Canon questions

I like canon questions.  I don’t really think the debate about what belongs in the canon can be settled, but that shouldn’t stop us from having the debate (a few months ago we tried to come up with a ‘mini-canon’ of philosophical texts on this blog).

Well this is much more light-hearted.  With Thanksgiving coming up, many of us will watch Miracle on 34th Street on Thanksgiving Day.  Discussing this with a friend recently, we got into an argument about which Christmas movies are canonical.  Here is my list:

Obviously canonical xmas movies (live-action):

– It’s a Wonderful Life

– Miracle on 34th Street

– White Christmas

– A Christmas Carol (various versions, but I like the George C. Scott one).

And less obviously though I think it belongs:

– National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Before I get to a list of a ‘sub-canon’ of animated xmas classics, it is worth mentioning a few snubs that did not make my list:

– A Christmas Story.  Many consider this story of the young boy and his yearning for a Red Ryder gun to be a ‘classic’, but I am not sure it belongs on the list above.  For me, it is not a first ballot Hall of Famer, but it might get in over time since the voters will get sick of seeing it on the ballot year in and year out.

– I think Elf and Polar Express are too recent to be considered in canonical discussions.

Here are some animated xmas classics:

– Charlie Brown Christmas

– Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964 version)

– How the Grinch Stole Christmas (not the more recent Jim Carrey feature film, but the older animated one).

– Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Fred Astaire)

– Frosty the Snowman (1969)

– Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas (this late 1970s Muppet movie was huge for people my age, and it has some really great songs).

Additions?  Subtractions?  Or am I the only one looking for a break from the work at the end of the semester?

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

11 thoughts on “Canon questions”

  1. I’m definitely ready for a break. While I love reading great books (Plato, Dante, Shakespeare and Derrida this semester), and studying isn’t ‘hard work’, not compared to blue collar jobs I have over the summer, it is still mentally exhausting, and for a while I’ll be glad to read a good graphic novel (The Watchman, Frank Miller, etc)

    I’d definitely put A Christmas Story into the HOF, if only for my personal connection to the film. The Rifle story is mostly a nice vehicle for the shattering of Norman Rockwell mayonnaise ad innocence. The gritty mall Santa (which inspired one of my personal, yet definitely acquired taste favorites, Bad Santa), the realism of the family, the subliminal marketing in Kid’s shows, and the struggles of the boy and his relationship with his mother, especially after the fight. I connect with the film because of my own life, but I also think its very well written and more approachable for its black eyes than any of these Hannah Montana sugar tales we are fed nowadays. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation belongs, almost, for the same reasons, but with the fun bit of cynicism and bitterness that Chevy Chase could project then, and it allows for more adult connection.

    I’ve not yet seen Elf so I can’t say, but it is far too young. I can’t really think of what to add, primarily because most Christmas films, especially now, are like most Christmas songs, plastic crowdist junk.
    I wouldn’t put the Polar Express near there. Like Night at the Museum, both films were based on great kid’s books, yet they used a lot of technical flash to make up for a lack of soul, though Polar Express at least tried to connect with the spirit of its source material.

    The Grinch cartoon was too brilliant an example to ever be replicated. It really ‘got it’ where so many failed, especially in its rejection of the materialism the holiday is all too taken by now.
    Let us pledge to never make mention of that Jim Carrey version here or anywhere ever again.

    I haven’t seen the original Miracle in some time, but the remake was a strange one. The judge was reminded of faith in the unaccountable by reading anti communist propaganda, funny.

    There’s an old Clark Gable film about a ‘christmas angel’ that was remade with Denzel Washington about 10-12 years ago. They’re both sort of cheesecake but nice stories. I might just be grasping straws though.
    If any thing is to be said for memorability, I would certainly put my first viewing of South Park’s Satanic Woodland Critters way up on that last.


  2. I would like to cordially invite Huenemann’s children over to my house a few nights this holiday season so that they can have some positive holiday movie memories from their childhood. We’ll make cocoa and eat peppermint sticks and talk about the basic goodness of being.


