Surprising Results From a Marathon Viewing of 'A Christmas Story'

Even if you don’t give a hoot about Christmas and haven’t seen A Christmas Story seven million times, you may find The Triple Dog Dare shockingly charming.

The Triple Dog Dare

Publisher: 1701 Press
Length: 208 pages
Author: Joanna Wilson
Price: $19.99
Format: paperback
Publication date: 2016-10

There’s a leg lamp in my living room. Not the full size one. I’m not a superfan of A Christmas Story, but I’ve probably seen the movie somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 times, not including all the times it was on in the background as my family decorated the tree or opened presents or engaged in other holiday activities. My wife celebrated Hanukkah growing up and is a Major General in the so-called “War on Christmas”. In second grade, she convinced a half dozen kids at recess that her father shot Santa Claus when he heard the sled land on the roof. Your dad murdered Santa?! Knock, knock. “Mr. Friedman, at school today, your daughter said…”

My own father strongly resembled -- in both angry physical demeanor and hard-assed parental philosophy -- the Old Man in A Christmas Story. I got plenty of soap in the mouth as a kid. We kept the artificial Christmas tree in the basement, and one year after the tree was up, my dad took the four of us kids into the basement -- and pulled out an air rifle that we didn’t even know he had. We loaded it up with BBs and shot the hell out of that Christmas tree box. Somebody got it in the thigh, too, though all of us came back upstairs with no eyes having been poked out.

Despite these facts, my father’s favorite Christmas movie has always been It’s a Wonderful Life. Never mind that most of the film is a depressing black and white meditation on alcoholism and suicidal ideation; my dad lived for those last few moments when George is all good somehow and the angel gets his wings. We’d always have to drop whatever homework we weren’t doing and march downstairs to watch it when he hollered up to us that it was time.

He was a hard man to buy gifts for (“Hurray, another sweater and some floppy disks!”) and one year I really thought I’d nailed it -- a copy of It’s A Wonderful Life on DVD, so he could watch it any time he wanted. Instead, I watched as the still cellophane-wrapped case began to collect dust.

Please don't adblock PopMatters.

We are wholly independent, with no corporate backers.

We can't survive without your support.

He never even opened it, giving what I thought at the time was the stupidest reason possible: that watching it on DVD just isn’t the same. Joanna Wilson, who I suppose we should refer to as the world’s foremost expert on Christmas-themed film and television, would agree with my dad. In her most personal work in the field to date, The Triple Dog Dare, Wilson watches a 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story and survives to tell us all about it. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Christmas movie content takes a back seat to some considerations of form, and the resultant writing product is both wise and engaging.

Frankly, I agreed to read this book because I thought it would suck in a manner that would be hilarious. Who wants to read along as a crazy Christmas lady deep dives into obscure movie trivia, no matter how beloved the movie? How scholarly could a hokey sleep deprivation experiment be? I have an aunt who goes nuts about Christmas stuff and I was pretty sure this book was made to be read by that oh so narrow slice of the populace. But actually, The Triple Dog Dare is a treasure trove of insights for those in performance studies or even a passing interest in film as a medium.

The book purports to be about A Christmas Story and there is a fair amount of movie-related content examination sprinkled throughout it, but this book is really about its author. It’s about the less than subtle cognitive psychology of marathoning one plot over and over again, hyper-viewing versus our more modern invention of binge-watching different stories arch across a single series. It’s about how many hours a middle-aged woman -- a pretty cool one, her extreme devotion to the study of Christmas notwithstanding -- can endure without sleep or social interactions. It’s about adventures that only seem like a good idea at three o’clock in the morning and whether we can laugh at racist depictions of Chinese restaurant servers anymore. It’s about how to discuss a holy day in a secular manner and how to sustain a holiday spirit all year long.

Yeah, it’s also about how people will make a museum out of anything and why Ohio is a lame place to live. It’s also about how hilarious and awful commercials were in the '80s and the simple pleasures of the VCR. It’s also a “six degrees of Christmas” kind of thing, where pretty much anything you hold dear is just two logical leaps away from someone or something from the apparently ubiquitous pop culture phenomenon of A Christmas Story. The chapters are organized chronologically to give some impression of continuity, but Wilson returns to key threads over and over on a minutely differentiated loop, performing an analysis that is a parallel experience to her lifelong viewership of this movie.

Some insights are on repeat while others fade away only half finished. Even if, like me, you don’t give much of a hoot about Christmas and haven’t seen A Christmas Story seven million times, The Triple Dog Dare is shockingly charming. It’s about turning lived experience into stories, making the stories into a movie, and then inserting that movie back into the context of our lives.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.