Friday, December 11, 2015

Lost Christmas

Year 7, Day 345 - 12/11/15 - Movie #2,198

BEFORE: Tonight, get ready for part 2 of my rant about unacceptable human behavior - the holiday edition.  Liberals vs. conservatives, polarized opinions about Muslims and refugees, and furor over mixed-race Santa Clauses - how did everything get so messed up?  How does a country that espouses religious freedom and the separation of church and state also regularly offer community battles over the placement of manger scenes and menorahs?  I want to talk about the so-called " War on Christmas", or what I think should more accurately be described as the "War OVER Christmas".  How did a season that is supposed to be all about peace, love and understanding turn into such a battlefield?  

Perhaps I should back up a bit.  I spent over 15 years analyzing broadcast commercials, and I think you can learn a lot about society through its advertising.  We've had a doozy of a year regarding controversies, and the ad market was no exception.  Christmastime rolled around and immediately people started fighting over the "proper" way to celebrate the holidays.  Things kicked off around Black Friday, a time when some people - those who aren't still sleeping off the Thanksgiving meal - head out to malls at some ungodly hour like 2 am on a Friday, or worse, 10 pm on Thanksgiving itself - for doorbuster deals.  This is another great question - how did we turn the day after a holiday about giving thanks for all of our blessings to being a day for trampling each other in order to save a few bucks?  One notable store chain decided not to open on Black Friday, because they believed that their employees and managers also deserved a day to spend with their families, and that their everyday prices were so low, there was no need for a Black Friday sale.  Great idea, I support this decision.

However, they couldn't just DO that - they had to create a commercial that would not only inform the public of their intent to remain closed, it would get all self-righteous about it, with images that showed families of all races celebrating Turkey Day, and a voiceover that said things like, "What if the holidays were about L-O-V-E, and not S-A-L-E?"  Again, it seems like the intention is mostly good, but apparently there was no way for them to point out what they were doing right, without also pointing out what the other stores were doing "wrong".  And here we start to see the genesis of the problem - we all just can't resist pointing out each other's faults, "I'm better than you are", nana nana poo poo, stick your head in doo doo.  

And then once I started to notice this, I realized it's everywhere these days - the often unspoken "I'm better than you" at the end of every conversation, every difference of opinion.  It's there in every hot-button topic from the past few years, and even if people aren't saying it, believe me, they're wishing they could say it.  Examples:

"I believe in gay marriage (and you don't, therefore I'm better than you.)"  
"I vaccinate my kids (and you don't, therefore I'm better than you.)"  
"I think universal healthcare is a form of socialism (and you don't, therefore I'm better than you.)"

I can name about 100 more examples - and the reverse opinions all intend to say it too, so please don't think I have a liberal bias, even if I do.  There doesn't seem to be any issue that can't be politicized and polarized, and as a result, it seems like there's nothing folks can believe in without being vilified.  It also feels like nearly everyone these days is opinionated, hypsersensitive, and has way too much time on their hands, which creates a sort of tinderbox for political and social argument.   Then the blamestream media comes along and throws a match on the dry grass, turning a flame-war into a raging forest fire. But let me get back to Christmas, and a few more controversies.  

One chain store came under fire for selling a holiday sweater that read, "I have O.C.D. - Obsessive Christmas Disorder."  Now, I love novelty t-shirts, and by extension, novelty sweaters I suppose - here the store was just trying to interject a bit of whimsy into the holiday, but someone said, "No, you can't make fun of the mentally handicapped!"  Umm, why not?  It's OCD!  Those people (myself included) are hilarious!  The way we need to constantly organize things, or agonize over decisions that need to be made according to a set of completely arbitrary criteria!  Go ahead, make fun, I'll be over here taking down notes about it.  

Then there was a Bloomingdale's catalog ad which depicted a man smiling at a woman, with the woman looking away, and copy that read, "Spike your best friend's eggnog when they're not looking."  Some people felt that the ad promoted getting a woman drunk to seduce her - but how do we know that the man was going to spike the woman's drink?  Maybe she was going to spike HIS drink, as soon as he turned the other way.  But here, I suppose I see how people could think it was all just a bit too date-rapey.  (But then why do we still allow "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to play on the radio?)

And of course, we have the grandest ad controversy of the season, the Starbucks cups kerfuffle.  To be fair to the famous coffee chain, I'm willing to accept the possibility that there were meetings and focus groups about the "best" way to celebrate the holiday - and that's not an easy task.  How does a company show its appreciation for Christmas without offending its customers of other denominations?  That's a tricky line to walk, and they hit on what they thought was an elegant answer - make the cups solid red for the season.  No snowflakes, no pine trees, no people in sweaters ice skating - just red.  And if things went well, some people would come into the stores and think, "What a nice, Christmas-y red cup!" and other non-Gentile people would think, "Hey, it's a red cup!" or perhaps nothing at all. 

