Die Hard: THE Christmas Movie
There have always been a lot of ‘ketchup on hot dogs’ and ‘pineapple on pizza’ type arguments on social media over whether or not “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. It clearly is, and by any measure. Hear me out.
All the old arguments in agreement with the idea that “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie tend to lean on things such as the only reason for McClane being in L.A. was because he wanted to visit his family at Christmas. And if you’ve ever been apart from people you love for a while (and especially if their boss offers to pay your way for a visit), you know that you would take the leave and head out west to spend that special time with your estranged wife and kids. And of course the reason for the Nakatomi Plaza attack happening that night was because somehow an entire office building in Los Angeles had been emptied of all people apart from a couple of gomers at the front desk and Joseph Takagi, CEO of Nakatomi Corp running a Christmas party for his entire staff on the 30th floor of the building. So far, so good.
McClane arrives in L.A. and is picked up by Argyle, the limo driver Takagi hired to drive him to Nakatomi Plaza. Argyle starts asking him questions about his situation. This sad tale of love lost (or on hiatus) sets up the classic Christmas tale of redemption and the power of love. Why, if it weren’t for all the murder-death-kills and explosions and whatnot, this one might have *been* a Hallmark Christmas movie. Thank goodness for firepower and bad guys.
On the way, Argyle insists that Christmas music can be ‘80s rap, which was an odd phenomenon even then. ‘80s rap, I mean. Not Christmas music. Why would he be jamming Christmas rhymes in July, after all? Obviously a Christmas soundtrack.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room (next to the Christmas tree): Are there any other movies that could only have happened at Christmastime? The Miracle on 34th Street could have happened in July. Santa would have been uncomfortable in the suit and beard, but that’s a minor modification. Just set it on a Florida beach and have him wear a Speedo. How about It’s a Wonderful Life? Could that not have happened in Baton Rouge (or Tallahatchie - h/t Bobbie Gentry) in August? Movies about Christmas aren’t really about Christmas in the main; it’s just a sentimental time of year for many / most of us, and they use that as a hook. Which is fair enough. They are about salvation and redemption and romance. Hallmark dialed this in long ago. I’ve never seen a Hallmark Christmas movie, but I’m pretty sure I know how they go. Otherwise I might watch them to find out.
The thing about “Die Hard” that makes it a Christmas movie beyond debate is that redemption theme. Alright, it isn’t exactly a George Bailey or Ebeneezer Scrooge salvation tale, but Holly changed her last name back to McClane, so we know it had a happy ending after that last limo ride. And Christmas movies always have happy endings.
Holly and John were a Hallmark Christmas movie plot line. The kids missed their daddy, and mom and dad couldn’t work it out. And then a Christmas miracle happened and they got back together. All it took was putting a little seasonal ketchup on the fire hose of a hot dog. And a bunch of dead bad guys. How could that not be a joyous thing?
Sergeant Al Powell got his salvation in the form of a return to being a real cop. Early in his career, he had panicked and killed a teenager, so he found a way to stay off the streets and eat Twinkies. A desk job. I’ll admit his version of salvation here is a bit grim, but the guy he shot was an murderous asshole, so it counts.
But the overarching, most important thing about a Christmas movie is tradition. When a person thinks of “A Christmas Story” or “Home Alone” or “White Christmas,” they know what season they are thinking about and dwelling on. Can the same not be said of “Die Hard?” If you watch the movie, do you ever watch it outside of December?
Here’s an actual quote from Hans Gruber: “It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles! So be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock.” See? Seasonal.
First, one of my favorite things about this movie is that Alan Rickman had no idea that he was going to get that Christmas surprise as his character exited stage south. He looked awfully startled falling out that window because he was (startled, not actually falling out that 30th floor window).
One other thing I noted (I think for the first time) last night: Every time McClane has a firearm in his hand, he has his finger inside the trigger guard. At one point he has to switch hands with a pistol. He takes the finger off the trigger and clearly makes sure to insert the other one during the switch. It could be argued that the building was lousy with bad guys, but he’s a cop. Just saying. Hey, at least he got the girl (again).
