It’s my last column of the year, so time for our socialist feminist Christmas film review.
Muppets Christmas Carol: Like many Muppets movies this shows the Muppets experiencing and expressing the misery of capitalism. This is ameliorated not by working-class struggle but by benevolent capitalism, which had been faced with its own horrific reflection. This is the most liberal of the Muppets movies.
The Muppet canon contains working class resistance to capitalism whilst ultimately accommodating to the power of capital. Why? In part due to the leadership of Kermit, who constantly curtails the radicalism and action of the Muppets, compromising between the needs of the Muppets and the demands of capital. The answer is not simply to replace Kermit with Animal, though this would clearly be a step forward, but democratic transformation of the Muppets.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a terrible film. A celebration of family values and Keynesianism. Take the scene where we see George Bailey’s wife Mary in an alternative reality where he’d never existed. His wife now wears glasses and works in a library — how terrible!
Hoover’s Communist-hunting agents were wrong to see it as anti-American propaganda. The only socialist-feminist reading of this film is as a cautionary tale about marriage robbing Mary of a better life. In our alternative world where she escaped her patriarch, she becomes an avid reader, realising in the process she is long-sighted and getting glasses. She gets a job as a librarian. She becomes a socialist activist fighting unemployment with the Farmer-Labor Party.
Netflix Christmas rom-coms: With exclusion of the teen movies which are much better, all Netflix Christmas rom-coms can be lumped together. I will call this Netflix-composite A Christmas Royal Wedding in Snowy Falls. The movies are deeply formulaic, ticking off every rom-com trope, which gives the feel of film-by-algorithm.
Philosopher Henry Cavell wrote: the classic comedies of remarriage (the rom-com golden age) constitute a body of philosophical thought showing that happiness can be achieved “by a combination of self-knowledge, luck and grace” developing our true self through dialogue. When we watch Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant we get lots of talking and language. Literary culture is the route to a more meaningful life.
Though modern rom-coms contain many tropes of the classics (clumsy women, arguing as a sign you fancy each other) they are essentially very different. The central desire threaded through twenty first century rom-coms is less sexual or philosophical, more economic for job stability and professional accomplishment — running a cupcake shop, getting a big account, or becoming hot-shot architect.
Netflix Christmas movies move beyond pedestrian millennial desire for individual fulfilment through a nice middle-class job, these characters take it to the next level — inheriting large corporations, becoming royalty, being rescued by an actual knight or risking a promotion in Washington to save a US military base. Throw in the innate goodness rural life and a hearty dose of family knows best, we get a profoundly reactionary take on the genre.
They are so oddly conservative in outlook that in the LGBT Netflix special, A New York Christmas Wedding, the lead learns to accept her queer identity through Catholicism. These films are so shallow and draped in fairy tale elements, they are like an unintentional satire on the rom-com genre.
The Snowman: The saddest of the bunch. I assume you think the snowman just melted. No, sadly not. In the final scene, the snowman has gone but the rest of the snow hasn’t melted. It can’t be fresh snow because the snowman’s hat is at the top of the little pile where he used to be. There is only one probable explanation. His parents got up in the middle of the night and kicked the snowman to death because they would not accept this transgressive bond their son had outside the family.
This is a sinister tale of a child growing up in a toxic environment. A feminist masterpiece on the family as expressed by Michèle Barrett, embodying “the principle of selfishness, exclusion and pursuit of private interest”.
Finally — enjoy your Christmas movies, comrades! It’s ok to watch the Christmas Chronicles without asking why the kids are trying to save Christmas instead of helping the elves seize the means of production!