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I do not like to use this Tohu Bohu as a griping zone just to call attention to those things in the world that I think are wrongheaded, but an article by Sharon Waxman called Onscreen, It's the Season of Cynicism in this morning’s NYTimes appears to be serious in making the argument that today’s sappy Xmas movies are “a whole new genre of anti-holiday holiday movies”. The examples she cites (Surviving Christmas, Christmas with the Kranks, The Santa Clause, Jingle all the Way, and even How the Grinch Stole Christmas) all seem to be stories of somebody who begins by feeling that the holiday is as Ms. Waxman puts it “something to endure rather than celebrate”, and ends by discovering/recovering the True Joy of the Season. Elf, also mentioned, has I believe not only that plotline but the endearing main character who really does keep the spirit of the season year-round, because he’s a fucking elf, that’s why.

In other words, these movies are tremendously sentimental, but operate in a mindset that says that everything outside the movies is too cynical. Or, rather, that these movies place themselves as fighters against cynicism, and in ways that would make Frank Capra vomit. And I haven’t even seen them. I find it difficult to believe that not having seen them I understand them better than Ms. Waxman, but then I need to point this out:

Her very first example of how different today’s movies are from such heartwarming holiday classics as It’s a Wonderful Life is that Surviving Christmas begins with a suicide attempt.

And, you know? There were other classic Christmas movies. Let’s see ... White Christmas is about the superfluous ex-army fellas that can’t find work or respect. The Lemon Drop Kid is about a gang of thieves and gamblers who dress up as charity Santas to rip off the suckers. There’s the Alastair Sim Christmas Carol, nuff said. There’s A Christmas Story, which I’ve never seen, but which is, I’m told, a satire about the single-minded focus on presents. And there’s Miracle on 34th Street. Maybe that’s what she’s thinking of.

But isn’t Elf a zany remake of Miracle? Again, I haven’t seen it, but that’s the plot of the trailer. And isn’t a good deal of the point of Miracle that the world is cynical and doesn’t believe? In the end, it turns out that really is Santa Clause/Elf, right?

What is this writer on about?

Whew. Feel better now.

Thank you,


she probably says "bah! humbug!" in a cheerful voice to herself as she reads the storybook

But the movies today aren't at all like the movies I grew up with. The movies today are cynical and crass and poke fun at the human condition. The movies of yesteryear were golden classics, full of nothing but goodness and cinnamon. Mmm, cinnamon.

Substitute for "movies" the following: attempted suicide, politics, army, businessmen, television sitcoms, oil prices, or rugelach.

It's an age-old example of old-age thinking. Does it demonstrate stupidity or ignorance? Yes it does. Should it have been rejected by an editor who thinks that facts matter more than uninformed opinions? Of course it should. Would anyone be surprised by the New York Times starting to pay attention to what their writers are making up? Absolutely.

well there is an argument that american movies have in general become less thought-provoking, and that the years of great american film writing are behind us. if you accept that argument then it's not hard to move from there to feeling that the old christmas movies reached a higher plane of humanism and spirituality than the new ones. no question the suffering in it's a wonderful life is heartfelt and sometimes frightening.

Hee re opening with a suicide attempt being what separates modern Xmas movies from Wonderful Life.

Re Elf: It's not really a remake of Miracle. There are certainly shared elements—and, iIrc, explicit references—but Elf explicitly shows us from the very start that Santa and the elves are real. It's partly a father/son bonding movie, partly a coming-of-age story. I'll agree, though, that it does have basically the same message as Miracle and Wonderful Life and all these others: true Christmas spirit always wins out over cynicism and commercialism.

I think it's easy to think of the '30s and '40s as times of boundless faith and optimism, simply because they were long ago; I think it's easy to underestimate how cynical, and even grim, old movies can be.

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