Over my visit home for Christmas, I saw snippets of several movies focusing on the theme of the workaholic dad who doesn’t understand the true spirit of Christmas. One widely-known example is Jingle All the Way, in which the former governor or California [sic] stars as a father seeking to find the hottest toy of the season on Christmas Eve, having shirked his duty to buy it earlier. The movie opens with him making sales calls and missing his son’s karate event as a result — simply part of a broader pattern, we are meant to understand. I didn’t wind up seeing the ending, but I assume that Arnold was ultimately made to submit to the totalitarian demands of Christmas.
What I’d like to see is a movie in which workaholic dad sits his son down and says, “You know what? I’m not really interested in your karate thing or what specific toy you’ve decided you want for Christmas. What I am interested in is my work, and coincidentally my work finances all that crap for you. I am giving you enough money that you can do basically whatever you want — so just go do it already and stop trying to force me into a role I’m obviously never going to fulfill.”
It may be physically impossible for such a movie to be made in America, though. If that was the end point, the moral of the story — if all the family members “did their own thing” without stressing out about whether they felt the appropriate emotions about each other, etc. — then this whole “America” thing may literally collapse in on itself.
As I discuss in Why We Love Sociopaths, anyone who openly embraces the workaholism that is so obviously the central value of American society must ultimately be either converted to the cause of Authentic Family Values or else punished for his lack of true humanity. This is a law of pop culture physics, perhaps the most fundamental law of all: as soon as a woman makes a demand on our charming rogue, as soon as he is even minamally paired with a female person, the force is irresistible.
This trend reaches its most absurd point in Up in the Air, where George Clooney’s light-travelling character has a crisis of faith as a result of travelling briefly with a female colleague who makes reference to a couple hackneyed cliches that dictate that his regular hook-up partner must secretly be wanting “more.” The joke is of course that she already has “more” and that he’s her side dish — but why did this scenario have to arise at all? Why couldn’t we have a movie that was the exploration of his unique lifestyle? If a romantic subplot was absolutely necessary, why couldn’t it be the story of two people who are perfectly content to be semi-regular hook-up partners and nothing more?
Surely such people exist, right? Surely there are people for whom the demands of family and home are so suffocating that they can’t imagine submitting to them. Surely there are people who, left to themselves, would never have had kids and would never have been filled with regret at their failure to reproduce — or people who could take kids or leave them and are happy to go along with what their spouse wants, and who obviously shouldn’t be expected to be deeply involved parents. And just as surely, there exist people out there somewhere in the world whose fathers were distant or uninvolved and don’t harbor deep scars of resentment — indeed, who don’t really care at all.
We never hear those people’s stories in themselves. What they believed to be a durable lifestyle choice is always only a temporary abberation along the way to their full submission to Authentic Family Values. They thought their work was important and meaningful — it turns out that being a slave to every whim of a young child is actually the only meaningful path. They thought they enjoyed their freedom — it turns out that thorough domestication is the only genuine freedom. If they don’t actually achieve the august status of a Family Man, they must feel their lack as a kind of living death.
There is no life or meaning outside the family. We must all submit or be doomed to utter emptiness. That is the true spirit of Christmas.