By Kitty Testa
It’s time once again to curl up on the couch and binge-watch Christmas movies. There’s nothing like getting out the Snuggie (the blanket—with sleeves!) and staring at 54 inches of HDTV with my peripheral vision bathed in the color phasing LED lights on my artificial Christmas tree. In the background is the crackle of the fire as I sip warm glogg spiked with brandy and toke on my e-cig. Memories are exhumed and the Christmas spirit swells within me to the point where if it weren’t so damn cold outside I’d seek out every Salvation Army kettle in town and drop a dollar in it.
From a cultural perspective, Christmas serves as a once-a-year reminder to be kind, to be generous, to be thankful, and to have faith, if not in God, then Santa Claus at least. It’s the time of year when we take notice of how much we love our families, and how much we miss those who are no longer with us. Christmas movies are filled with these warm and tender notions, and they help to facilitate this annual exercise in re-focusing ourselves on the merriment of love.
But the Christmas classics are haunted by the values of Christmas past, and although the classics do not change, each year they appear less and less politically correct. It’s funny how often I say to myself (or whoever may or may not be in the room), “You could never get away with putting that in a movie these days!”
So which are the worst offenders?
1. The Bishop’s Wife
In this mid-twentieth century classic, David Niven plays Henry Brougham, an Episcopal bishop who is having trouble raising funds for a new cathedral. Henry prays for guidance, and is visited by an angel named Dudley, played by Carey Grant. This angel of God doesn’t help Henry build his cathedral, but instead charms Henry’s parishioners and diverts the funds needed for the cathedral to helping the poor. Dudley also falls in love with Henry’s wife, Julia, but she tenderly rebuffs the angel in favor of her marriage to the bishop.
So what’s wrong here? Almost everything. First of all, how could an angel possibly be a white cis gender male? That is, if God were real and could send angels to frolic among us. As for diverting money to help the poor, that would undermine the social programs designed to address such problems.
The PC version: Henry Brougham, a bishop who is trying to raise funds for a new cathedral, is visited by an atheist university professor, Dudley Doolittle, who ultimately convinces Henry that God is not real. Henry, in turn, steals the church’s money and donates it to MoveOn.org. In the end, Dudley runs off with Julia, and Henry signs up for unemployment benefits.
2. Home Alone
In case you’ve missed this 1990 classic, 8-year-old Kevin McCallister is mistakenly left behind when his family travels to Paris to celebrate Christmas, but only after he wishes his family would disappear. Kevin, having been triggered by teasing from his older brother and a dressing down from his parents, had been exiled to the attic bedroom where he made the fateful wish.
Initially Kevin is overjoyed that his family has disappeared, but then faces a pair of properly white, male, stupid burglars who probably voted for Trump trying to break into homes in his affluent neighborhood. Kevin goes to war with the robbers, booby-trapping his house and creating all manner of violent merriment for the holidays.
Meanwhile, his parents have realized their mistake, and his mother is desperately trying to get back to him while his father calls the police to check on Kevin and make sure that he’s safe.
On a walk home from the grocery store, Kevin hears a choir singing in a church and begins to miss his family. By Christmas morning the family is reunited, and they all lived happily ever after.
Not to trigger all of those who are wishing the results of this past election would disappear, but this movie is not PC. First of all, who do these rich people think they are going to France for Christmas? If they can go to France for Christmas, they’re clearly not paying their fair share of taxes. It’s not like they’re celebrities (their characters anyway). And why all this church stuff in Christmas moves? Ugh!
And leaving your child home alone isn’t just some goofy mistake; this is child endangerment.
PC version: Kevin McCallister’s parents, on the run from the IRS, attempt to move their family out of the country. In their haste, they forget their youngest child. The mother has a dilemma: Does she return to the US and risk arrest or stay in France? She ultimately chooses the former, and goes undercover with a polka band trying to find her son. Kevin, meanwhile, has been picked up by the police, turned over to DCFS, and placed in foster care. The police use the abandoned McCallister home as a sting operation to capture a pair of burglars who are suspected of breaking into the homes of both a judge and state senator. Mrs. McCallister is ultimately caught and charged with tax evasion and child endangerment. Kevin refuses to see his mother because the state has taken such good care of him.
3. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Perhaps one of the most popular Christmas classics, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and its accompanying soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi, have come to be fixtures of the Christmas season. Little Charlie Brown is depressed at Christmastime, even though he feels he should be merry. The children around him are excited as the holiday approaches, but he learns that their excitement is crass materialism. His friend, Linus, helps him understand the meaning of Christmas by reciting from Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke, the annunciation to the shepherds that Jesus has been born. Charlie Brown, the perpetual underdog, suddenly finds solace in his misfortune.
What? You’ve got to be kidding me. Kids that can recite from the Bible? Is that even legal?
PC version: Charlie Brown is depressed during the holidays, and his good friend, Lucy, informs him that Christmas is run by a Wall Street syndicate preying on the hopes and dreams of working class children. The syndicate’s only goal is to make parents feel guilty for not being able to buy expensive presents for their kids. The Peanuts gang organizes and occupies the local Wal-Mart, demanding Lego sets for all of the children in the town. They are triumphant, and join together to sing “We Shall Overcome” in the grand finale.
4. One Magic Christmas
This 1980’s film deals with a struggling family at Christmastime. The father, Jack, has lost his job, and as the company owns the house they rent, they are being evicted. The mother, Ginny, is working at the local grocery store to keep the family afloat. Jack is still optimistic and hopeful and full of the Christmas spirit, spending his days building bicycles for the poor neighborhood children, while Ginny refuses to say “Merry Christmas” to anyone. This leaves her little daughter, Abbie, to worry about her mother.
Abbie is visited by an angel, Gideon, played by Harry Dean Stanton. Gideon promises to help Abbie “fix what’s wrong” with her mother, and tells her not to be afraid no matter what happens.
Soon thereafter, Jack, who, in defiance of his wife has gone to the bank to get money to buy Christmas presents, is killed while trying to stop a bank robber. Abbie and her brother Cal are waiting for their father in a double-parked running car, which the bank robber steals with them in it.
During a police chase, the car careens off a bridge and Ginny is left believing that she has lost her entire family. Miraculously, Abbie and Cal survive the accident and are returned home. Gideon visits Abbie in her bedroom, and they take a trip to the North Pole to get a letter from Santa that Ginny wrote when she was a little girl. When Ginny sees the letter she wrote as a child, her heart is filled with Christmas spirit, and the entire nightmare has suddenly never happened. The family is all alive and well and Ginny even lets Jack use their savings to open a bike shop.
There are so many things wrong here I can’t even count them. Again, a white, male angel. And he visits little girls in their bedrooms? Were these producers even aware of our horrendous rape culture? And leaving kids in a running car? These parents should be locked up!
PC version: A working class mother, Ginny, is struggling to get by, and refuses to say “Merry Christmas” to anyone during the holiday season. Her daughter, Abbie, is worried that Santa Claus won’t bring any presents if her mother doesn’t say “Merry Christmas.” Abbie is visited by the spirit of her late father, Jack, who was killed in prison after he was convicted of giving shoddy bikes to poor kids. Jack tells Abbie that no good deed goes unpunished, and that Christmas is a crock. When Abbie tells her mother what has happened, Ginny and Abbie picket the town Christmas tree as a violation of the separation of church and state. Gideon, a representative of a local charity, approaches Ginny saying they provide Christmas presents to needy kids, but with Abbie’s approval, Ginny refuses. Abbie tells her mother, “He was probably a rapist anyway.”
5. A Christmas Story
We’re all familiar with Ralphie Parker’s quest for a Red Rider BB-gun. We need go no further, as the main plot is insidious. Toy guns make children want BB-guns. BB-guns are the gateway to actual firearms. Firearms are the gateway to mass shootings. If only there were never toy guns there would never be another murder. Ever.
