As Christmas approaches, the networks, as usual, bombard us with special holiday programming. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except we don’t all celebrate Christmas.
I’m not saying the networks don’t have some holiday programming for various minorities. To some extent, they do. But why isn’t there one special for folks of all faiths to nourish their souls?
It’s my duty to say, “Hey, what about the rest of us?” Don’t people of all denominations deserve clever animated programming that cutely explains the our shared values?
I’ll answer for you. Yes, we do.
Let’s take a look at what we do have. Then I’ll make my suggestion of what classic we might recognize as our best hope for a unifying holiday special.
Saving Santa’s Oversized Butt
At the top of the list of classics is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Although there are lessons here for everyone, the cartoon is chock-full of religious references that don’t apply to all. There are really only two nonreligious things to derive from this timeless cartoon. The first is that Linus, a formidable orator, should consider a job as a White House spokesman, and the second, that Peanuts gang sure can cut a rug.
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is another phenomenon. After all, Christmas is Rudolph. Isn’t Santa’s oversized bottom virtually saved by this little antlered buck with the Ted Kennedyesque nose? If we were to remove any reference to Christmas, we could still effectively walk away with this life lesson: It’s OK to be different. (I, on the other hand, walked away with a much stronger message: Young, talking reindeer on the playground can be reaaaalllly mean if they don’t like you.)
Frosty the Snowman has always been another staid favorite. This cartoon, to me, has the least religious angle. Although it takes place AT Christmastime, I don’t feel that Frosty is as much a religious icon as he is a magical product of the weather. And it’s really about BELIEVING in magic. (I’d like to see David Blaine make a snowman come to life in Times Square.) The networks always broadcast Frosty during the holiday season, but there’s no reason for that.
All the programs that I’ve mentioned are old and as far as recent holiday shows, there is only one that comes to mind that’s not ABOUT Christmas. It’s The Rugrats Hanukkah special. It’s a real rip to see Jewish cartoon characters, and I actually understood more about Hanukkah from Chuckie, Tommy and Anjelica than I did from listening to my Hebrew school teacher for three years. (I only made it three years because we moved to Georgia and there weren’t a lot of Hebrew schools in Georgia in the ’70s.)
Of course South Park is a cartoon that offers more than just a Christmas theme. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone manage to get a multicultural, quasi-religious message across, but many people are offended by their tactics (i.e., Mr. Hankie the Christmas Poo). In all fairness, however, South Park’s Christmas episode is about the only show that tries to incorporate almost every religion, even if it’s just to make fun of them.
And as far as the movies go, we fare no better regarding equal opportunity holiday references. There’s the standards — Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. Both full of glorious messages, but all about Xmas.
And there’s this year’s phenomenon, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which stars Jim Carrey. This is not just about special effects and neat-o costumes, though. Again, it relays a message. It has a moral, which is that Christmas is not about the presents, but instead about family and friends and love. But if we strip this celluloid naked of the Christmas element, what are we left with? We’re left with a green guy making a boatload of smart-aleck comments and a group of colorful people with snouts who live in a dysfunctional town and all have hairstyles that even the B-52’s would consider a little too much.
Send in the Oompa Loompas
So what do we do now? Is some genius writer/producer going to come up with one holiday special that unifies all races, religions, creeds, colors, etc.?
Let me answer that for you. Nope!
So, here is my proposal: I would like to nominate Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as the official, one and only, all-inclusive holiday program. Here’s why:
1) It teaches numerous lessons: The importance of thinking about others before ourselves; honesty pays off; greed is bad; and Oompa Loompas have a very strong work ethic. (They also represent inclusiveness of other ethnicities.)
2) It offers plenty of festive surroundings, which are indicative of the holiday season.
3) There’s lots of treats … like candy, but instead of boring and traditional candy canes, fruitcakes or chocolate coins, Willy has edible flowers, jaw breakers that last forever (ever-lasting Gobstoppers) and a whole chocolate lake. (Get me a Silly Straw!)
4) Willy offers various modes of transportation far more clever than a sled. He has a durable, flying glass elevator and a bodacious boat. This way, if you don’t like flying, there’s always the water as an option. Not to mention, Willy isn’t beating on any reindeer to carry him around!
5) In this day and age, it is quite clear that Santa has little regard for his health as is evidenced by his thick waist (not to mention his high level of bad cholesterol and the soaring blood pressure from the demands of his job). Willy, however, is slender, in far better physical condition and obviously knows when it’s time to retire. 6) And finally, what better theme song than “The Candy Man?” It extols Willy’s many virtues without mentioning anything about holidays, Jesus, religion and the like. And most importantly, it’s sung by a black, Jewish man with a glass eye.
And so, as the presidential candidates rest their cases, I rest mine.
And in the spirit of unifying a nation, I vote Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as THE choice for holiday movie.
Heidi Oringer is director of entertainment programming at ABCNEWS Radio.