(It's kind of like how a bunch of recording artists came together in the 1980's to record "Do They Know It's Christmas?" for charity - and their hearts were in the right place, God bless 'em.  But they forgot to mention that those starving people in Africa don't usually celebrate Christmas, because most of them are not Christians, and they're kind of busy starving, so they've got more important concerns.  So no, they don't really know that it's Christmas, and we shouldn't take the opportunity to proselytize.  Can't we just, you know, help them?)

And it would have been a perfect solution, if one douchebag (not hating, just stating...) hadn't made a video about it - allegedly joking, he now says - about how Starbucks had "removed" all the Christmas imagery from their cups, (even though it wasn't there in the first place), and there's no mention of Santa OR Jesus on the cups (umm, there never was...) and how he tells the barista that his name is "Merry Christmas" just to FORCE some holiday cheer on to the cups, and maybe we should all boycott Starbucks until they learn to celebrate Christmas the RIGHT way.  Soon it was all over the news, and it led to Trump on TV saying, "Hey, maybe we should boycott Starbucks" and "When I'm president, we'll all be saying "Merry Christmas" to each other again."  (Really, Donald, how would you enforce that?)

And there it is - collectively, we found a way to turn the season of peace and love into "I celebrate Christmas this way, and you don't, therefore I'm better than you."  Shame on that guy, and shame on us for allowing it to happen.  Because there should be no RIGHT way to celebrate Christmas, since that implies the flip-side, that there is a wrong way.  Some people go to church, some don't.  Some people believe in Santa Claus, some don't.  Some people buy a real tree, some people have a plastic tree or no tree at all.  Some people hang lights outdoors, some people don't.  Some people go to the movies and eat Chinese food on Christmas, and who exactly are they hurting?  The holiday can take it.  My wife and I go to a casino buffet and play the slots on Christmas Eve, and if that's wrong, then I don't want to be right. 

Maybe the internet age is partially to blame.  If you read the comments on any online video, it's not long before things get nasty.  "Hey, I like this Katy Perry song," is often followed by "If u like Katy Perry, then u r an idiot!" and then, "What do u meen, I love her, mebbe u should get ur head out of ur ass!"  We're now putting each other down for the simple crime of having an opinion, and trying to express it.  Last I checked, thinking and having an open exchange of ideas was a good thing, now it just seems to ignite flame-war after flame-war.  Maybe I'm wrong, maybe "I'm better than you" has been around forever, back to the primitive days of "I have fire, and you don't, therefore I'm better than you."  But Kris Kringle on a cracker, where does it end?  

Here's what I propose: For the time being, all internet comments, political statements, opinions on social issues, and the like, need to end with these four words - "And that's OK too".  Because I think that's how we fight back against "I'm better than you."  And if those words don't seem to fit, then you have to rewrite what you're saying so that they fit.  Try it - pick something you feel strongly about, any issue, and state your case, ending your argument with "And that's OK too."  It may not be easy, simply because we've all lived in a polarized world for so long, with the news and pundits telling us that every issue is either black or white, when in fact most things are some shade of grey in-between.  Abortion, gun control, global warming, immigration, whatever - as long as your opinion is 100% right and the opposing view is 100% wrong, we are never going to accomplish anything as a country or as a species, we're going to keep tearing each other apart if we can't work together.  

So I can't wrap it, and I hope you like it, but my gift to everyone this year is "And that's OK too".  Try it on, play with it, and see if it starts to spread a little more acceptance and cheer.  I won't force you to use it, because that would be against the point, but I'm keeping the receipt, so you can't return it.  If it doesn't fit, I suggest you try and make it fit.  Or not, but I'm hoping you can use it.  Use the heck out of it, until you don't need to use it anymore, until it's replaced the unspoken "I'm better than you" at the end of your opinion.  Because, really, no one is better than anyone else.  Someone can be richer, more powerful, have more followers in social media, but not better.   OK, rant over (for now) and I'll be getting down from off of my high horse now.

Linking from "The Family Stone", Luke Wilson was also in "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" with Eddie Izzard (last seen in "Velvet Goldmine").  

THE PLOT:  One Christmas Eve Goose meets Anthony, an enigmatic stranger with apparent psychic powers, able to tell by touching them what people have lost.

