Nostalgia is the pure uncut black tar crystal blue hydroponic heroin (I know nothing about drugs because I’m totally square) of our lives. For real, there is nothing people like more than feeling nostalgic. The distant memory that’s been given a fresh coat of idealized lacquer creates all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings in our hearts. It reminds us that there was once a time when we were actually happy (even if we are remembered only the most rose-colored version of the experience).
Why do I bring this up? Because December is the freaking Super Bowl of nostalgia. Think about it, most major religions have some sort of major holiday in December. So, that puts a lot of people in a good mood. Plus, some of these holidays result in time off work, which makes even more people happy. Also, shops stay open later, which feeds our shopping-addled consumerist addiction to worthless gadgets that we think lends our lives meaning, which makes everyone happy.
Here in America, if you missed the latest reports from the front on Fox News, Christmas is the main holiday, albeit constantly under attack from heartless bastards that insist on saying Happy Holidays. Go back to Mexico you dirty communist hippies! I’m not sure if that’s right. I’m just reading this interesting forwarded email from my uncle in Gun Barrel City. Anyway…
Christmas is a pusher of nostalgia. It’s that shady kid that should’ve graduated like three years ago but is still in 10th grade and just seems to hang out right outside school waiting for you to walk by. “Hey, you ever had nostalgia?…Want some?” High school was a weird experience.
The point is we love that idyllic Christmas-card setting of the snow-flecked house, the warm fire, the beautifully decorated Christmas tree, mom and dad resting on the couch in loving embrace while Junior and Sally unwrap gifts. On some level, we all want that. That’s why that image is shoved in our face by corporate America every day starting sometime around July at this point.
Then why (Why?!) do our Christmas movies portray pure chaos?
Think about all your favorite Christmas movies. They’re about a lot of things going wrong right up until the moment at the very end when everyone somehow miraculously makes up, solves all their problems, or finally reunites with the child they inexplicably keep leaving behind.
I’m gonna run down some of my faves, and we’re gonna check out this pattern.
Elf - I don’t care what you say, A Christmas Story sucks. If you didn’t see it for the first time when your were five, it’s not good. That’s nostalgia for you. You’ve convinced yourself that’s a good movie even though reason and logic tell you differently every year when it gets a 24-hour marathon for some reason. Ooh right, this is about Elf, my favorite Christmas movie. This is a movie that begins with a child abduction, but it’s presented in a sweet and delightful way so we’ll look past it for now. But soon, Christmas is in trouble because no one believes in Santa anymore. I’m seeing it now. I think there’s some allusion to religion here. Anyway, if that wasn’t bad enough, you add in a fish out of water story in which everyone thinks the main character is psychotic and then Santa almost gets arrested by the cops. Thankfully, Zooey Deschanel is there to save the day with her beautiful face and voice. Seriously, had almost anyone else started singing Christmas carols in that instant, they would’ve been pelted by snowballs or worse. But, when Zooey does it, everyone is all like, “Look at that precious angel from heaven singing/I think I’ll join her.” That, and Santa had to expose himself as real to a whole bunch of people. So, child abduction, psychosis, existential ennui, and potential incarceration. Then Santa outs himself. Nuts. Still my favorite Christmas movie, though, which I swear is only mildly influenced by my crush on Zooey.
It’s a Wonderful Life - Capitalism is evil. That’s basically the moral of the story. Look, I don’t entirely disagree, but damn. And if that’s no enough, the main character essentially goes on a bender and then commits suicide. And, the world in his absence is like Biff’s 1985 from Back to the Future II bad. So, the main character becomes a dick, then basically makes it to where he never existed, which creates this terrible mid-1940s dystopia.
But it’s OK, because everyone ends up crowdfunding his savings & loan shop and they all sing Christmas carols while he holds the daughter he screamed at like 30 minutes ago.
A Christmas Carol/Scrooged - Again, the protagonist - who is also a total asshole - dies, but not before he’s force fed a big heaping helping of nostalgia for the past, then made to feel guilty about what a shitty guy he is now. Seriously, the big turn of events is him waking up from a nightmare in which he was certain that he was dead.
But it’s OK, because thinking he died and everyone hated him made him go out and buy a goose for his lowly employee, which totally makes up for all the years of abuse and the fact that the employee’s son is probably still going to die soon anyway.
Home Alone - Oh my god, that kid just killed two men! Sure, they were breaking into the house he’d been abandoned in by his family, but they only wanted to steal the TV and other stuff that could easily be replaced. That’s a big house. There’s no way Kevin’s dad didn’t have homeowner’s insurance. Hell, they probably would’ve replaced all the stolen crap with much nicer new stuff. So really, Kevin cost his money family. Especially since he turned their house into his own version of H.H. Holmes’ murder mansion.
But, it’s OK. His terrible mother realized pretty early on just how terrible she is and went to unnecessarily complicated lengths to get back home to her psychotic, murderous child.
But, the best movie of all when it comes to this particular article is…
Christmas Vacation - Here is a movie in which the protagonist, Clark, desperately wants to have that classic, idyllic, nostalgic, happy family Christmas. And he works so hard to make that dream a reality. And, what does he get for all his effort? His boss treats him like shit and stiffs him on the Christmas bonus (“Capitalism is bad” is also a very common theme in Christmas movies, but that’s another article). His kids are typical bratty teenagers who drag their feet and complain about absolutely everything. The grandparents, for the most part, are a nightmare of meddle. And, his brother shows up with his ratty camper and weird family, mainly, so he can empty his septic tank in Clark’s gutter. The brother than also kidnaps Clark’s boss, which prompts the police to come to Clark’s house to arrest him.
But it’s OK, because he finally gets his insane christmas light display to work, his boss gives him the proper bonus (so that he can keep fantasizing about cheating on his dutiful wife, by the way), and everyone makes up to have a merry, if not perfect, Christmas. And, he realizes that the perfect Christmas doesn’t necessarily have to look like the one in the advertisements as long as you have family. And egg nog. Lots and lots of egg nog. Preferably in glasses that look like moose heads. Or something like that.
Think of some of the lesser movies. Christmas with the Kranks, Jingle All the Way, Four Christmases, etc.
Pure madness. But, why? *drumroll please*
Here’s where I try to be clever. Fingers crossed…
This is the nostalgia factory. This is the warehouse outside Medellin. Think about how these stories will be told 20 years after they happen.
Wistfully. The answer is wistfully. With a small chuckle and a smile. And, there it is. Nostalgia.
It comes from the madness of everyday life. In the hindsight, we pick through the mundanity, madness, and existential dread to find those happy moments and cherish them. Christmas movies are basically a how-to guide in the nostalgia-making department.
So, here’s hoping you all make some nostalgia this year. You’ll thank yourself later.
Kris Noteboom is a Level 2 student at DCH. He is working on his PhD, with a focus comedy. He went on a mini tour this summer performing his comedic one-man show, And Then I Woke Up.
(Image: Sandor Weisz/Creative Commons)