The subplots are insidious as well. The infamous leg lamp is an homage to rape culture. The greedy, oil-burning furnace is a danger to the environment. Washing a child’s mouth out with soap is pure child abuse.
PC remake: Ralphie Parker’s insensitive father gets him a Red Ryder BB-gun for Christmas just because it was what he had wanted as a boy. Ralphie and his friends meet on the playground to hatch a plot to undermine their parents’ values. Using encoded messages they execute the first phase of their plot, anonymously stealing everyday items, like glue, from around the house to make their parents think they’ve lost their minds. This turns out to be difficult because their hardy parents just keep pressing onward in the face of adversity. Frustrated, Ralphie goes ballistic and shoots up his father’s cherished leg lamp with the Red Ryder. The bbs ricochet off the walls and hit Ralphie in the eyes, whereupon he goes blind. His father, realizing the error of his ways, becomes a gun control activist.
6. It’s a Wonderful Life
In this classic, Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a selfless man trying to improve the lives of less fortunate people of Bedford Falls, often at his own expense. George is victimized by a greedy capitalist, Mr. Potter. So far so good, right?
The story shows George and Harry growing up in a white middle class home with a black maid who is sexually harassed by Harry, a gin-drinking teenager who wants to use his mother’s good china for a graduation party.
George’s father dies, and he is left to run the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. He gives his college money to Harry, who graduates college and comes back with a wife and good job prospects. George, once again, thinks of others before himself. He puts his dreams aside to raise a family. Harry goes off to war and returns a war hero, having saved a transport of men during a battle.
Just as Harry is making his triumphant return to Bedford Falls, a terrible incident occurs. Due to George’s dimwitted, prideful uncle, Mr. Potter has gotten his hands on $8,000 that was supposed to be deposited into the bank account of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. And the bank is examiner is coming on Christmas Eve! Potter wants George thrown in jail for embezzlement and fraud.
George is triggered and ends up on a bridge ready to commit suicide.
Sorry, but when the people of the town start to pray for George Bailey this story goes awry. He is visited by Clarence, an angel—again a WHITE MALE ANGEL—who grants him a wish. George thinks the world would be better had ne never been born, so he wishes he had never been born.
The ramifications of his having never been born are that his brother died as a child, all of the men that his brother saved in WWII also died, his poor aging mother is an angry inn-keeper, his wife is a spinster librarian (horrors!), his children don’t exist, and Bedford Falls is now the wild and exciting town of Pottersville.
George is horrified at these events, and proclaims that he wants to live. Bedford Falls returns and the people of the town voluntarily collect all the money they can to keep George out of jail.
PC version: When a greedy capitalist, Mr. Potter, plots to get George Bailey, the local Building and Loan owner, thrown in jail, the townspeople riot. They break every window down town, even the windows of their own businesses. Shouting “No justice, no peace!” they descend upon the capitalist’s mansion, drag him through the streets and execute him in the town square. In memory of the event, they change the name of the town to Pottersville because Bedford Falls was insufferably bourgeois.
7. The Homecoming: A Christmas Story
This tribute to hard-working, Christian values-laden rural Americans was the pilot of the 1970s hit television series, The Waltons. The Great Depression has fallen over an already economically challenged family in rural Virginia and severe snowstorm has fallen over Walton’s mountain just in time for Christmas. John and Olivia Walton have seven children, and when John doesn’t show up on Christmas Eve, Mama sends John-Boy, the eldest son, out into the storm to look for his father.
The plot is really just an excuse to impart a whole bunch of antiquated moral ideas about faith and family and all that other gooey stuff that people used to believe in.
PC version: At Christmas 1933, Olivia Walton discovers that she is going to have another child. Embittered by the news, she tells John she will absolutely not have another child. John wants her to keep the baby, and in anger she heads out into a furious snowstorm. John thinks she’s lost and heads out to look for her, but she’s really off drinking Papa’s secret recipe with the elderly, well-to-do Baldwin sisters. On her way back home, she runs into John, who has been so worried that he’d have to raise that brood of kids all by his lonesome, that he agrees that she should have an abortion. Mama and Daddy make it back home in time to put up the Christmas tree, and the family celebrates because they won’t have to thin the porridge any more than they already have.
