Thursday, December 26, 2013

"A Christmas Story": Ralphie vs. The Nanny State

What you see above is a representation of America: a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed mid-Western boy dressed as a cowboy holding a shotgun.

You might recognize him from America's 2nd favorite ignored-and-forgotten-then-resurrected-as-necessary-yearly-viewing Christmas classic, A Christmas Story.

But underneath its simple, heart-felt, charming mid-Western veneer lies a scathing social commentary on America's obsession with guns.

Here's looking at you, America.

Thanks to TBS' crippling holiday season addiction to the movie, everybody knows the plot: it's Christmas time and young Ralphie is devising a way to get his dream gift, an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

Ahh the good ole days of ultra-realistic toy guns in the hands of 8 uear olds.

It only became obvious to me this year, however, that the movie is in fact a biting critique of America's gun culture.

Let's start from the beginning. The opening scene involves the innocent boy longingly staring through a department store window at the toy gun. Within the first five minutes, the rifle is referred to as the "Holy Grail of gifts." Gifts have taken the place of religion on this supposedly holiest of all holidays, a common underlying critique contained in holiday movies. Here, a gun is the main object of desire, and the connection between guns and God is established early on.

Soon after, when his mom first asks what he wants for Christmas, Ralphie mistakenly blurts out that he wants the gun. He knows what she will say before she says it, the refrain which has become synonymous with the movie: "You'll shoot your eye out." Ralphie takes the rejection, telling her it's ok, "even though Flick is getting one." His first argument for having a gun is that someone else has one, so he needs one, too; a statement often heard in defense of gun ownership. This is also the first time we see the representation of the anti-gun lobby and the so-called "Nanny State": Ralphie's mom. 

Other people also represent the Nanny State (specifically, everybody who tells Ralphie he will shoot his eye out: his mother, his teacher, Santa) but the mother is the most obvious and foreboding. She is also the most competent family member. The father is in a never-ending, losing battle to the furnace and the neighbor's dogs. She knows the answers to the crossword when he struggles (in fact, her knowledge is the reason that he receives the controversial leg-lamp). She is simply more aware and competent as a parent all around, instilling the proper punishment when Ralphie swears, getting the boys ready for school, preparing all the meals, and everything else a mother (or nanny) is "expected" to do in the "golden era" of America. In the end, she is the most understanding and forgiving: after the fight with Farkus, she takes Ralphie home and tends to his wounds. She doesn't tell his father much about the fight because she doesn't want him to overreact ("Daddy's gonna kill Ralphie!"). Ralphie seems to finally appreciate the mother's wisdom and her concern for his well-being. And the audience realizes she was right all along: the gun is dangerous and Ralphie hurts himself.

On the other side, representing pro-gun people, such as the NRA, is the bumbling, lamp-ogling, almost-absentee father. He even looks and sounds a little bit like Charlton Heston. Despite the mother's protests (and the protests of the majority of characters in the movie) the father still gets his son the gun. He argues that it's tradition, claiming "I had one when I was 8 yrs old." Again, upon closer viewing (aka 24 hours in a row for the past eight Christmases) it is obvious that this movie is a thinly-veiled allegory for America's failure to regulate guns despite the overwhelming majority of Americans who want reasonable, logical gun regulations. 

Self-defense is often used in defense (ha!) of gun ownership, and the movie memorably presents a constant danger that terrorizes Ralphie and his friends. 

This asshole.

Scott fuckin Farkus. This hideous creature is the bully of the block and a sincere threat to the boys' safety. 

And Ralphie takes him out with his bare hands. When he finally stands up to the bigger, seemingly stronger kid, he is able to defeat the bully on his own. And everybody lives another day.

Ralphie conquers the real villain, and his fear, without a gun; of course, as a "red-blooded American," he still wants a gun to defeat his imaginary enemy: Black Bart. 

Black Bart. The imaginary dark criminal of white America's nightmares. 

The dream sequence where Ralphie takes out Bart's crew even has the movie's two lone black characters, thugs that Ralphie shoots dead with no remorse to the sound of his family cheering. This is the fantasy of the average American.

Merry Christmas, America!

When Ralphie finally gets his gun, in reality, the first thing he does is shoot himself in the face. The second thing he does is lie to his mom about it. His mom believes him, as most Americans believe gun myths, and she takes him in.

Not surprisingly, Ralphie still loves his gun, despite not really needing it for self defense and almost blinding himself. So in the end, maybe his mother wasn't exactly right. He didn't shoot his eye out (she may have exaggerated a little to get her point across out of concern for her child) but her foresight was pretty damn accurate. That doesn't matter to Ralphie, though. Even shooting himself in the face and breaking his glasses won't dampen his love for his gun. 

Indeed, no matter how many times you tell Americans they are more likely to get hurt by a gun when they own a gun, they just don't listen. The last scene of the movie shows Ralphie sleeping soundly in his bed, with a smile on his face and his gun in his arms, completely oblivious to the fact that he's more likely to blow his own head off then ever save his family.

In fact, they made A Christmas Story 2, and the plot follows Ralphie to middle school where he shoots himself in the balls and asks Santa for a new testicle.

As always with sequels, the guns are bigger and more people get shot in the scrotum.

Maybe. I never saw it, and I'm sure you never did, either, so let's just say that's what happens. 

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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