"A Christmas Story": Gender, History and Generally Overthinking It

A Dulled Cutting Edge
On Christmas Day, I proudly posted on FB how glad I was to have introduced my Italian mother-in-law to "A Christmas Story," which immediately elicited a surprising comment of profound sympathy on her behalf.

It was only then I realized that this movie, which had been pretty counter-cultural when it first came out and when I had first seen it on early cable tv nearly 30 years ago, was now totally mainstream and - as a result - boring to any twenty-first century edgy crowd. But consider the wonderfully florid and intellectualized prose of the narration, together with the occasionally absurdist and ever-so-slightly subversive take on the usual overly saccharine family tableaux... It most definitely presaged the humor of the Simpsons that debuted just 4 years later! It was rather cutting edge at the time and, yes, I was precisely in their target demographic!!)

Apparently my own little anti-"Christmas Story" troll however wasn't alone, since Mike Ryan of Moviefone also subsequently posted 10 Things That Confuse Me About 'A Christmas Story'.

Overthinking "A Christmas Story": What's Gender Got To Do with It?
In the spirit of another blog that I follow, Overthinking It, for some inexplicable reason I've decided to address at least briefly these concerns head-on, cuz I think there's a reasonable explanation for most of them (while I still have a couple of others that nevertheless continue to perplex me).
  1. The seventeen-year difference in Ralphie's parents' ages: Yeah, it's striking. But the way I figure it, the story is told from the point of view of an older Ralphie remembering how he used to view the world. And his dad is, of course, "the Old Man." So, I figure he just remembers his dad as always having been older (for more, see number 10 below...)
  2. Goggle-kid in the Santa scene: A quick look at the film's IMDb page shows that there had been Flash Gordon scenes cut out. Sure, the kid's creepy, but maybe he was there cuz his hero was Flash, just like Ralphie was there cuz his hero was Red Ryder.
  3. Flick: re goggles, see above. Flick recurs, I seem to recall, in the book of tales which was the basis for the movie, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (written, not coincidently, by the film's narrator Jean Shepherd).
  4. A good movie? It's a fun and often clever movie, certainly... but, okay, it's by no means a masterpiece. 1980s nostalgia factor?? Most definitely!
  5. Glitter cowboy: That's easy... it's what a kid during the golden age of Hollywood would imagine his hero wearing. (I'd be really surprised if Roy Rogers had never been forced to wear a similar get-up for some publicity shot somewhere...)
  6. BB gun: Of course it's a bad idea for kids! Then again, our chemistry sets back in the day could legitimately blow stuff up... Not a terribly good idea either! :-)
  7. The Old Man's 'Blue Ball': See number 10 below for more regarding Ralphie's dad!
  8. Jean Shepherd's voice sounding different from Ralphie: Doesn't bother me too much... Jean Shepherd was the story's original author, while Peter Billlingsley is ideal in the role of Ralphie. If the vocal qualities of the two were even to match, that would have just been icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned.
  9. Fake teeth episode: Likely based on a vignette from Shepherd's stories... At the very least, communicates pretty quickly how patiently long-suffering Ralphie's teacher is, which comes into play again later.
  10. Ralphie's dad supposedly being a "prick": I'm honestly pleased to see that Mike Ryan has no point of reference for really understanding the character of the "Old Man," which has everything to do with the idealized gender role of mid-twentieth-century authoritarian father figures... My dad (supposedly Ralphie's generation) wasn't like that, but my granddad definitely was! They were supposed to be distant and intimidating (not to mention legendary in their ability to fix absolutely anything). The one emotion that society could easily accept from them, if they were to show any at all, was anger... Hence, most of their emotional range tended to be channelled into being nearly permanently irascible. Above all, the film's "Old Man," as he is always called, successfully models the "man's man" of the time by being this kind of father! Any inconsistencies with the character, like Mike Ryan noted in number 8 above, for example, arise from the fact that no matter how effectively he presents an idealized tough male attitude, he actually could possess a soft heart that he couldn't readily show... That's why he gets so enamored of his "major award" or else allows himself to be sweet and good-humored at least one day a year, on Christmas Day. (Of course, his indulgence of Ralphie's Christmas wish also allowed him to begin indoctrinating his own son with tough masculine values, so he could doubly allow himself to be accommodating on this day...) Ralphie fondly remembers these rare moments when his dad was not so, shall we say, "prickly."
Where's the History in "A Christmas Story"?
In the end, though, these are not the things that, as Mike Ryan put it, confuse me about "A Christmas Story." Instead, why is there no mention at all of the war? There's never a date beyond "the 1940s" given for the setting, but let's say even that it took place right in 1940 (since they show the "Wizard of Oz" characters bopping around). Wouldn't it make Ralphie's memories far more poignant if they were explicitly the last untroubled ones of his childhood before America entered World War II? (Not to mention the fact that Ralphie's big Christmas wish had been a gun! Surely, there'd have been some subsequent ambivalence about that!)

Realistically, however, I know that these stories had originally been set by Shepherd during the early 1930s, so it's natural that there'd be no reference in them to WWII. But at that time there would have been the Great Depression, which then makes a story about the all-importance of receiving stuff for Christmas a difficult one to accept without any explanation, even - I would argue - from an older child's perspective during that time.

But even these weighty issues of authentic historical context vex me less than "A Christmas Story"'s greatest puzzle of them all: what's with the mom's hair?! It's not 1930s... it's not 1940s... heck, it's not even 1960s!! Why, oh why does the verisimilitude decide to check out here??!!!

(Then again, maybe I'm just overthinking it... May your own holidays be uncomplicated!!)


Venice's Madonna della Salute

Today, as recounted by the entry on Madonna della Salute at the blog "Venice from beyond the bridge", is Venice's locally observed feast day of Our Lady of Health.

