Christmas is a time when the entire world cannot escape Christian values of some sort. Many–including non-believers–are concerned at the declining values a culture saturated by commercialism seems to indicate. Some of us even find ourselves caught up in it. We go to the store, fully intending to buy a Christmas gift for someone else, and end up buying something for ourselves. We WANT our new toy. This very child-like focus is what A Christmas Story symbolizes to many. A father who loves his leg lamp. A child who wants a Red Ryder BB Gun. A mother in tears over a turkey dinner gone wrong… Many people think a misled commercialism is what this movie is about, but there is a not so subtle message in this movie that more closely emulates an American value that has been true for two centuries..
Throughout the entire movie, Ralphie and his friends get pummeled, chased and terrorized by the horrid, red-headed stepchild known as Scut Farkus. It’s a constant as regular as the desire for the BB gun and it continues until Ralphie has an exceptionally bad day in trying to convince everyone that the Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock is a really great idea. That day of torment is the last straw for Raphie. He decides to fight back and THAT is the moment when he exemplifies the value that has been an American truism for so long: You only have to beat a bully once for him to question the wisdom of trying to bully you again.
Maybe you think this isn’t the point of the movie. Maybe you think that ‘fighting bullies’ isn’t an American value at all. If so, let me point out (even if you disagree) the numerous times that American politicians have, in modern history, used this value to justify their actions with regards to military force. There was World War II, which became as much a PR battle to ‘save our allies’ as it did to save the Jews in Europe, as well as the reason we battled against the bullies in the Pacific. There was Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, and Bosnia, to mention a few. While a few may have begun with the impetus of fighting communism, it was clear that we were always on the side of the underdog fighting a bigger, more powerful enemy–a bully.
We know that it’s important to stand up to bullies. A Christmas Story isn’t the only movie that exemplifies this, our media is chock full of movies where we find ourselves rooting for the underdog: Die Hard, Rocky, Star Wars: A New Hope, 300, Lord of the Rings, Rudy, Armageddon, The Mighty Ducks, The Bad News Bears, Sea Biscuit, every Will Smith movie known to man–this list can literally go on and on like the ending of the Titanic (wherein the underdog poor guy still has the heart of the richest lady to survive the wreck 6 decades later). We love this type of movie because we are Americans and something about the underdog being able to get the upper-hand on a bigger, richer, connected, more powerful enemy, is at the core of who we are and what we’ve become. We are that off duty cop that jumps into an impossible situation to save lives. We are the leader of a doomed team that knows they can’t beat the enemy but is still determined to stand up to them. We are the lame, reject with the 1 in 1,000,000 odds that pulls through with pure determination and force of will.
It’s not about the BB gun. It’s not about the leg lamp. It’s not about the Bumpuss’s dogs or duck for Christmas dinner. It’s about kicking the ass of that bully that has tormented you for longer than he should have.