P.S. Ketchup does not belong on hot dogs (or anything else) and pineapple does belong on pizza as long as there are chilis too.
Merry Christmas to y’all, and to y’all a good night.
Ho ho ho.
Book Review: The Glass Factory
Several friends on Twitter referred to Braxton McCoy and his book “The Glass Factory” in extremely favorable terms. For the most part, these friends served in the military, unlike me. At my late stage in life, I often regret not at least attempting martial service, but I fully realize that I was overwhelmed by the delusion that I was an athlete. Despite not having served, throughout my lifetime I have attempted to learn about and evaluate large and fundamental questions by absorbing the writings and teachings of military persons throughout history. The literature ranges from historical to personal reflection to fiction to poetry. Each of these genres provide an insight into the human condition under circumstances of what I describe as its rawest crucible. War, genocide, conflict, revolution, post-revolution, and the arenas produced by violence typically strip away platitudes and fantasy leaving the essence of what it means to be a human being. Those referring to Mr. McCoy’s book expressed sentiment that indicated it was a book worthy of the others written about violence, noble or not, and its aftermath.
I ordered The Glass Factory and read it over the course of about three days. The biography stunned me in a good way on several levels. First, as a story, Mr. McCoy tells his own tale with a genuine and purposeful arc. I was genuinely surprised that out of 21 Chapters and an Afterword, McCoy only devotes two chapters to his own service and the incidents that led to his severe injuries. Essentially, after the second chapter of the book he devotes his writing to taking the reader through treatment, his process of recovery, and his status and lessons as of the completion of his book. I do not know the decorum in writing review of literature in terms of revealing the “plot,” but suffice it to say the story itself makes Herculean efforts at honesty, it provides details of both internal and external struggles, and presents advice to the reader in an accessible form buttressed by his real-life struggles and experiences. Another part of the book that surprised me perhaps even more was McCoy’s references to authors and thinkers that influenced me and continue to influence me in terms of my thought process and my view of life. The book pays direct homage to Dr. Jordan Peterson, quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn, William Tecumseh Sherman, Edgar Allan Poe, and Cormac McCarthy, among others I have read in my journey of learning. I read The Glass Factory and wove these thinkers, with Mr. McCoy leading, throughout the story. I have debated all of them internally time and again, and McCoy’s story added another tapestry within which to consider these great minds.
However, his intimate and honest portrayal of his life as a young man after injuries that I cannot even fathom spurred an off-the-cuff reaction in me. After finishing the book, I sent McCoy a tweet praising his book and adding that it reminded me of Charles Portis’ book “True Grit.” He thanked me and his reply indicated he would read True Grit. This brief interaction, however, stuck with me. My comparison between The Glass Factory and True Grit occurred with very little conscious analysis and was delivered rather spontaneously. After the interaction, I genuinely started to think about whether or not the comparison between a beloved book of fiction and a raw and honest testament of a real soldier was fair and accurate.
True Grit is one of my favorite books, and a book that I believe should be read by every 12-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy. The characters of Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn are kindred spirits, both operating under their own set of rules (which is perhaps why not one, but two exceedingly good movies were made from the same book). Mattie Ross is an extremely smart, direct, headstrong, religious, committed, brave, and honest young lady. Rooster Cogburn is similarly direct, headstrong, brave, physically injured (he lost an eye in the Civil War), clever, and forceful as a character. However, neither is without flaw. Mattie can be arrogant and suffers from occasional outbursts of hubris. Rooster drinks too much, is not a hundred percent honest, and, as the character admits, “can be a strutting bird.” Most importantly, both Ross and Cogburn fiercely love their independence and self-reliance, and speak with truth, irrespective of anyone else’s opinions. The two main characters reluctantly join forces to find the killer of Mattie Ross’ father. Although initially the two joined the pursuit with different intentions, they eventually meld into the same pursuit of justice. Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn also repeatedly express a love for their geographical place. Mattie Ross when introducing herself throughout the book almost universally adds 'from Dardanelle County' (Arkansas), and Rooster Cogburn repeatedly describes the importance of the West (though waning) to his very existence. Ross and Cogburn are both contradictory and complementary characters as written by Portis. Their attributes and flaws give them dimension and allow the reader to admire them when they are suffering through mistakes and struggles, as well as when they are overcoming and triumphing. True Grit is an adventure story, but more importantly, it is a quintessentially American parable on the importance of character in the end and regardless of flaws along the way, speaking truth regardless of discomfort caused by that truth, and pursuing a just cause or worthwhile mission.
