Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The new british tradition: smirking at tradition

Years ago there was made a gloriously handcrafted monument to the magic of childhood, a small jewel of a film called The Snowman. I can’t remember when I first saw it, but I do remember how pleasantly it conjured up half-forgotten memories of playing around in the snow on a cold Saturday morning, struggling to build a snowman against all odds, with the moment of triumph ritually followed by restful contemplation. In the shadow of that icy creation I daydreamed as children do (did?) about the man of snow suddenly joining me in my backyard games with both of knowing an unspoken truth, that at some point he’d have to return to the far-away place from which he came, to make room for summer games in that same backyard.

A wonderful film for children, and for the child in all of us; it brings a smile to me now as I remember it again, for the first time in a long time. I am told that in the UK the film has enjoyed the same seasonal welcome with which we enjoy annual visits from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, as firmly part of the Christmas holiday ornamentations as Christmas lights and eggnog.

What to make, then, of this new (scottish?) commercial, and the manner in which it invokes that wonderful film, the Snowman? I watched this commercial and laughed heartily the first time; I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Then I thought about what I’d laughed at. And I got a bit angry.

If some of today’s culture poked fun at traditional values, traditional pleasures and memories, that would be a good thing, for it is good to rethink one’s position in life and whether or not traditions should still be taken seriously. One of man’s senses that surely must lift him above the animal, is his sense of humor, possessing the ability to recognize his gift for fallibility. One can go to church, vote in elections, raise a family, and yet still find room to laugh with the Marx Brothers. Surely there must remain room for both the sacred and the satirical, in order to be human.

But it is not “some” of the culture fulfilling this useful task: it feels like it is most, if not all, of our culture that takes aim at that which is good about ourselves, and seeks to reduce its value. “Why do you care about this old film, why would one care about anything”, were the messages I saw when I watched the commercial a second time. Is it because I don’t have a sense of humor? Is it because I think it’s important, even essential, for children to have childhoods, in order to able to age gracefully?

Here in Canada, I can’t buy the drink being advertised, but if I could I herewith would not. Brits, is nothing sacred anymore, in your world? Bad enough you turn your backs on Christmas, must you now turn up your nose to a work of such gentle grace as The Snowman? In doing so, are you not also turning away from the breath of life that children, and the child in all of us, must develop, in order to animate all their dreams, snowmen or otherwise? Humans, particularly their children, are flawed, but surely we must laugh **with** them, not **at** them, for the folly of what it is to be human?

Isn’t that what it means to have a sense of humor..?

1 comment:

dag said...

Man Ray will illustrate my next piece, his photograph of an iron with nails glued on it, his idea of straightening out the injustice of traditional art at the expence of the new and unvalued painters and photographers of his time, now so passe.