  3. Is it only the few (Huenemann and no one else) that corrupt the young? Isn’t it rather the many who corrupt and the few who improve? This is Socrates argument in the Apology (24d-25c). His argument:

    1) Meletus claims that all of the citizens of Athens benefit the young, and only Socrates [Huenemann] corrupts them (24d-25b)
    2) In the case of horses, most people corrupt and only a few benefit (25b)
    3) Education of the youth is analogous, so most people corrupt and only a few benefit, so
    4) Meletus is misguided about education. (25b-c)

    I think Socrates not only does not intentionally corrupt the young, he does not corrupt them at all. Regarding Huenemann, insofar as he corrupts the young, I do not think he does so intentionally. This is the next argument in the Apology (25c-26b):

    1) Meletus claims that Socrates [Huenemann] intentionally corrupts the young (25d)
    2) Wicked people harm their associates and good people benefit their associates (25c)
    3) Anyone who corrupts his associates then runs the risk of being harmed by them
    4) No one would rather be harmed by their associates rather than benefited by them (25d)
    5) Socrates [Huenemann] knows that by corrupting his associates he risks being harmed by them (25e)
    6) That is absurd, since no one intentionally does harm to oneself
    so, Socrates [Huenemann] either does not corrupt the young, or if he does, he does so unwillingly

    So if Huenemann corrupts the young, it is unintentional. But does he corrupt the young? I think a case could be made that he does. :) I feel quite sure that ‘12 Monkeys’ would be banned poetry (Republic). And Socrates insists (Phaedo among other places) that the worst thing that one could come to believe is that reason is impotent, and Huenemann is a skeptic. Socrates also thinks materialism is a vulgar philosophy.

    Sorry Charlie!


  4. For all the Focus on the Family types:
    Silent Night, Deadly Night
    Last Temptation of Christ

    Great films for the holiday family season.

    I wonder how 12 Monkeys would fit into the Platonic Republic ideal, at least in its need for rejection.
    Bruce Willis, as I recall, was a prisoner set loose to deal with the virus in the past, find out about it and stop it if possible. He’s a ‘hero’ doing a morally good thing, but he’s coming from an immoral environment, an evil one even, rather than simply not knowing or being capable of immorality at all. Virtue is not engrained in him, it is brought about by circumstance, long after his mission has started. So he is no moral idealistic vehicle for the Masses or the Guardian.
    Second, concerning the narrative, the hero, regardless of his moral background, fails in his virtuous act, sometimes out of fear but in the end perhaps out of his inability to make the shot fast enough. So the hero doesn’t succeed at his mission, but even more so, it is the authorities, police, that prevent him from doing so. The ones who are to be trusted fully in the maintainence of the city’s moral code are the ones who make the greatest of errors regarding the future, taking down the hero and letting the villain escape.
    The last bit of banning I think comes from the context of the final scene. You could argue that the Police aren’t really in the wrong, as they are acting properly but without sufficient information (they see a man with a gun and shoot, not knowing or perhaps needing to know why he had the gun). However, this problem is, for Plato I think, the greatest issue with the film. The hero and the villain are in their nature and their ends completely grayed together, without a proper Black and White, Good and Evil distinction that should be present in narrative and in life. Surely a person of great virtue will be distinguishable from someone of great evil, yet the film doesn’t allow for this, for a proper embedding into the minds of all a straight moral code, and so it must be banned for the sake of those in the city.


  5. Bishop’s Wife, I think that’s the Angel movie I was referring to. Thanks Vince.
    They remade it with Denzel Washington some years ago. Not quite as charming but then Whitney Houston has a tendency to ruin…well..everything.


  6. Eraserhead is still Lynch’s best film. A real treat, before he started abusing actresses and hiring crap talent.

    Huenemann, at least you are saving the best for last. Considering that incident at a recent Walmart, and various other things, I think the final scene of Fight Club is perfectly apt.

    Here has been my Holiday movie viewing so far, as in Thanksgiving Day.

    Soylent Green, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 version with Don Sutherland) Blackboard Jungle (partner in crime to Rock Around the Clock as the cause of the first Rock Riot ever) and most terrifying of all, a few minutes of a Seattle Seahawks game.


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