How did I tie McCoy’s contemporary autobiographical diary to Portis’ fictional adventure story from the waning days of the old West? I reread The Glass Factory, this time in two days. As I reread his testament, I realized my initial expression to McCoy was not glib or off-the-cuff. His obvious love of the Rocky Mountains in the Utah area where he grew up and lives and its importance to his recovery and development parallels both Mattie Ross’ and Rooster Cogburn’s love of their physical “place” on earth. The love expressed in both stories is more than aesthetic. Braxton McCoy, Mattie Ross, and Rooster Cogburn tap into the current of their places in terms of where they are comfortable, challenged, and revived. This love of place is in no way trivial and is not limited to the United States in terms of its impact, but the literature of the United States more typically emphasizes the tie between who the character is and where the character finds their place. In contrast, as an example, Russian literature generally first focuses on the psychology and emotions of the characters. The place of the character is more of a vehicle or stage in which to act out the psychology and emotions.
However, in rereading The Glass Factory, the blend of the characteristics of Ross, Cogburn, and McCoy’s experiences became mutually supporting. McCoy’s near obsession with honesty, both as a goal of the book itself and as a recommendation for living one’s life as a result of his experiences, is also reflected in the characters of Ross and Cogburn. Although Rooster may spin a yarn or fudge his expenses, he, like Mattie Ross, speaks the truth to others with a frankness that is both refreshing and occasionally harsh. Throughout McCoy’s testament, he expresses an appreciation of those who speak the truth to him and seeks to emulate their frankness. Obviously, this forms part of the basis of his conclusions of what can be learned from his experiences, laden with pain and suffering. Another similarity that emerges is the concept of “mission.” McCoy developed a mission through his recovery, influenced by his experience at Arlington Cemetery, his reading, and, although I do not believe he would express this himself, his will. He emphasizes the need to develop and pursue worthwhile missions, to sacrifice for your family and strangers alike. Cogburn and Ross, in pursuit of the murderer of Ross’ father, develop a mission that is worthwhile in a similar vein, and similarly pursue that mission through their own will. Ross seeks absolute justice for a wanton killing of a good man. Cogburn, although initially influenced by the reward, in the end risks much and acts with sheer bravery in pursuit of that same justice. At the end of The Glass Factory, McCoy disavows his previous hedonistic pursuits in favor of seeking and achieving a similar worthy, personal mission. In True Grit, although Mattie Ross represents the antithesis of hedonism, Rooster Cogburn puts down his bottle to both finish the mission and save Mattie Ross.
Another interesting parallel between McCoy’s reality of and the fiction of True Grit emerges in the realm of physical injury and pain. As noted above, Rooster Cogburn was wounded in the Civil War resulting in the loss of his eye and his iconic eyepatch. At the end of True Grit, Mattie Ross is permanently injured as a result of her participation in the mission. Both she and Rooster Cogburn literally carry the pain and the obvious injuries of their lives, but that pain and injury does not stop them or deter them from pursuing further missions in life, and the essence of who they are. Although McCoy’s injuries, both physical and mental, are far more extensive than those suffered by the fictional characters, part of his story is the acceptance of pain and suffering, and continuing to move forward on a worthwhile mission.
