When I think of Christmas, the first thing that springs to mind is the happy fact that I am going to enjoy eternal life in Heaven. And the second is He-Man.
Yes, He-Man. Maybe it's because of that fateful December 24 when I, at the tender age of five or six, snuck out of bed and discovered that Castle Grayskull had appeared under the tree, and the milk and cookies next to it had been consumed-despite the fact that my parents were still awake in the next room. "Holy fucking shit," I thought. "Santa is fucking fast." Or maybe it's because of that same night, several hours later, when I woke up my mom and dad to ask if we could open presents yet, and my mother said something to me that I have never forgotten: "Joshua, it is four o'clock in the fucking morning. Get your ass back in bed and stay there."
Maybe. Or maybe it is because I love both Christmas and He-Man, and yet both get hated on time and time again. The big complaint about He-Man, after all, is exactly the same one you hear about Christmas: that it's a corny, mawkish fantasy camouflaging little more than an exercise in crass materialism. That whatever myth might surround it, its core reason for being is (or was) to get people to spend money.
Well, to that critique of both, I say: Bah. Humbug.
Oh, sure, both Christmas and He-Man do (or did) get people to part with their hard-earned; there's no question of that. And I'm not going to deny the corniness or mawkishness of either. What I do deny, though-vehemently-is the implicit presumption that because something has commercial, corny, or mawkish qualities, it is wholly devoid of substance. Further, I'll bite the bullet and argue that those corny and mawkish qualities are often exactly where the substance lies.
Take, for example, He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special, which I just watched for the first time in almost a quarter-century. The premise of the special-which would probably not qualify as "science fiction" under Harlan Ellison's standards-is that two Earth children are accidentally brought to He-Man's home planet of Eternia by his friend Orko, and then kidnapped by villains Hordak and Skeletor, whose boss wants them and the Christmas spirit they've brought with them (it clings to Earth children like the scent of pine needles) destroyed.
After a series of battles, the kids end up stuck with Skeletor, and a cyborg puppy, in a snow-covered mountain range. And as in so many of the best Christmas stories (Orko, incidentally, delivers the last line-"Merry Christmas, everybody!"-in perfect Tiny Tim intonation), the heart of the plot sees the bony ol' grinch from that point on starting to redeem himself, at least temporarily.
Is it absurd? Not really-Skeletor has always smacked of being a softie (how else could his henchpeople have survived for so long, and why else would he have hired them in the first place?), and you always suspect that he's secretly happiest on the rare occasions he deals with He-Man and the Masters as peers instead of enemies. (At the end of the special, when he protests, "I don't like to feel good! I like to feel evil!" and everyone chuckles, the moment is much more Oscar the Grouch than Cobra Commander.) Still, it's definitely cheesy.
Nonetheless, there is something very important, very substantial, about the lesson here, however clichéd, which is of course that there's good in everyone. That's not to say you should be overly trusting in the case of someone who has repeatedly tried to overthrow King Randor's peaceful rule. But which lesson-"There's good in everyone" or "Don't be too trusting"-is ultimately more important?
Well, if the former is evocative of a He-Man cartoon, I'd say the latter suggests The Wire, that critically acclaimed HBO series that was anything but sentimental. But while the former is a straight-up moral of the story, I don't think that's true of the latter. No, although "Don't be too trusting" is something I think most of the characters in The Wire would agree on, the message you take away from the series is that the only truly bright moments in a bleak existence come when people hew to the sappy ideals He-Man lurrrrves so much.
So, O jaded readers, as you go about your lives this holiday season, maybe don't be so quick to dismiss the mushy, the maudlin, or even the trite out of hand. Immersed in the sickly sweet bathwater may be the Baby of All That Is Meaningful. And the baby's name may just be Jesus. Or it could be Dylan-that's a pretty popular name lately. Dylan, get your ass back in bed and stay there. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Commenter Moff's real name is Josh Wimmer, and he can usually be found at scribblescribblescribble.com/blog.