Last night my monk and my kids and I gathered around the television for the traditional viewing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I am sure almost everyone reading this blog has seen this glorious piece of true comic genius.
For some reason, the jokes never get old. Every year I laugh out loud at, "It wouldn't be the Christmas season if the stores were any hooter than they are," and other classic lines that so many of my friends and family can quote in almost any situation. Except by now, I often find myself cracking up BEFORE the punch line is delivered ... in anticipation.
Last night, however, I began to think of the movie a little differently. In particular, the central character: Clark Grizzwald. It occured to me: For all the fumbles, stumbles and outright disasters that take place every time this guy tries to do ANYTHING, Clark Grizzwald is a hero for our age. TThere is a lot to respect about the man in the hockey mask with the chainsaw who assaults his neighbors out of pure desperation to give his family a nice Christmas--even though they don't seem to appreciate it on the surface.
Here's my thoughts on why we should stop mocking and start congratulating Clark W. Grizzwald:
1. He fucking cares. This man is dedicated. He does nothing small, and no amount of complaining and snickering can deter him. If his 250,000 twinkle lights don't light up the night on the first try, he gets back up on the roof and checks every bulb. While his neighbors fret over their stereo and blandly criticize; while his in-laws make jokes at his expense,Clark Grizzwald presses on unbowed. He's motivated by love for his family; every knock on the head and fall down the stairs is for them, and he doesn't bedgrudge them for it one bit.
2. He's a Romantic. In an age sorely lacking in romance, Grizz keeps the passion alive. He's got the fire down below. He's passionate about just about everything he does, whether it's taking his kids to an amusement park, putting up a Christmas tree, or hell, doing his job. When he takes the kids sledding, he tries to find a way to do it faster, better. It ends in hilarious catastrophe, but you have to admit--the man didn't settle. In between bitch slapping plastic reindeer and stalking runaway squirrels, he remembers to pick up a little lingerie for his wife. A beast breathes beneath those geeky Christmas sweaters, my friends.
3. He's kind. Sure, he's pissed off that his cousin Eddie hasn't found a job in seven years and has nothing for kids for Christmas. The fact is he can't stand Eddie on any level--but he's still going to take of Eddie's kids. That's not his problem; that's not his business; that's not his responsibility; but he makes it his problem, even though no one would fault him if he didn't--because he can. To the Grizz, doing what is right is more important than doing what is "fair." And he understand the difference. He couldn't sit right with himself if he let those kids down, whether it should be his job or not. And sure, one could say what one wants about commercialism and the darker side of gift giving, but in the story at least the gifts are symbol. The point here is compassion. He's willing to help out someone he doesn't even like, someone who is clearly taking advantage of him, because there's some kids stuck in the middle who need a little love--who need to believe in something.
4. He's responsible. Clark's "good, old-fashioned family Christmas' is a disaster. His home is literally almost destroyed and almost everything he tries to do utterly fails. People are injured. Hostages are taken. The police are called. Very little of this is his fault. Shit just happens. Cats get electrocuted. So it goes. Still ... he never once says, "It's not my fault." When his moron cousin-in-law kidnaps his boss, Clark says he'll "take the rap." He owns his mistakes, but still isn't afraid to take risks.
5. He's a bad ass. He's a little recognized aspect of Clark's character. He stands up for himself. He puts his yuppie neighbors in their place more than once. He tells his whiny father-in-law not to piss him off. He rips is boss a new one for cutting out the Christmas bonus without telling anyone. In the first Vacation movie he forces a security guard onto a roller coaster at gun point. In the European Vacation movie, he runs down and punches out an Italian mobster.
And sure, the man isn't perfect. He loses his cool. He flips out, and he goes to extremes. He threatens to sodomize his neighbor with a huge Christmas tree and calls his boss a "bag of monkey shit." But hey, he reassures us, we've all done it. And it's OK in the end.
These aspects of the Grizz are underscored by the people around him. You can see how much he cares in how much they don't, or in how they react to him. His friend at work calls him, "The last true family man." And that may be true. The yuppie neighbors are perfect foils for the Grizz. Clark believes in magic and is ready to make his own. The yuppies roll their eyes and do nothing but snipe at each other and everyone else. They have zero passion. When yuppie husband moves in for a kiss, yuppie wife puts her hands up and tells him to shower. When things go wrong, they blame each other, and yuppie boy lacks the balls to say "boo" to Clark when the Grizz sends a pine tree through their dining room window. And in the end, they are sitting around miserable with ice packs on their heads sulking while the Grizz stands outside his ruined house with his asshole cousin's dog, brimming with pride while his family sings "Auld Lang Syne" with the SWAT team that came to arrest them.
The Grizz looks at the broken windows, hears the singing and voices a single thought: "I did it."
I salute you, Clark Grizzwald! Merry Christmas.