Finally, acceptance of responsibility for one’s own lot in life emerges in both The Glass Factory and True Grit. This acceptance of responsibility is not, in either case, ignoring that people suffer as a result of events beyond their control. Throughout True Grit, there are examples of errors, accidents, and just dumb luck that harm the characters or frustrate their pursuit. Blame may find its way into the dialogue of True Grit, in frankness as one would expect, in conjunction with these experiences. However, no character shirks or dismisses personal responsibility for either finding their way into the mess or figuring a way out of dangerous or bad circumstances. Mr. McCoy’s development through his autobiography and the examples he provides from his real life efforts, emphasizes this exact same theme, and the benefits of acceptance of personal responsibility.
There are other parallels, complements, and lessons that line up between McCoy’s frankly amazing guided tour of his real-life experiences, struggles, and triumphs and the story of True Grit (I know and admit that I have ignored the Texas Ranger LeBeouf, and swear it is not a result of the acting performance of Glen Campbell in the first movie, but rather a conscious effort to limit length.). Mattie Ross in seeking out a man to pursue justice for her father requires one characteristic, “a man with grit.” I suspect Charles Portis wrote her character to actually mean ‘a man with grit like me.’ Grit is where the most prominent overlap occurs between True Grit and The Glass Factory. His life story from his horrible injuries in Iraq (and I believe before that seminal event) to his tripartite recovery at the end of his book is inundated with grit. That grit is found in himself, his comrades in arms, his grandfather and family, and, most touchingly, in the young lady from his hometown who took care of his property when he went to the hospital. In American parlance, the attributes of mission, sacrifice for others, physical and mental health, bravery, honesty with self and others, self-reliance and independence, acceptance of personal responsibility, and pure human will vetted and expressed by Mr. McCoy can, I believe, be subsumed within the meaning of the word “grit.” When modified with the adjective “true,” the story of Mr. McCoy’s actual experiences and the story of Charles Portis combine into an experience of both American origin and universal application.
Why did I feel I needed to write this probably too long explanation of a comment to an author and too short literary analysis? I think of myself as a proselytizer for great stories and literature. I realize the tie between The Glass Factory and True Grit that I expressed to Mr. McCoy was not only an effort to praise his affidavit, but to promote another great story that, although fiction, lives in the same realm of his experiences. If you get a chance, when your child is on the precipice of puberty, give them True Grit to read. Then, when they are a little older but still going through the turbulence of being a teenager, give them The Glass Factory to read. There are lessons and comfort in both of the stories for a lifetime.
One Ice Cream
As some of you know from a Twitter thread and related article I wrote about Greta Thunberg, I have a son on the autism spectrum (in his case, commonly labeled Asperger’s Syndrome). Asperger’s Syndrome is nicknamed the ‘Little Professor' syndrome because many of those with it become hyper focused, and even expert, often in extremely narrow and sometimes esoteric fields of interest, and often at a very young age relative to others in those same fields. As I wrote before, there is no one behavior or affectation that marks a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, but there are certainly commonalities for those who wade through life with Asperger’s Syndrome. Although this topic is never out of my mind because of my son, I have not had a moment until recently to digest the impact of the last year and half on my son (and I assume other autism spectrum individuals).
In the spring of 2020 a plan was in place to further help my son develop into a responsible, more social, independent adult. He had employment ready upon graduation and there were classes at the local community college that would further enhance his technical skill sets in his trade. If he locks on to his trade as a ‘Little Professor,’ we would have much relief that he will be valuable and valued in the marketplace when we are gone. The initial impact of the COVID shutdown on my son was a threefold hammer. My son lost a real graduation from high school and lost his genuinely meaningful employment opportunity. The loss of the graduation is not unique to my son, nor is the loss of the meaningful employment opportunity. There are many stories of high school students losing these same opportunities. He went to numerous graduation ceremonies for his brothers and sister and cousins, and this lost opportunity will likely be his one graduation opportunity for them to attend and celebrate.