Every Italian city is allowed one local holiday. But since that of the Venetian patron saint, Saint Mark, is the 25th of April and just happens to coincide with the Italian national holiday celebrating "Liberation Day" at the end of World War II, Venice gets to choose another local holiday to observe. It selected that of the Madonna della Salute, founded to commemorate the end of a massive epidemic of plague that began in 1630 and culminated in the construction of the glorious basilica dedicated to the Madonna who was credited with eventually saving the city from the plague.

Today, Venetians don't fear the plague, but many of them still make a pilgrimage to the Basilica to light a candle to the Madonna on this day. Tradition has it that those who do will not get the flu this winter. One year, the cousin of the father of my Venetian husband (say that three times fast!) stopped us on the street on November 21st and asked us whether we were going to the church ourselves. When we said we weren't planning to, she was shocked. "One GOES to the Salute," she insisted.

Best wishes to all for a healthy winter on this feast day of the Madonna della Salute!

11/11 = Venice's San Martino!

Yesterday was not only the U.S.' Veterans Day, but it was also the Feast Day of Saint Martin of Tours, which is celebrated to this very day in Venice!

It's a bit like "trick or treating" in the States... Children go to shops and sing a traditional song about San Martino while banging pots and pans until the shopkeepers give them small change, and then they move onto the next shop.

I have to say though that my favorite part of the day is the decorated sugar cookie in the form of Saint Martin (who was a knight on horseback until his religious conversion)... Here's a particularly ginormous and ornate one!

You can see more photos at the great blog Venice from beyond the bridge!

Art imitates Academia

That's right... Even in video games like the Sims Social, they apparently make you write historiographical essays!!

Gondola Joy Ride

From this week's "Buongiorno Venezia" newsletter:
"Another 21-year-old tourist, this time from United States, distinguished himself by stealing something quite showy, precious, and much bigger than the seven eggs [stolen from a contemporary art exhibition this week]. He nicked a gondola and travelled the canals in a state of inebriation with no idea of how dangerous his actions were. Witnesses say he was rowing as if pickaxing, and when he was blocked by the police, he asked them, 'Where is the boat's rudder?' His knowledge of gondolas was as minuscule as his sobriety."
Just great... Another bad impression left here by another drunk American! *sigh* Oh well...

Saturday Photohunt: One

It's been a long while since I did the Saturday Photohunt... In the meantime, though, I started recently using Instagram on the iPhone, which is a lot of fun and a great way to share photos with the world! So, for this week's photohunt, I thought I'd go through my Instagram pics so far and post the images that fit the theme.

Those of ya'll who are on Instagram can check out my pictures at @misciel, if you'd like, and those who aren't can still use the Webstagram service, like I've linked to here! I've used a few different hashtags: #photohunt, #saturdayphotohunt, and #saturday_photohunt... Please feel free to use them yourselves if you are Instagrammers too! :-)

Anyway, my Instagram Photohunt pics are also pasted here. I like the Venetian Lagoon shot the best... The other three are from my recent trip to Greece, where as you can see I really enjoyed snapping pics of the local pups!

I hope you enjoy them and best wishes for a great week!!

Traditional Transport in Venice

I've been meaning forever to post here on *MMC* this photo from a French blog dedicated to Venice, TraMeZziniMag, so here it is! When I first arrived in Venice 18 years ago, I still saw (rarely) products being carried through the streets this way... but it's been years since the last time I've seen it. I hope it's not dead and gone the way of so many other lost Venetian traditions...

Modern Library Built over (Nearly) Millennarian Covent Ruins

Well, as you can see in the sidebar, I do more FBing of my interesting weblinks than blogging nowadays, but I thought these photos were worth firing up Blogger for! ☺

First thing to know is that these originate from Instagram, a free iPhone app that's also fast becoming a photosharing sensation, not to mention a global social-network community for enjoying others' photography! (Those who don't use the iPhone or iPad can vicariously appreciate Istagram-ography by observing a live-stream of photos as they are being uploaded from all over the world at Hashtagram or by using the Webstagram service. FYI: I'm on there as @misciel!)

Now, the photo here is from Instagram user @mariannehope, a Norwegian who usually lives in Holland and typically shoots lovely desaturated, minimalist images of still-lifes and panoramas. That's why these images caught my eye... not like her usual style at all. Turns out that's because she wanted to give a strong sense of this fascinating building!

It is the Tønsberg Library, which she just visited. According to Wikipedia, Tønsberg is generally regarded as the oldest town in Norway, and they've got the ruins to prove it! As Marianne writes,
What's special about this building is that it's built on and around ancient ruins from the year 1180, the ruins of a convent. They also found 6 graves from the Vikings on the grounds. The building was built in 1992 and is a fantastic piece of modern architecture mixed in with the historic stones.
For more images of this interesting building, you can check out #tønsberglibrary on Webstagram - Instagram Web Viewer! (Turns out that Marianne will even be posting more tomorrow...) Enjoy!!

Gorgeous Venice Photos on Panoramio!

Until today, I had never heard of Panoramio (which is odd considering that it's even a Google product!)

But while I was reviewing and cleaning out some of the less-used photography apps from my iPhone, I happened to open NearPics which shows you photos taken nearby your current location and posted to Panoramio. Expecting to see the usual trite schlock taken of Venice, I was actually surprised to see truly original, creative and gorgeous views of the island city!

Give Panoramio a try... see if you too are surprised by the unexpectedly beautiful images taken in your own backyard!! ☺

Getting Ready for Blogging Season

As my annual transhumance is increasingly imminent, thought I'd dust off the blog and update its look a bit... While these days I Facebook and Twitter the links and brief observations I used to blog years ago when I first started *MMC*, I usually do more blogging in the summer when I'm overseas. See you on the flipside! ☺