Nostalgia has always been a mechanism by which people selectively remember history. Nostalgia is a form of currency. Nostalgia is the only reason Dane Cook ever existed. Remember Dane Cook? Remembering Dane Cook is a form of nostalgia.
No other holiday traffics in nostalgia quite like Christmas. And no Christmas nostalgia is complete without being forced to watch “A Christmas Story” every year.
A Christmas Story is the tale of a kid who wants a BB Gun. There really isn’t much more to it. It is nostalgia that plays into racist tropes, lazy story writing, and terrible acting that should make every sane person want to take sand paper to their corneas. The movie works in the same way that the 1-877-Cars for Kids commercials work. They force feed the product into the crevices of your brain until you have a form of Stockholm Syndrome. But instead of being kidnapped, you are being forced to watch a movie, undoubtedly on TNT, as part of their 24 hours consecutive playing of the movie.
You don’t even watch it in a linear manner, most of the time. You start watching it when Ralphie is meeting Santa. Then you walk away to do something less mind numbing. When you come back, ope, there is dad with the leg lamp. By skullduggery of both your own mind and the television programmers at Turner Broadcasting, you end up watching the entire movie over the course of seven hours. You almost feel like you have to watch it. You are probably at some sort of Christmas gathering, and if the house isn’t lived in by people who enjoy the always wonderful Christmas docket of NBA games, and inevitably it’s on.
The movie is watched because it’s nostalgic to watch it. The movie itself is about nostalgia. It’s a movie from 1983 that is set in the 1940’s. It’s a nostalgia snake eating itself. The question at this point is, who is the movie even for?
The movie is set in the 1940’s. Ostensibly, the children would be born in the 1930’s. The parents would have been born in 1900? The 1890’s? This definitely isn’t for the parents. They dead. In fact, you know what has happened since the movie parents were born? The beginning of both the 20th and 21st century. For those of you not picking up on what i’m saying, the parents would be one hundred and goddamn thirty years old.
At this point, Ralphie would be 85-90 years old. My grandmother is 89 years old. You know what she has never uttered? “We should watch Christmas Story.” That’s because my grandmother spent her adult life having better things to do than watch terrible movies. My grandma doesn’t have time for throwback movies. She just watches the Hallmark channel all day, and every movie on that channel is just the oldest daughter from Full House running into a high school flame who just moved back to town and his car broke down at the local holiday bake sale.
So who is the movie for? I would assume people who have very low standards for entertainment. That, and people who watched it when they were young and are nostalgic for that feeling. Which…okay? Now i’m as much of a traditionalist pearl clutcher as the next scared middle class white guy with several screws loose. One of the things i’ve become better at as i’ve gotten older is letting go of things from the past that don’t serve me a purpose, anymore. This movie was easy to jettison because it was never something I particularly enjoyed when it came on once a year, before TNT decided it was a good idea to shove 24 hours of it into a T shirt cannon, and shoot it directly at us like an overzealous sports mascot.
It’s time that we, as a society, let this trash barge of a movie get set off to sea. And wouldn’t you know it, I have a replacement movie for your viewing pleasure.
You would be forgiven if you haven’t heard of 8 Bit Christmas. It was just released exclusively on HBO Max. It stars Neil Patrick Harris and probably one or two of the kids from Stranger Things. I didn’t bother to check. Oh, and Steve Zahn is in it!
Yes, the movie is a nostalgia play, but hear me out: It’s a nostalgia movie for people that aren’t referred to as “Octogenarians.” The movie is set in 1988, and follows a similar beat as Christmas Story. Only instead of a BB Gun, which, again, the 19 goddamn 40’s, the protagonist and his friends are chasing after a Nintendo. You know, video games. The thing everyone under the age of 50 understands.
The movie is a funny, easy watch. It’s also got a tear jerking ending that I won’t give away. It also doesn’t feel instantly dated. It includes pop culture references that people who weren’t alive when the Titanic sunk can understand. You don’t have to know what Ovaltine is to enjoy the movie. It would help if you understand the backstory of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken, though.
Most importantly, it is a movie that shows how important family and friends are and their value on a holiday like this without doing it so hamfistedly that you want to throw your television out a window. 8 Bit Christmas hits all of these moments and does them well. It captures the feeling of being young and how the things that are important to us change as we get older. It’s the same thing that Christmas Story tries to do. Poorly.
Maybe it’s just the passing of time, but at some point we have to come together on the realization that we can do better than Christmas Story. Maybe 8 Bit Christmas can fill that void. Maybe it can’t. Nostalgia is strong in that it tends to glaze over the worse parts. Nobody seems to remember that Christmas Story is a tedious slog because they remember “you are gonna shoot your eye out” and whatnot.
Christmas Story succeeds because people don’t watch it for the sake of enjoyment for 24 hours. It succeeds because it becomes the background music of our holidays. It’s the ornaments on a christmas tree. It’s a lit fireplace. It’s just background. It succeeds in the same way artwork in a hotel works. Because it’s expected to be there. It doesn’t have to be good. But it has to be there.
We should do ourselves a favor and find a new Christmas movie more in line with the times we are living in. Give 8 Bit Christmas a try. Or don’t. Just leave Christmas Story in the past, where it belongs.