The loss of his employment opportunity had a longer-term impact in that the job provided skilled training in its performance, and an opportunity for additional socialization. The irony of the COVID shutdown in terms of those with Asperger’s Syndrome is that social isolation is easy for most. One of the indicators of a toddler potentially having Asperger’s Syndrome is difficulty with social situations that are instinctive for other children. The inability or muted ability to recognize instinctive social situations typically isolates autism spectrum children from other children in social settings. The COVID shutdown on one hand was extremely easy for my son to handle as it promoted his generally preferred state, but did nothing to help him confront, practice, and improve his social skills. The loss of employment also represented a loss of opportunity for him to practice and improve learned social skills in an adult environment. Further, the COVID shutdown resulted in the cancellation of the community college classes. One cannot learn the skilled trades remotely. I believe it is worth reminding people, especially degreed people, that precision, skills, and craftsmanship must be learned, practiced, and improved through tactile learning. Shutting down this type of training meant that no training could occur at all. In actuality, the shutdowns paused my son’s development but did not pause time, resulting in further delay in his independence.
So, for a year plus, my son remained static through no choice of his own, both socially and in terms of work. Much has been written about the effects of shutdowns on school age children and college students. Less has been written about the effects of shutdowns on students transitioning from education to the workplace. Even less than that has been written about the effects of shutdowns on autism spectrum students transitioning from school to the work world, both in terms of skills and independence and of socialization. I can only imagine the difficulties of autism spectrum students in terms of remote learning and wearing face masks. Autism spectrum children have to learn what facial expressions mean in order to glean the social context of communication. The mask makes this learning process extremely difficult. It is akin to socially attempting to read someone’s lips as a deaf person when the speaker is wearing a mask. I have not seen very much commentary on the effects of shutdowns on autism spectrum students and young adults, to my surprise and distaste. Autism Speaks and the National Autistic Society are loudest when fundraising, and quiescent when it comes to what seems to be a serious challenge to those for whom they say they represent.
However, my focus is not on the impact of those in school. The transition from a school environment (which is generally supportive) to an environment where results of production and social interactions are the only scorecard entries is often overlooked and is not a focus of the education establishment. After a year, my son attempted a job more akin to his skill set, but in an environment that was not conducive to his Asperger’s Syndrome. He was dismissed, rightfully, and he handled his dismissal extremely well in terms of understanding the reasons for it. It was a learning experience but was not the learning experience we hoped for him. He obtained and is currently working at a job that he likes but is not necessarily improving his trade skills.
These events and results were concerning, but as I put it together, were not so pointedly impactful. However, one small event hit me especially hard and brought into focus the true impact of lockdowns. My son’s savings account is attached to my online account. This was originally done when he was younger, and there did not seem to be any reason to change this so that I can help him manage his finances. I glanced at his account the other day and saw a purchase that brought home the worst impact of these shutdowns on those higher functioning residents of the autism spectrum. My son purchased a single ice cream cone after work.
The thought of a purchase of something that is a treat typically experienced among friends, purchased for himself by a young man I love because he does not have friends, is crushing. The friendships he was starting to develop after graduation from high school dissipated because of the shutdown. The social relationships he was developing at the job he was set to take after graduation dissipated with the loss of that opportunity. Despite the social support of our family, my Asperger’s son is further on an island of social isolation now than a year and a half ago. He celebrated something that pleased him or made a spontaneous decision for a treat by himself (I did not ask him about the circumstances), and that image actually brought a lump to my throat for the first time in about thirty years. I so much want him to develop interests and friends (not a ton of friends, just a core group) and so far I have failed. Lockdowns eviscerated the progress that seemed to be occurring, and the purchase of a single ice cream cone brought, like a concussion, the “starting over” with him home in concrete form. Parents of offspring on the Autism spectrum experience these moments often, I believe. The events generate simultaneous feelings of “I love that he purchased a treat for himself, with his own earned money” and profound sadness that it was not with peers. We will start again, with more hope and grit than Sisyphus. But if these repeated shutdowns continue, I cannot help but worry that millions of young adults and children on the spectrum will become locked in to single ice cream purchases for their lifetimes.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.