In Hollywood, there's no business like snow business
LOS ANGELES — Christmas is here and you know what that means in Hollywood. No, I'm not talking about the undignified expansion of the season to October by Ben Affleck and Co. in "Surviving Christmas." I'm talking about the tyranny of the White Christmas paradigm in pop culture. If it's Christmas, that means everyone from Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" (who stumbles through frigid, slushy streets) to Will Ferrell in "Elf" (who hurls snowballs at little boys in Central Park) is stuck in a 19th-century Northeast diorama.
Don't get me wrong. I like Christmas. But I think it's time for a revolution. I say, liberate the warm weather Wassail! When was the last time you saw a holiday film set in the sunshine states for any reason other than a good laugh? How many times do we need to chuckle at those hopeless wannabes in Beverly Hills who spray fake snow on their Christmas trees?
I say, it's time to stop dissing the folks who welcome their Santas in on a surfboard every winter (wearing his red wetsuit, of course), as they do in L.A.'s South Bay. Give them the respect their freshly mowed lawns deserve. After all, a big part of the Northern Hemisphere and nearly all the Southern (summertime down there, remember?) wears shorts and T-shirts in December.
How about it, Hollywood? The next time Will Ferrell decides to jump on his family Christmas tree, why not instead have him dive into a pool the way they do in Florida? This permutation began with the Weeki Wachee underwater park mermaids, who decorate trees while people watch through the big tank windows.
Floridians are actually putting Christmas trees on the bottom of their pools, says Kevin McCarthy, a professor at the University of Florida. He says people spend more time next to their swimming pools than in their living rooms this time of year, so it was a natural step.
Or how about a Whoville set in Texas? That way, Cindy Lou Who could hang her snowman's hat on balls of tumbleweed instead of big snowballs, the way they do down in the Lone Star state, where some have renamed the holiday "Texmas."
For all those snowball huggers who believe there is a connection between baby Jesus and icicles, a little history might help. "You'll get cognitive dissonance no matter what part of this holiday you look at," says Bryan LeBeau, a history professor at the University of Missouri. "For starters, we don't know when Jesus was born, but it was most certainly not in December." Even if an end-of-year birthday could be proved, very few spots in the Holy Land resemble Connecticut in midwinter.
Besides, you cinematographers, aren't you bored with the palette? White, gray, uh, gray, white. Come on! Walk down a balmy California street in December sometime and tell me that Santa as a Wild West sheriff with his elves as bronco-busting cowboys wouldn't be more interesting than another faux Victorian gaslit street? Photographer Ctein, whose book "Christmas in California" documents what he calls "compensation for the lack of meteorological correctness," says "this is more like regional folk art." It's much easier to put up house lights in warm weather, he says, adding "people really get creative because they don't have to deal with snow and ice."
"It would be liberating to get past that imagery," says Joseph Conforti, an expert on Christmas who lives in Maine. "It certainly privileges the experience of one group of people over another."
Consider the lift this inclusiveness would give young children if pop culture showed as much sand as it does snow.
Not all swimsuited celebrants, however, feel the need to advertise. "As it is, we get 1,000 people a month moving down here from the north," says Florida's Professor McCarthy. His own kids are completely cool with a Green Christmas, even if Hollywood overlooks it. He's taken them north occasionally. "It's fun for a day, but after they see how cold and miserable it gets, they can't wait to get back."