The chronic capitalism of Christmas movies
December 27, 2017 1:07 PM   Subscribe

 


Clearly the author has not seen "Snowmance."
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:11 PM on December 27


Auntie Mame, an otherwise great addition to Christmas-adjacent films, sadly fits in this category. Mame and Patrick are saved by the affections (and funds) of a wealthy oil tycoon ...

Beauregard: I want to pay off that taxi man, so he can get home.
Mame: You left the taxi meter running in the middle of the Depression?
Beauregard: Well, ma'am, I'm in oil. It just keeps on gushing and not much I can do about it.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on December 27 [1 favorite]


The Little Match Girl is the only exception I can think of. People just want cheerful endings during the holidays, myself included. BTW, The Little Match Girl is available on You Tube, but it makes Old Yeller look like a comedy. You have been warned.
posted by Beholder at 1:32 PM on December 27 [4 favorites]


Seen somewhere online: "A Christmas Carol is the heartwarming tale of how rich people must be supernaturally terrorized into sharing."
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:50 PM on December 27 [36 favorites]


And where does Die Hard fit into all this? Die Hard as the official movie of Christmas reached peak meme status this year.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:50 PM on December 27 [2 favorites]


I recommend this book all the time: The Battle for Christmas. Author/historian Stephen Nissembaum essentially builds the argument that Christmas as we know it is basically a mechanism for relieving capitalist guilt while reinforcing notions of a controlled and ordered society. Once you look through those lenses it's hard to discard them. Viewed in that way, it's not just a few movies, but the entire modern first-world Christmas, that's at fault.
posted by Miko at 1:52 PM on December 27 [18 favorites]


Tanya Gold and I took very different things away from Trading Spaces. Although thinking about it she's probably closer to authorial intent.
posted by PMdixon at 1:55 PM on December 27 [1 favorite]


The prisons and workhouses are still there, but hey, you get a brief respite. I think that's an okay story to tell, though the more it humanises the rich and disguises their role in building those prisons and workhouses the more it loses any points it may have gained for raising their existence in the first place.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on December 27


Die Hard could be interpreted as anticapitalist, if you see the robbers as representatives of capitalism; the parallel is explicitly made in the film, with their robbery described as a hostile takeover.

Unfortunately, the parallel breaks down quickly, as our bandits are suave, educated, organized, sophisticated, and intelligent, while real capitalists tend to be bullying thugs like our president, blindly and stupidly benefiting from a system hammered into place by earlier generations of mindlessly cruel mobsters.
posted by maxsparber at 1:58 PM on December 27 [5 favorites]


Like many Christmas films, It's a Wonderful Life centers around the personal development of an individual man, but at the end it's a caring and close-knit community that saves the day in Bedford Falls—not a lone, wealthy hero.

And yet to do this, it has to somehow present the owner of a bank as working-class and put-upon by an even worse banker, even though Bailey by the standards of the time he's supposed to be living with is living quite comfortably the whole time. He sacrifices going to college to... work a perfectly safe and comfortable job that evidently didn't require a college education. My grandmother, born the same year he would have been, not only didn't graduate from high school, she never WENT to high school. George Bailey's doing real estate development during the same period of time as the events of Grapes of Wrath. But he's a hero for having made some relatively minor economic sacrifices at a time when huge numbers of people in the same country are in desperate, incredibly visible poverty. And part of the heroism part of all of this is that without the intervention of George Bailey, it's implied, many people in his town would have gone that same way, no? For which that caring and close-knit community bails him out after he allows really lax cash-handling practices to almost get the bank shut down.

So... yeah.
posted by Sequence at 1:59 PM on December 27 [8 favorites]


Capitalism is the American state religion.
posted by mhum at 2:03 PM on December 27 [14 favorites]


Look, I believe that governments have a moral obligation to provide a decent standard of living. Food, housing, education and healthcare. I'm all for a Universal Basic Income. The evidence is very very clear that if you rely on the charity of the rich to sustain the poor, the poor will be shit out of luck.

But Christmas is the one time of year where it absolutely makes sense to emphasize private giving, because it's a religious holiday. It's about private, individual citizens celebrating the birth of Christ with gratitude and concern for others.

I mean maybe people should make International Worker's Day movies, to celebrate other messages. But celebrating private giving is not synonymous with absolving governments of their moral duties.
posted by mrmurbles at 2:09 PM on December 27 [6 favorites]


It's about private, individual citizens celebrating the birth of Christ with gratitude and concern for others.

Well, this is a pretty modern interpretation of the holiday. But even if you do accept that, the rich taking pity on the poor aren't the only stories about private giving that you can tell.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:26 PM on December 27 [4 favorites]


Well, this is a pretty modern interpretation of the holiday. But even if you do accept that, the rich taking pity on the poor aren't the only stories about private giving that you can tell.

