Day 18 – Vada Advent Calendar
What’s this? (Or; Musings on The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Everyone has their own Christmas traditions – it might be a certain film that has to be watched before Christmas day, or certain comestibles that have to be indulged in strange permutations, the reasoning for which being long occluded by a distant and distinctly un-sober history of Christmas days.
For myself, two stalwart favourites at Christmas are crumpets on Christmas morning (despite much mocking of my parents and long-suffering boyfriend) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (spoiler alert if, for whatever reason, you haven’t yet watched it). However, whilst watching it this year, I was set about musing on a few notions contained within the film that strike me as interesting.
I: Inverted Worlds
First, the film is ostensibly told from the perspective of the bad guys. If the overture of ‘This is Halloween’ doesn’t convince you thus, then the whole plot of a rival group kidnapping Santa, holding him hostage and forcibly taking over the holiday for the dissemination of their own world view sounds like the story arc for a dubiously-tasteful Third Reich-themed pantomime. Indeed, tell the story from the point of view of Santa or any of the other minions from Christmas Town and you get a much more traditional (Chistmas?) story of fear, struggle and redemption.
I then considered that this framing might be one of the reasons that I have subconsciously enjoyed the film for so long: I’ve always had something of a penchant for supporting the baddies in films. Not through any longing for evil (more on that presently), but more from a pragmatic standpoint. Look at several film blockbusters featuring a clear dichotomy between good and evil: Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The odds are that any given person enjoys at least one of the aforementioned films, though I would wager that most support the protagonists rather than the villains.
Why? Remove the knowledge that good ultimately triumphs and suddenly the pragmatist in you might start to realise the superiority death star and fleet of starships, legions of Uruk-Hai and dark wizards or a seemingly- invincible leader and massively disproportionate numbers. Sure, there’s the knowledge that you’re fighting for good and not evil, but that’s surely a viewpoint too? To the aggressors, our protagonists were portrayed as the bad guys, on whose failure their own survival rested. (Besides, I’d sooner have a Star Destroyer than an X-wing any day.) The fascinating thing for me, then, is that the Nightmare Before Christmas draws you into the traditional bad guy’s camp and has you rooting for them, rather than a preservation of your own order and system (namely, that of Christmas).
As touched on above, I believe that evil is a relative position rather than an absolute constant. Further, I believe that evil cannot be created, but rather perceived. Socrates touched on this in his (surprisingly readable) dialogue, Meno, when he argued that no one can ever logically desire evil. The Making Christmas song belies a genuine interest in making Christmas as good as possible, granted their own world view of terror and scaremongering. This is compounded when Jack, following the failure of his plan, exclaims that “all I ever wanted was to give them something great” in the song Poor Jack.
The natural weapon for the critic of this idea that evil is relative and not absolute is that of the Third Reich. Did not millions elect Hitler believing he could do great things for them? Did not the soldiers serve him in gruesome battle over adherence to a greater sense of duty rather than pursuit of evil? One cannot deny that the man himself was not mentally stable or even particularly nice, but I also seriously doubt that he viewed himself as evil. In Hitler’s own, deranged, state, he honestly believed that he was doing good and the oppressive allied forces were trying to stop his sense of duty.
I do not mean to sound as an apologist for Hitler or the Nazi regime, but merely to demonstrate how much less emotive and distressing it is to discuss the nature of evil using stop-motion animation rather than a genocidal maniac. Perhaps all future philosophers should use film – maybe even this film, lest they be seen as excusing and dismissing the inexcusable and unforgettable.
In the song Town Meeting, the townsfolk are sold on the idea of adopting and taking over Christmas without any greater information or confirmation than the word of their own king and their bumbling mayor (“I fully endorse it, let’s try it at once”). I do not here mean to imply faith as only involving religion but more all instantiations of faith, be it trust in newspapers’ sensationalism, belief in slightly ludicrous gossip or unreasoned political stances.
Without wishing to draw too fine a point on it, Jack could be talking complete nonsense to them, or indeed have intended the whole charade of a new holiday that nearly results in his death and disappearance as an elaborate plan to scare his faithful subjects. With only excited questioning and one critical voice (Sally), the plan progresses full steam ahead.
Of course, I also make here the wider point that one can infer interestingly from all manner of things if only one opens one’s eyes. The gift of examination and reasoning (through interpretation) is humankind’s alone – don’t squander it.