeals of all my family members, young and old alike, brought together by a single joy. What is this powerful figure that arouses me so? A Christmas tree? A snowman? An angel perhaps? No, what shines from the third floor of the south side of LXR in a dorm room that sadly is not mine is none other than a fish-netted leg lamp, harking from the cinematic masterpiece A Christmas Story.
If you have not seen A Christmas Story, you have been denied an important aspect of the American experience; it is to film what Norman Rockwell is to painting. Set in the 1940s Midwest, its poignant message stretches across geography and generations. It follows the trials and triumphs of Ralphie, a nine-year-old boy with a single dream: to receive an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle BB Gun for Christmas. However, a schoolyard bully, a disapproving mother, an incredulous teacher, a cruel mall Santa and a pack of ravage dogs all stand in his way.
Although I grew up almost a half century later in sunny south Florida, I can absolutely relate to Raphie’s own childhood Christmas experiences. I too struggled to drop the perfect hints to my parents concerning my ideal Christmas present. I also observed the “triple dog dare” protocol with my friends. My family haggled over Christmas trees just like Raphie’s. And I know I am not alone in my adoration for this movie; TBS devotes twenty four hours to showing the movie. My family watches at least eighteen.
I will admit that the first time I saw It’s a Wonderful Life, I shed a tear. I will credit it as being a warm and heart wrenching tale. However, that is not to say it does not have some fatal flaws. For one, it is in black and white. I know it was made in 1946 and all. But seriously, the epic holiday that is Christmas deserves full, vivid color, and in that respect, A Christmas Story takes the cake.
I can accept that the premise of It’s a Wonderful Life is a little far-fetched, angels needing their wings, etc. etc. But talking galaxies? I mean really? That is just taking it too far. I don’t know if Albert Einstein ever got to see the film but if he did I am sure he was appalled.
Also, It’s a Wonderful Life disgustingly politically incorrect. Its treatment of the black maid Annie is horrifying, particularly in the scene when she is virtually sexually harassed by Harry Bailey. Another group that is marginalized in this film: librarians. When Mary is unable to marry George due to his inexistence, not only is she a old maid, but she must also become, dah dah dah…a librarian! In addition to being unmarried, librarians must also be melancholy and homely. I know many a Lauinger employee who would be insulted by such a claim.
hile it has nice message, It’s a Wonderful Life is far too unrealistic to claim the title of “Ultimate Holiday Movie.” This is true for other movies in this genre, like A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Santa Clause. After watching these movies, you expect that every Christmas an angel named Clarence, the ghost of Christmas past, or Tim Allen is going to swoop on in and redeem your sorry life. Although I have lived a short life of 19 years, I can tell you this isn’t the case. However, you can expect to receive an embarrassing present from your aunt (perhaps even a pink bunny suit), that Christmas dinner may be ruined (perhaps even by the neighbors’ dogs), and that your mother might be right about that present after all (even if you didn’t shoot your eye out). For A Christmas Story is not just a Christmas story; it is your Christmas story, it is my Christmas story, it is our Christmas story.