Totally agree. Would love to see more movies like a Charlie Brown Christmas, Miracle on 34th st, Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Nightmare Before Christmas, Polar Express, The Gift of the Magi, etc

Also, I wasn't kidding about International Workers Day movies. I mean: maybe not literally, but this is basically the same media representation problem there always is. It's not inherently bad to have movies where white dudes are the only important characters, it's just bad if that's 90% of your movies. Similarly: movies that celebrate charity aren't inherently bad, we just need movies that also celebrate other ideas.
posted by mrmurbles at 3:00 PM on December 27 [1 favorite]


And yet to do this, it has to somehow present the owner of a bank as working-class

Worse than that: George Bailey is a man who inherited a bank.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:11 PM on December 27 [3 favorites]


International Worker's Day movies

Quick, name any 21st century movie that portrays socialists, or even trade unionists, in a positive light!

My theory is that since Hollywood is owned and controlled by the ultra rich, movies that dare to say bad things about Capitalism cannot be made.
posted by monotreme at 3:29 PM on December 27 [3 favorites]


Is there no morsels of truth in "Hail Caesar!"?
posted by Brocktoon at 3:42 PM on December 27 [1 favorite]


I maintain that Gremlins is the only Christmas movie worth seeing. Sure, it's got some problems, but watching monsters kill arrogant salesmen, racist neighbors, rich landlords, and inept cops before they destroy a suburban mall is hard to beat. There's nothing like a natural gas explosion to wrap up a holiday.

Well, that and A Christmas Story. But only because I'm a sucker for Gene Shepherd. And Batteries Not Included, but only for nostalgic reasons. I'm not sure either is actually good or features a political perspective I can endorse.
posted by eotvos at 3:43 PM on December 27 [3 favorites]


My theory is that since Hollywood is owned and controlled by the ultra rich, movies that dare to say bad things about Capitalism cannot be made.

Well, but rich people have always owned Hollywood and in the 80s and 90s there were movies like Silkwood and Norma Rae -- even Erin Brokovich, The Matrix and Fight Club which are not about unions per se, but are anti-capitalist.

I've worked in big tech and big media and one thing I can say is that the rich people who run these fields are less concerned about promoting capitalism as a philosophy and more concerned about having popular products. If you could convince studio execs that white men age 18-34 want to see movies about unions, you'd get a lot of movies about unions.*

*Though I guess the movies would also have to portray unions in a light that the Chinese government would be on board with, for full international distribution.
posted by mrmurbles at 3:45 PM on December 27 [9 favorites]


Get ready for my star studded sprawling holiday epic, MAY DAY
posted by The Whelk at 4:02 PM on December 27 [14 favorites]


Can we count any movie that has an extended scene that takes place during Christmas? How about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is this not anti-capitalist enough for ya
posted by Apocryphon at 4:50 PM on December 27 [1 favorite]


Seen somewhere online: "A Christmas Carol is the heartwarming tale of how rich people must be supernaturally terrorized into sharing."

so, here's how social democracy can still work...
posted by indubitable at 7:24 PM on December 27 [1 favorite]


As we all know, the true meaning of Christmas is brutally murdering the people who have inconvenienced you one by one, ramming an ambulance and then punching out the driver, regaining the confidence to kill, and having your controlling husband symbolically throw away your personal accomplishments.
posted by ckape at 7:59 PM on December 27 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I love Jingle All the Way too
posted by Apocryphon at 8:46 PM on December 27 [2 favorites]


Black Christmas.
posted by parki at 8:52 PM on December 27


Look, I get that writers too want to enjoy their Christmas holidays and not have to focus on work too much just like other people, but that doesn't excuse a tired, shoddy premise supported by cherry picked examples honed by shallow readings. Yeah, I get it, consumerism and Christmas go hand in hand in the minds of many people, it's not exactly a new complaint. Even so, if the writers here want to mine that vein again, that's fine if they actually have something worthwhile to bring to it, but that seems not only absent here, but even their weak readings aren't consistently supported throughout their articles.

Take the first article for example, the writer concludes with:
In this way, the tales of Ebenezer Scrooge, Clark Griswold, Howard Langston, and George Bailey are an approximate reflection of our society's view of capitalism: a general acknowledgment that the system is harmful to many, alongside the magical belief that those who benefit most can and will render society more equal by bestowing the occasional trinket.

Where only two paragraphs earlier she had written:
Like many Christmas films, It's a Wonderful Life centers around the personal development of an individual man, but at the end it's a caring and close-knit community that saves the day in Bedford Falls—not a lone, wealthy hero.

Those two statements don't align as George Bailey and the people of Bedford Falls weren't fighting for or accepting the value of "an occasional trinket", they were supporting a community based approach represented by George Bailey that helped provide affordable housing through mutual support of the from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs kind.

That's something sort of noted, in a round about way, in the second article with the mention of:
"These are stories to warm a child; but the FBI still considered it communist propaganda – 1946 was quite a paranoid year."
after some snark about the glories of boozing and prostitution, which its suggested in the movie Pottersville created due to the effects of unchecked capitalist greed. Seems the FBI better understood the movie than the writer did. Not that she took it very seriously since the piece is snark laden rather than insightful, but, hey, snark is more fun so why worry?

