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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Grinch and Co.

I try to save the non-political stuff for the weekends, but the categories have done busted wide open this season.

Holiday specials: Which ones are "safe" for Jewish kids? That question is the foundation of this Slate piece by Dahlia Lithwick. She claims that Jewish households tend to restrict Christmas cartoon viewing to How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas. The latter choice surprised me, since it is one of the very few religious TV specials.

The appeal of Grinch is easy to explain: It's funny. Contrary to Lithwick's odd reading, I think that Jews identify not with the Grinch, but with the Whos. Seuss modeled the Grinch on the dictators of his time, and he modeled the Whos -- both here and (more explicitly) in the Horton book -- after the oppressed peoples of Europe.

My stepfather was a (very unreligious) Jew and my mother a (very lapsed) Italian Catholic. Perhaps my observations will be of some interest. This angle may seem strange, but I would ask Jewish parents to consider the attitude of my mom and her parents -- toward alcohol.

(Bear with me. The personal info will prove relevant.)

When I was growing up, my friends were always astonished to learn that my brother and I were served wine at all large family gatherings. From the age of five onwards, the glass was there. We hated the stuff. Alcohol had no allure, no mystery, because it was not forbidden.

Result: I drink rarely; my brother, never.

For children, the forbidden always has an attraction.

I think I need say no more.

(Except this: I wouldn't let a child under ten watch Family Guy. Am I being hypocritical?)
Hmmm, Joseph.

Good question. I had a similar mixed and very lax upbringing. We sometimes celebrated Jewish holidays but always celebrated Christmas in a completely nonreligious way.

As it should be since the Christians merely hijacked the pagan solstice and the seasonal celebrations are ingrained on our human psyche and will survive Christianity itself, mercifully.

I would applaud you for preventing children of any age from watching the appalling "Family Guy" and would recommend the Burl Ives "Rudolph" for must-see holiday viewing.

The celebration and exaltation of misfits! Hello!
Oh, and I need children's movie suggestions for purchase. My brother and sis-in-law are so damned picky about my niece and nephew's viewing...last year I got them the American version of "The Visitors" (originally a French movie, remade with the same French stars...the awesome Jean Reno...and starring Christina Applegate) and it wasn't easy to find, let me tell you!

A lot of bathroom humor, which caused MUCH merriment amongst the younger set ... but after Xmas the CD was given away...grrrr.

I'm at my wit's end this year for a fun family video to share...!
Whay would Jews identify with the Grinch? That sounds like a ridiculous idea to me. I think Jews identify with Max. I think Christians identify with Max. I think Taoists identify with Max. I think everybody identifies with Max.

Max is loyal and devoted and patient, even when his only reward is to have a single antler strapped to his head and he's forced to pull a huge sleigh full of stolen goods. What a perfect metaphor for the human condition!

At the end, though, finally! the subject of Max's unrequited devotion has a change of heart, and starts to act like less of a complete jerk. It's a happy hopeful ending that everyone who's ever been in Max's place in life can appreciate. (I think.)
"As it should be since the Christians merely hijacked the pagan solstice..."

This is true, yet few Jews see it that way. Jews often refer to Santa Claus and the Christmas tree as "religious" symbols. And gentiles are always dumbfounded by that categorization.
Mother's side of family carried a clearly Jewish last name although all were Polish and raised Catholic.

Admonished and hectored for missing
confession for six months by a local priest, Mom quit the sisters of never ending agony, raising us kids each as Baptists to age 11: "Do what you want now." She said.

A Christmas Story (1983) stands alone as seasonal family fare.
Oh, yes, Wayne, thanks!

I'd forgotten that one.
I don't think "Family Guy" should be viewed by anyone of any age.

"Jews often refer to Santa Claus and the Christmas tree as "religious" symbols."

I don't know anyone, Jewish or Christian, who views Christmas trees as religious symbols. As for Santa Claus, it's probably because he is Saint Nicholas, not some guy who happens to be named Nicholas.

I agree with you about Lithwick's reasoning being odd re: the Grinch. I don't think Jews identify with the Grinch. I wish she hadn't written it. It feeds into anti-semitism.
Wow, a lot of dissing of Famly Guy the show that's not only so good it blows the Simpsons right out of the water, but is edgier than it could ever be. (And of course kids shouldn't watch it, it's strictly for adults.)

Jews identify with the Grinch?!? So they start out as hating everyone who isn't like them, become thieves, but after a spiritual transformation/reformation subquently embrace Christmas?

What an insulting and nasty thing for Lithwick to say.

Sergei Rostov
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