8. Scrooge (or any other version of A Christmas Carol)
Here the hard-hearted, money-grubbing miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is taught lessons in humanity via supernatural means. After seeing his formerly lonely childhood and hopeful young adulthood, his heart begins to soften. He realizes that he lost his woman because his true love was money. He learns of the trials of his impoverished clerk and his large family. He then learns of his own lonely death should he not change his ways.
What could possibly be wrong with the story of a greedy capitalist who learns through the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future that he loves his fellow man and will live a life of philanthropy?
The real trouble here is that it suggests that an individual can actually—through his own philanthropy—make others’ lives better. The story’s author, Charles Dickens, demonstrates very early on in the story that government’s attempts to care for the poor are dehumanizing.
PC version: After learning of the plight of the poor in 19th century London through the revelations of ghosts, Ebenezer Scrooge uses his fortune to run for Parliament, proposes huge tax increases and promises a workhouse on every corner and a Christmas goose on every table.
9. Miracle on 34th Street
In this famous story, the real Santa Claus accidentally finds himself working as the department store Santa for Macy’s. But his employer, Doris Walker, and her daughter, Susan, do not believe in Santa Claus. Susan likes to hang around with the neighbor, a grown up man named Fred Gailey, who’s got an eye for Mrs. Walker. He, too, would like to soften the lady’s icy exterior.
As people marvel at the jolly Kris Kringle, they become convinced that he is the real Santa Claus. This infuriates Macy’s resident corporate psychologist, who ultimately gets the merry old man thrown into a mental hospital. But he is saved by faith, as at his sanity hearing, the U.S. Postal Service delivers thousands of envelops addressed to Santa Claus to the court house.
You would think this story of a self-identifying Kris Kringle would be innocent enough, but it really is offensive. Having a Santa Claus in a department store is an assault on people who don’t celebrate Christmas, and they should not be made to feel so uncomfortable at the sight of such an obviously Christian symbol, even if it is a secular symbol that infuriates many Christians who feel that a religious holiday is being exploited for profit.
PC version: Fred Gailey is a young lawyer who still believes in Santa Claus and is prone to fall in love. Through the charming nihilism of his six-year-old neighbor and her level headed mother, Fred learns the true meaning of being a lawyer and launches a class action suit against a major department store for defrauding children by claiming that an old man is, in fact, Santa Claus. He wins the case and makes a fortune.
10. White Christmas
This feel good road trip musical stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are a famous song and dance team that hooks up with female singing duo who are in a bit of financial trouble. The two couples sing and dance their way all the way to the Pine Tree Inn in Vermont, owned by the boys’ former military commander, Tom Waverly.
When the men discover that their former commanding general is in a bit of financial trouble, mostly because there hasn’t been enough snow for skiing, they decide to use their fame to get the former members of their military division to come up to Pine Tree Inn. A few romantic twists later, the 151st division arrives on Christmas Eve and the entertainers put on a spectacle to honor the general.
And then it snows. (Joy!)
So what’s wrong with that?
Look at the title, for starters. White Christmas is clearly a racist message, otherwise it would be called Snowy Christmas or Frosty Holiday.
And honoring a military general? Who does that?
Also, the campy cross-dressing routine is clearly transphobic.
PC version: Wallace and Davis, a famous song and dance team, hook up with Betty and Judy, a struggling song duo who just aren’t hitting it big. They take off to Pine Tree Vermont to perform in a holiday musical, only to discover that the place is empty because there’s no snow. When they meet the owner, the men find out that it’s Tom Waverly, their former military commander—but now he goes by the name of Tammy. Tammy denies that he knows the men, but they want to make her feel comfortable. So they get the entire former 151st division to come to the Pine Tree Inn for her coming out party. The former commander is nervous, but in the face of the love of the troops, she appears on stage to great applause. The president of the United States shows up and gives her the Metal of Freedom.
And then it snows. (Joy!)