The Christmas Carol readings are also rather drab, in those two articles, with the ever present snark about "an adequate meal and a day off" or, even better, "the kind of paternalist who will not actively murder a child with poverty, and who buys a turkey for his friends once a year.", choosing to ignore the entirety of the fable in what it shows Scrooge and what would be required of him to effect meaningful change from the visions he was shown, to making it only about one turkey rather than that as an example of an ongoing change of perspective.

To be sure, A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life are works set in a capitalist world rather than either some non-existent paradise of equality or where the system is entirely overthrown through revolution and some new order set up. So if that's the bar, then there aren't going to be many movies that cross it. Maybe they should try some early Soviet films instead, there are some incredibly beautiful movies preaching the values of collectivization, I mean, sure, that message helped lead to the deaths of millions too, but at least it was anti-capitalist. (See? I can do meaningless snark too! What fun!)
posted by gusottertrout at 12:12 AM on December 28 [7 favorites]


On "A Christmas Carol", see this FTP for George Orwell's analysis of Dickens. Briefly: Dickens was good at seeing that something was wrong with society, terrible at imagining any alternative.

As for "movies that dare to say bad things about Capitalism cannot be made"... I dunno, have you ever seen any movies? If there's a corporation in a movie, it's almost guaranteed to be evil. Rich men get off a little better, but not much— even frigging James Bond is usually fighting a rich supervillain. The quintessential noir flick is about the corruption of the rich; the quintessential action flick is about a scrappy band of underdogs fighting their social betters. It may not be socialist agitprop, but if the execs are aiming at Randian pro-capitalism, they're failing.
posted by zompist at 8:06 AM on December 28 [2 favorites]


I’d love to read the Marxist take on ‘Christmas Vacation’ but that site is so aggressive with its pop-over ads that I gave up.
posted by amanda at 8:09 AM on December 28


I’d love to read the Marxist take on ‘Christmas Vacation’ but that site is so aggressive with its pop-over ads that I gave up.

#latecapitalism

I think it's a category error to ask whether Hollywood is pro- or anti-Capitalist. It's most comfortable with kitsch, which tends towards a politics of anti-politics.
posted by PMdixon at 9:07 AM on December 28


had intended to drop in in order to note that the Bailey Bros. Savings & Loan appears, from screen evidence, to have been a mutual-shares institution, something like a credit union, but under a private charter granted to the Baileys. But I see gus has the situation well in hand.

a beat the story sadly does not offer us might be Mr. Potter getting busted for what is pretty clearly an intentional theft, which, one supposes, might cost him his banker's license.

Also, it's not centered in the film, but the film implies that George's housing development is integrated, as there at least one person of color who gives money (beyond Lillian Randolph's Annie) at George's house in the final scene. And lastly, it appears as well that the money which has been raised is being accounted properly - well, sort of - as new share investment.

That's not to say I disagree with the thrust of the critiques of George's class position and privilege above. But simply describing the financial institution as a bank and George as a banker, which would be accurate for a proprietor of a Savings & Loan today, I think, misses some aspects of cultural and economic change over the past seventy years.
posted by mwhybark at 9:16 AM on December 28 [6 favorites]


I think it's a category error to ask whether Hollywood is pro- or anti-Capitalist. It's most comfortable with kitsch, which tends towards a politics of anti-politics.

Yeah, in recent years that's usually been the case, save perhaps for some few directors with enough clout to control content or for movies far enough removed from the mainstream to slip by with a stronger subtext. Hollywood likes their big budget movies to be largely unobjectionable to mass audiences or to carry contradictory meanings that allow the movie to be read in more than one way so each audience member can find something to hold on to as fitting their interests. They'll criticize corporations and governments in the same manner they praise heroism and action, as the result of values of the individual, bad or good, and allow audiences to draw that out further if they so desire, but full throated systemic critique of capitalism is far less evident, to say the least.

In the thirties, and a bit in the forties outside the war effort, there was more variance from that with some films pretty strongly aligning with Roosevelt's New Deal politics and more than a handful pushing something even a bit stronger. Those who said Hollywood was making socialist films weren't wrong exactly, there were some doing that on their surface in all but the labeling, and/or criticizing capitalism in harsh terms and even more with those ideals as a strong subtext, but obviously the pressure put on Hollywood by HUAC and the blacklist changed that dynamic for the largest part.

Which isn't to say Hollywood even then still wasn't eager to seek an inoffensive middle ground for most of their films, inoffensive that is to mainstream white audiences, merely the different standards of those years allowed other works to slip through as well with even some of the studio heads being more interested in social messaging, though not so much the socialism.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:26 AM on December 28 [3 favorites]


Die Hard could be interpreted as anticapitalist, if you see the robbers as representatives of capitalism; the parallel is explicitly made in the film, with their robbery described as a hostile takeover.

The hero is an agent of the state, empowered to do violence on its behalf, who takes time out of his vacation, volunteers to work off the clock and at great personal risk to defend the property of the wealthy and enforce the status quo.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:33 PM on December 28 [4 favorites]


Good art supports more than one interpretation.
posted by maxsparber at 11:23 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


« Older The Scene is on Soundcloud Now   |   The winding road to fully automated cars passes... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.