“Look, Charlie Brown, we all know Christmas is a big commercial racket.”
Every year my family eagerly awaits the annual broadcast of the classic 1965 Peanuts special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” This timeless masterpiece by Charles Schulz remains so popular that the networks salivate over the rights to it, despite the strong, explicitly Christian statement made in the end by Linus, which surely exasperates the secular crusaders who control TV content from New York.
My kids always push me to buy the episode on DVD, which I’ve refused, knowing that once it is available at our home, its charm will be ruined as it is rammed in and out of the DVD player hundreds of times all year round. I always said no—until this week.
On Tuesday, ABC carried the broadcast at 8:00 p.m.—in November still, of course. We planned on watching it before 8:30 bedtime. As we clicked on the channel, however, we noticed that the show ran until 9:00 p.m. “That’s impossible,” I said. “They can’t extend that thing past 30 minutes even with commercials.”
Good grief, Charlie Brown, was I wrong. It took about two minutes before the speakers on our TV were screaming with obnoxious advertisements, filling our house with a cacophony of junk we usually block out. The message of the ads is that Christmas is about buying—period. You need more stuff to be happy.
It was immediately apparent that we were about to be bombarded for 60 minutes by nonsense. “I don’t think I can take this,” I said to my wife. “I don’t want to support this by watching it.” I was sitting there, captive, doing exactly what they wanted. “I’m a dupe,” I conceded. My wife dared me: “Turn it off. We will buy the DVD. I say we turn it off.”
Well, we did. And, surprisingly, it wasn’t hard. We silenced the boob-tube, after coming to agreement on an arrangement that if we bought the DVD, we would only watch the show once a year.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that advertisements pay the bills. But the whole commercialism thing is indeed out of control and worse than ever. It is truly nauseating.
Sure, it is bad enough that “Christmas”—which is increasingly not called “Christmas” by advertisers and the stores that carry their products—begins in early November. It is bad enough watching Black Friday start at midnight at the outlet stores near my home, where the cars last year lined up in traffic for hours upon end in the wee hours of the night. It is bad enough that I watch TV commercials telling me I should surprise my spouse on Christmas morning with a $75,000 Lexus parked in our driveway.
And that, of course, is simply Christmas. Long before “the holiday season,” I learn each September that I can’t watch NFL games with my boys without flipping the channel every commercial break because of sexually-charged scenes that send my wife into fits. Most troubling are the insane ads on TV and radio alike that inform all members of my household—including the little girls within listening range—of the indispensable importance of an adult male having “knock out, earth-shaking sex” with an erection lasting for hours. Are there no boundaries anymore?
So, that’s a long way of saying that on Thursday we bought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on DVD. The first thing I checked was the duration of the episode—25 minutes. That’s right—only 25 minutes. Amazingly, ABC extended the show twice its length, adding more commercial time than show time—not 10 percent more, or 33 percent, or 50 percent, but over 100 percent. Impossible? Apparently not.
Most striking, the commercials didn’t merely drown out the message of the show; they nuked it. And what’s the message? This is where it gets really bizarre, if not infuriating: The message is that Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and not commercialism. Incredible: it was if no one at ABC even watched the show before smothering it with commercialism. To borrow from Lucy—what are they, a bunch of blockheads?
That message arrives when a frustrated Charlie Brown cries: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” The answer is provided by Linus. If you haven’t heard Linus’ moving discourse, I advise you check it out—I mean, literally check it out at the rental store. It comes only 20 minutes into the DVD, much better than waiting 55 minutes through agonizing ads.
In the end, Charlie Brown gets it: “Linus is right,” he declares. “I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.”
Neither will I, Chuck. From now on, I will watch the DVD.