Are festive movies to be enjoyed, or is the core message being lost?

In the modern age, it’s no secret that Christmas has become commercialised, especially over the last century. From the Coca-Cola adverts to jewellery stores insisting that an overpriced necklace is the only way to show your loved ones you care, commercialism has become synonymous with Christmas.

It’s no surprise then that this has wormed its way into the media we enjoy at this time of year, especially in Christmas movies. At times it may be immediately obvious; the plot of Jingle All the Way revolves around two fathers desperate to buy a Turbo-Man action figure for their respective sons, as though this purchase is the missing piece to their perfect Christmas. The toy acts a symbol of the protagonist’s redemption, as he has been absent to his son; only through buying this toy can he prove his love as a father.

In many other Christmas films, the commercialist themes are more subtle. They seep into the backdrop rather than taking hold of the plot, but their influence is there nonetheless. We’ve gotten used to scenes of lavish family dinners and Christmas trees with more presents than carpet underneath them. This commercialism is also present in the many films set in middle-class American streets, with houses decked out in expensive decorations from the front gardens to the rooftops.

This is especially prevalent in Deck the Halls, a comedy in which a car salesman pins his dreams on his house being visible from space: something which he works to achieve by buying an extortionate amount of decorations. Once again, it is through material gain that the protagonist tries to fulfil his dreams.

Of course, in these sorts of comedies, the audience are usually supposed to laugh at these protagonists rather than with them. But with so much of the runtime focused on purchase after purchase, and the apparent necessity of material gifts, it is difficult to avoid the subtext – intended or not – that Christmas is about buying and receiving things.

Some films try to push away from this and aim for a more sentimental message. Klaus, for example, tells the tale of a selfish postman who eventually learns the importance of kindness and helping others. The film’s compelling message is repeated several times in dialogue: ‘a true selfless act always sparks another’. It’s far from the panic-buying frenzy of Jingle All the Way, and is a heart-warming story sure to bring a smile to the meanest of Grinches.

Still, it is worth mentioning that like any other art intended for consumption, these films are created for profit.

The Traditional Santa, used by many commercial enterprises.

By leyla resuli: arts columnist

Some would argue that the saccharine Christmas films that preach not needing anything but love at Christmas, and doing away with Capitalistic ideals, are undermined by the fact that they are still at their core a product to be consumed, with the ultimate goal of profit. ‘Yes, Christmas is about giving and time spent with loved ones, not spending money – but you must also watch this film in the cinema, and buy the DVD.’

It’s true that the selling side of the film industry is usually separate from the production, but one can’t entirely detach films from this context. They are inherently connected as long as they are produced for profit.

But does this mean we can’t enjoy Christmas films? Is it thoughtless or hypocritical to indulge in the heart-warming tales of the season, to smile at children receiving a toy from Santa, or laugh at the cahoots of mischievous reindeer? Of course not. While the film industry is incredibly profitable, it’s also extremely difficult to produce a feature-length film with the care it deserves without also going through the motions of a Capitalist system. As long as we live in it, we are part of it, inescapably.

Keeping it simple

More importantly, there is absolutely something to be said for simple enjoyment. As human beings with complex lives and understandings of the world around us, we are quite capable of indulging in cheesy Christmas flicks while not getting totally bewitched by consumerist content. You can retain awareness of the extent to which Christmas is being commodified and sold to us as a product, and still have a good time watching Jingle All the Way.

We deserve some joy at Christmas, especially in the current climate. And while the profitability and hierarchical nature of the film industry is difficult to ignore, that doesn’t mean there isn’t genuine heart behind these films and the people who craft their stories for us to enjoy. It’s obvious when a great deal of time, effort, and love has been put into making a movie, and these films deserve to be appreciated, even with their Capitalist context. And if you find joy in the films that don’t seem to be particularly genuine or well thought-out, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In whatever form we find it, we could all use a little magic this year.