As a pop culture writer specializing in Christmas entertainment, I’m frequently asked each year by readers and journalists if I still watch A Christmas Story marathon on TV. The truth is, I do. The 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story has been airing on the cable networks TBS or TNT (or both) every year on Christmas Eve through Christmas day, since 1997. Like millions of other Americans, I choose to rest my TV set on the marathon. It unfolds again and again, under our family activities as we go about exchanging gifts, eating our Christmas dinner, catching up in conversation, greeting visitors, napping, and going about our celebrating. The modestly successful theatrical release movie has grown to become the biggest and most favorite movie experience for TV viewers each holiday season. A Christmas Story is the background to the American Christmas. The movie–whether it’s watched once a year or a part of the 24-hour marathon–begs for examination. Just like other significant experiences, whether they take place in the foreground or the background of our lives, we need to examine them to see what truths are there, and what they say about us.
My examination of the movie A Christmas Story, was to re-create the annual 24-hour marathon by watching the movie twelve times in a row, commercials and all, and document my experiences. After quite a bit of effort, I ended up buying a VHS recording of the movie from an on-line auction site that included commercials. My marathon consisted of watching that copy twelve times in a row. What I didn’t anticipate was discovering that the VHS tape was recorded twenty seven years earlier, and included retro Christmas commercials pushing obsolete and forgotten products, for example a hand-held electronic spell checker!
While I watched the movie over and over, I addressed a list of questions about the movie including speculating on its long term success and popularity, the influence of the twenty year marathon, A Christmas Story’s influence on American culture, and wondering if I’d experience something new in watching a movie I’d seen countless times before. Since I’m a Christmas entertainment expert, I brought my unique perspective to the project and addressed a series of questions about holiday programs in general as well, including the success of made-for-TV Christmas movies and the overall appeal of Christmas movies.
What I discovered was a surprise to myself, and hopefully to you too. I believe the successful alchemy behind A Christmas Story isn’t just the simple equation of good writing plus a talented cast. It is those things, plus other complicated factors that when added together create an experience that satisfies a wide range of viewers. What new things did I discover when watching a 24-hour marathon? The music began to stand out more prominently, and I acquired an ear for even more quotable lines of funny dialogue. Was I driven mad by watching the same movie over and over twelve times in a row? You’ll have to read the book to find that out. But I am willing to admit I was driven, during the early morning hours of the marathon, to experiment with placing a bar of soap in my own mouth–an experience that reinforces Ralphie’s vision of soap poisoning.
Joanna will be participating in a Q&A session after the 12/18 showing of ‘A Christmas Story’, as well as selling signed copies of her book, “The Triple Dog Dare“. Come join us for this special screening, and get all your deepest questions answered about this beloved Christmas classic!