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It's the annual snow job

TELEVISION & RADIO | COMMENTARY

Yule logs, mistletoe and, of course, frozen flakes are trotted out once again to make money off of that timeless brand: Christmas.

December 20, 2006|Frazier Moore | Associated Press

NEW YORK — I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

Like I've got a choice. The media are pounding it into my head. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. No way of ducking this annual storm.

Nearly 200 years ago, Clement Clarke Moore described a night before Christmas when "the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow / Gave the luster of midday to objects below."

But now we don't have to rely on some poet's fancy words. We get the picture -- over and over on television. In programs and commercials. Trivializing Christmas through sheer repetition, starting right after Halloween.

Christmas is a touchy subject. And always was, throughout its raucous history as tracked by Stephen Nissenbaum in his fascinating 1996 book, "The Battle for Christmas."

Not until the 4th century did the church officially decree Dec. 25 as the date for Christmas, and only because it roughly coincided with the arrival of the winter solstice -- already long observed in somewhat different style as a pagan festival.

Now leap forward to the 1840s, when images of Santa Claus -- "a figure of national scope for fewer than 15 years," writes Nissenbaum -- were pressed into service "by merchants to attract the attention of children to particular shops."

Christmas has always been at odds with itself. No wonder it's a holiday that, whatever the pretense of peace and goodwill, people love to fight about.

They even fight about wishing people a merry Christmas (instead of happy holidays).

"The war on Christmas continues," culture warrior Bill O'Reilly warned on his Fox News Channel talk show recently. "It's not as bad as last year, but it's still around." Another time he explained that, even though right-thinking traditionalists are in the majority, opposing "secular progressives" have "the media and the Hollywood crew firmly in their camp."

So how does O'Reilly account for this: It's the "Hollywood crew" he habitually slams that are leading the crusade to spread Christmas cheer.

Christmas cheer, as in Christmas ka-CHING: Christmas is a nearly half-trillion-dollar festival. Christmas is a lucrative brand. No wonder it's overexposed and over-exploited.

Christmas overkill? Business is business, I get it. I'm just fed up with the grinding sameness with which Christmas is depicted, especially on TV, a medium that's always most comfortable with artifice and stereotypes, with cliches and atmospherics -- not deep-seated meaning. Riffing from Christmas songs, books, greeting cards, movies (and don't forget "A Visit From St. Nicholas"), TV has a custom of recycling Christmas in the same narrow terms.

Check 'em off: Sleigh bells. Yule logs. Mistletoe. Mittens and colorful ski sweaters. Tables laden with more food than anyone can eat. And, of course, snow.

Anything less just doesn't measure up to media-imposed Christmas standards. Anything less (no snow?!) and, out here in real life, we feel cheated.

Hear Christopher Lloyd as a self-proclaimed angel stalking lonely Rob Lowe on TNT's recent film, "A Perfect Day." "It's Christmas night," he intones -- "a night to be home in front of a roaring fire. Eggnog piping hot. The smell of fresh pine boughs. The family gathered at the table for Christmas dinner."

Well, he's done a pretty good job condensing the media-perpetuated Christmas ideal. Plus, as he speaks, he's standing in a snowy street.

On Lifetime's movie "A Christmas Wedding," Sarah Paulson and Eric Mabius played sweethearts who dream of marrying in a "winter wonderland" ceremony. ("Winter wonderland": a romantic term for snow.)

And on Hallmark Channel's recent "The Christmas Card," an American soldier serving in Afghanistan is touched by a holiday greeting he got from an unknown correspondent. Back home on Christmas leave, he tracks her down. Wouldn't you know it! She lives in a picture-perfect snowy logging town. How could this couple \o7not\f7 fall in love?

Even NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" confronted Christmas cliches -- and got sucked in. Matt, the glib, cleverer-than-thou TV producer (played by Matthew Perry) decided that his late-night comedy show would do its first-ever Christmas-themed broadcast. A colleague argued that balmy Los Angeles "just doesn't feel like Christmas."

"We're gonna \o7make\f7 it feel like Christmas," Matt shot back. "I want to hear sketch ideas with Santa and Rudolph and chestnuts and burning logs."

Then he mused, "We're gonna need a lot of snow."

Not for the first time, TV was snowing the audience with makeshift spirit. And an all-consuming message: Have a Merry Christmas with an open heart but with your wallet open wider. Or else.

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