The story you are about to read is true. I didn’t even change the names.
It happened a few nights ago when my wife and I were decorating the tree. We try to celebrate both holidays equally, but the little menorah just can’t hold a candle (sorry) to the big artificial Christmas tree in the corner of our apartment. But, our tree is less of a religious icon and more of a paean to American popular culture.
My wife, let’s call her “Stephanie,” (on account of that’s her name), was hanging an ornament. Homer Simpson slipped and bumped into Wimpy. While trying to save Wimpy from falling, Stephanie accidentally knocked another ornament to the floor, breaking it into several pieces. It took a short time for us to realize the comedic irony of the shattered ornament that lay there on our hardwood floor. It was a five-inch replica of a famous “major award” – a “A Christmas Story” leg lamp ornament.
We looked at each other.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I broke the leg lamp.”
I smiled, but all I could say was “Not a finger!!!”
“We can fix it.”
I dashed to the kitchen junk drawer.
“WE’RE… OUT… OF… GLUE!”
This little incident, to us, was our little Christmas miracle. I mean, we have dozens, perhaps hundreds of pop culture Christmas ornaments. We’ve got Spongebob, Snoopy, The 3 Stooges, Howdy Doody, Superman, Batman, Captains Kirk and Picard, The Enterprise, The Millennium Falcon – you name it. What are the odds, that of all of our ornaments, the one that would break was our frag-i-lay major award?
As a famous narrator once intoned, “all was right with the world.”
But, was it? While inside our home, everything was right with the world, there were a lot of wrong things happening in other places. Here’s a short list of SOME of the things that are just plain wrong about the current pop culture landscape of Christmas:
- NBC produced a nice, star-packed, family movie, The Year Without a Santa Claus (reminiscent of those NBC contractual obligation TV movies of the 1980’s starring Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon). Now, a big holiday event movie like this should be seen by the whole family, right? So, of course NBC broadcasts it from 9 to 11 pm. What happened to the nice Sunday night at 7pm time slot? That’s when you air family movies!
- I refuse to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC. To me, this will always be a CBS special from the rotating “BUM-BUM-BUBADABUBADA-BUM-BA-DUM-BA-DUM-BUMP!!!” of the CBS Special Presentation logo, through all of the commercials for York Peppermint Patties right to the end credits. You can take the special off CBS, but you can’t take the CBS from the special. And please, don’t even get me started on I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown. I will only say one word on that matter. “Why?”
- While we’re talking about ABC, did anyone notice that their broadcast of the classic Grinch cartoon included the behind-the-scenes featurette created back in 1994, but they painstakingly removed Phil Hartman as host and replaced him with Tom Bergeron? They used the same exact script!!! They didn’t even revise the verb tenses to reflect the passing of interviewees Chuck Jones, Thurl Ravenscroft and Albert Hague!
- Where’s Mr. Magoo? Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol should be broadcast on a major network alongside of Rudolph and Charlie Brown. And for that matter, so should Emmet Otter, but only if the Kermit the Frog sequences (deleted for legal reasons) can be restored. (You can’t see Kermit on the currently available DVD of the program, but you can see a one-hour documentary on the making of the program — a documentary produced by yours truly).
- The remake of Miracle on 34th Street is still being shown – what’s with that? Every 35mm print, 16mm print, VHS cassette, DVD and negative of this film should be rounded up by 20th Century Fox and buried on their studio lot next to the M*A*S*H time capsule. And while we’re on the subject of Kris Kringle, anyone who watches the colorized version of the original classic should be boiled in their own pudding (whatever that means).
- The holiday season has traditionally started with Thanksgiving. Santa riding through Herald Square on Thanksgiving morning – that’s the official start of the Christmas season. This year, I began seeing Christmas decorations as soon as Halloween was over (and Halloween seemed to start filling the stores as soon as the Labor Day Back to School shopping season was over). I guess the retailers of America find it easier and more lucrative to go from one holiday shopping season to the next with as little down time as possible. Have these people not seen Miracle on 34th Street? (Any version – including the 1970’s David Hartman debacle!!)
- The holiday should be about joy and brotherhood – not about shopping and money. (And this is true no matter what holiday one celebrates). Almost 50 years ago, a man named Theodor Geisel wrote a book espousing that sentiment. When the Whos’ Christmas is stolen by a nasty old Grinch, the Whos still celebrate the holiday. Christmas still comes. So, the all time irony of irony is that the Estate of Dr. Seuss has turned this tale of the true meaning of Christmas into one of the most commercial ventures in the history of family entertainment. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Craig, you were a writer on The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss – You even wrote the Wubbulous holiday episode!!” I did indeed. I was part of the posthumous exploitation of Seuss. But we did new stories based on the original characters, not overblown adaptations of the books. I’m proud of that work – I received a WGA Award nomination for my work on the show. Now, I knew that Dr. Seuss was very protective of his work while he was alive and probably would not have allowed the Henson company to license his work to produce our show. But I felt that we were doing our best – and if I wasn’t a part of it, someone else would be – and perhaps someone who didn’t care as much.
It may be a fine line, but I find a lot of difference between doing what we did with Wubbulous World and taking The Grinch book and well, getting greedy.
I find it ridiculously ironic that Seuss’ anti-commercial Christmas manifesto has turned into a seasonal money-printing machine for the Seuss Estate. This year, after cranking out every dollar possible from the feature film version and subsequent DVD release of Grinch, the venue is the Hilton Theater on Broadway – the Grinch’s face is on the marquee beside a Target Stores logo. I guess the Grinch buys Max’s dog food there.
One thing I’ve learned over the years: what you’re saying is important, but how you convey your message says just as much. And I think it takes real nerve to put on a show about the true meaning of Christmas while grossing millions (they do 12 performances a week – most shows do 8 ).
I’m not saying the show is bad – I haven’t seen it. I hear it’s good. But, it’s expensive to attend and there’s a ton of merchandise being hawked in the lobby. The 80-minute show may be about the true meaning of Christmas, but everything around the show just plain reeks of profit, greed, money and all of those other things that I really like in most other situations. Some people say that “content is king.” That may be true, but in a situation like this, it’s all about context, folks.
I could go on and on with this sort of thing, but I don’t want you all to think I’m some kind of old curmudgeon who only complains about how great things used to be. I don’t want to be like that at all, so if the powers that be are reading this, here is some advice: Don’t let things suck. That’s the deal. Don’t let things suck and I won’t rant. Seems easy enough, doesn’t it.
Somehow, I think I’ll still have a lot of ranting to do.
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