AFTER: I really liked this movie, more than will probably be reflected in a numerical rating, and I think it's got a great chance of growing on me.  If you watch only one new Christmas-themed movie this year, I recommend giving "Lost Christmas" a try.  And please, please, stick with it, because it starts out very depressing, very British (which almost seems redundant) but there is a pay-off.  And it wouldn't be the first dark Christmas story to catch on, because if you pick apart fims like "It's a Wonderful Life" (Depression, war, suicide, bankruptcy) and "A Christmas Carol" (regret, the plight of the working class, a crippled boy, general holiday grouchiness) you might wonder how they got made in the first place.  But sometimes we need the darkness to better appreciate the light. 

Actually, I'm bringing up those two films for a very specific reason, which I'm hesitant to even discuss for fear of spoiling the plotline of "Lost Christmas".  Look, just find this one on cable, or add it to your Netflix queue, and then we can talk about it, OK?  I don't ask you to do this often, but please, work with me, here. 

The best thing about the movie is Eddie Izzard - and isn't he always the best part about whatever he's in?  (Although they didn't let him wear a dress here, which seems like a damn shame.)  He plays a mysterious drifter who also seems to be part medium and part magician, although he can't remember his own name or many details outside of meaningless trivial facts.  But by shaking hands with someone, he can see images of whatever it is that person has lost - and it could be an object, or a loved one, or just their direction.  And even though it seems like he has no direction himself, he encounters a boy who's lost his dog and a man who's lost his family, and together they set out to make things right, based on these flashes of psychic insight. 

I will say only that Izzard's character is not an angel, nor is he Santa Claus, nor is he the Ghost of Christmas Past.  So, then, what IS he?   Ah, ah, ah.  All will be revealed - and if for some reason you find the answer to be a bit too science-fiction-y, a bit too wibbly wobbly timey-wimey, then you're probably the type of person who wonders why there is a "Dr. Who" Christmas special.  

And if you don't like sci-fi in your Christmas movie, that's too bad.  May I remind you that Santa Claus would need to travel near the speed of light in order to visit every good little boy and girl's house on Christmas Eve to deliver presents?  And he lives in an impossibly cold workshop location at the North Pole?  And reindeer don't fly, and elves don't build toys?  And that stars don't move through the sky and then suddenly STOP right over where a baby got born in a manger?  There's already plenty of sci-fi in the Christmas stories, deal with it.  

Let's also go back to those other classic stories for just a second - "A Christmas Carol" is very nearly the first story ever to feature time travel, predating the 1895 story "The Time Machine".  Now, the ghosts only showed Ebenezer Scrooge "shadows" of the past and the future, but the end result is the same.  Scrooge was able to see his past and his future, for the benefit of making a better Christmas in the present - and isn't that what time travel is for?  And in "It's a Wonderful Life", George Bailey got to see what his town would have been like if he had never been born.  People died in World War II because his brother didn't save them, because George wasn't there to save his brother when he fell through the ice.  And there were dozens of other characters who benefitted from the work of George Bailey - in the end, there's not much difference between "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Butterfly Effect".  

(Alternately, "It's a Wonderful Life" is just the flip-side of the Baby Hitler conundrum.  If you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby, you couldn't really benefit from changing the timeline, because you'd come back to the present and say, "Hey, everyone, I did it!  I killed Hitler before he could become a problem!" and people who say, "Who the heck is Hitler?"  Since he didn't do anything bad yet, he wouldn't be on anyone's radar, and your heroics would go unnoticed.  But I digress.) 

The other thing this film reminds me of is the NBC TV show "My Name Is Earl".  The main character there had lost a winning lottery ticket, and when he learned about karma, he felt that if he could make a list of all of his past mistakes, atone for them and become a better person, then the universe would find a way to make it up to him.  The storyline of "Lost Christmas" works on the same principle, since every character has lost something or someone, they're all holding on to the belief that if they can retrace their steps, find what was lost, apologize for their mistakes, then something good, or at least better, will come of it.  And it's hard to argue with that philosophy, especially at Christmas time.  And even if it's not entirely true, it's a nice belief system to have.

There, I've managed to tell you everything you need to know, and also I've told you nothing at all.  The film is a puzzle in its own way, and it doesn't get deep into religious B.S., except maybe a little Hinduism.  And maybe you'll gain an appreciation for what you have, because things could always be so much worse - and that feels very British, too.  It probably deserves to be a "7", but I'm taking off a point for the horrible acting job of the central young boy.  Ugh, save me from kids that mumble all of their lines.  But I'd still like to see this movie become a Christmas classic in years to come. 

Also starring Larry Mills, Jason Flemyng (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), Geoffrey Palmer (last seen in "Tomorrow Never Dies"), Sorcha Cusack (last seen in "Snatch"), Christine Bottomley (last seen in "Venus"), Steven Mackintosh (last seen in "Kick-Ass 2"), Connie Hyde, Brett Fancy.

RATING: 6 out of 10 family photos

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