Mama Madison: Holiday pop-culture literacy

Teaching needs to go beyond naughty and nice to Rankin and Bass

Every year, the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year's offers families the opportunity to establish and enjoy their holiday viewing traditions. For us, the apex has always been Christmas Eve when, for a long as I can remember, the entire clan has snuggled up on the couch to watch Chuck Jones' 1966 animated masterpiece Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (I can't stand the 2000 remake with Jim Carrey as the "Mean One").

Yes, the 26-minute TV special is as old as I am. Yet I still tear up every time at the end when the reformed green, furry guy carves the Who's roast beast.

But many of the other pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.

And if I ever reference the fact that they might shoot their eye out with a Red Ryder BB Gun, they look at me quizzically. Ralphie and the rest of 1983's A Christmas Story is a not in their repertoire of holiday viewing.

Our generational divide was even more stark this past week when watching holiday commercials. One of those new tongue-in-cheek ads for Honda came on featuring kitschy, power balladeer Michael Bolton. My 11-year-old daughter asked if he was Bon Jovi, the only singer she'd ever heard of that could have possibly been that old. Or that blonde.

The next day, the point was hammered home even further when my sister forwarded me an email, composed by my niece, also 11, who was hoping to switch her subject for a school assignment.

Dear Teacher:

I am writing you in the hopes that you will consider my request to switch my biography to Jim Henson.

You might remember that I started with Whitney Houston. But when I came home and told my mom, she hoped I would pick someone who lived a more inspirational life. I agreed, gave it some thought and decided to get a book on Steven Spielberg. Halfway through, it dawned on me that nothing was mentioned about the Muppets! So I consulted the index and looked under "M" and found no Muppets! Since it was very confusing to me, I checked with my mom, and asked if she knew who the Muppet creator was. And sure enough she said, "Jim Henson."

I've read the complete book on Steven Spielberg, and I have written down some questions. But he isn't really that interesting. Besides I barely know any of the movies he made other than "ET" and "Jaws".

If you would allow me to switch, I can promise you that I will read an entire biography on Henson.

The holidays came early for my niece, the teacher said yes.

But my sister and I still marveled that as children reared on Sesame Street, The Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark, we had clearly dropped the ball when introducing our kids to some of the modern classics.

So I guess it's about time we add the Muppet "Christmas Carol" to our list of compulsory holiday viewing; Kermit sure makes an adorable Bob Cratchit. And I'll make sure all the kids pay close attention to the credits -- the film is dedicated to the memory of Jim Henson, who died two years before its release.

Somehow this seems preferable to requiring everyone to watch Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular on Thanksgiving night.

And I definitely think we are due for a Spielberg marathon over winter break. Because while not technically holiday fare, there is no question ET's desperation to "phone home" is about as "in the spirit" as you can get.

And Jurassic Park? Well, the raptors aren't exactly reindeer. But an awful lot of those dinosaurs really do look quite a bit like Mr. Carrey's live-action Grinch.

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