Tag Archives: dark humor

Why “Bad Santa” Is The Greatest Modern Christmas Movie

44a1258c-3534-4b88-9623-312728e91f59-2f020c3e

This is the time of year where you can’t go more than a half-hour without seeing a Christmas movie on TV. We’re basically in the heart of the holiday season. People have finally stopped complaining about Christmas decorations going up too early or getting a head start on their shopping. It’s not just fast-approaching anymore. The holidays are here.

Now, I love the holidays as much as anyone. As such, I have a strong appreciation for Christmas movies. I often go through stretches in December where I’ll watch at least part of a Christmas movie every day. It’s a beautiful thing that gets me in the spirit and gives me an excuse to drink eggnog spiked with whiskey.

I have a long list of personal favorites. I’m also among those who argue vehemently that “Die Hard” qualifies as a Christmas movie. Despite what Bruce Willis himself says, this movie will always be part of my holiday viewing schedule. I could write multiple articles to justify that position, but that’s not my intent here.

In recent years, I’ve found myself immersed in another argument surrounding a unique kind of Christmas movie. That movie is a lesser-known, but underrated gem called “Bad Santa.” If you’ve seen it, then you probably understand why it inspires such colorful discussions during the holidays. If you haven’t, then I urge you to check it out, but do not watch it with your children.

Make no mistake. “Bad Santa” is to Christmas movies what the McRib is to fast food fans. It’s one of those rare movies that doesn’t just go in the opposite direction of every classic trope associated with a particular genre. It gives those themes the finger, kicks it in the balls, and throws up on them for good measure.

This movie has no holiday miracles. There’s no magic at work. There’s no heartwarming moments that reaffirm the spirit of the season. This movie is weapons grade cynicism for all things Christmas and it goes about it in a way that’s vulgar, crude, disgusting, and hilarious.

The story is not for the faint of heart. It follows Willie Soke, a degenerate, misanthropic, womanizing, alcoholic who makes his living cracking safes with his dwarf partner-in-crime, Marcus Skidmore. Their tactics are the antithesis of the holiday spirit. Willie works as a mall Santa while Marcus works as an elf. They work at malls during the holidays and then rob them on Christmas Eve.

If you expect the movie to be a feel-good holiday story about a criminal redeeming himself during Christmas, then prepare to be disappointed. Willie is not that kind of character and “Bad Santa” does not tell that kind of story. While Willie does undergo some growth, he’s still an asshole by the time the credits roll.

The story doesn’t try to redeem Willie. It doesn’t even try to put him on the path to becoming a better person. All the Christmas miracles in world can’t do that for someone like him. However, his story does bring something uniquely festive to the table. The way things play out for Willie and those around him convey a powerful message that resonates with the holiday season in its own perverse way.

Some go so far as to argue that “Bad Santa” is an anti-Christmas movie. I can understand that sentiment to some extent. However, I would argue that “Bad Santa” is one of those movies that has become more relevant with time. I would even argue that, in the context of the modern spirit of Christmas, “Bad Santa” is the greatest modern Christmas movie.

Now, I know that won’t sit well with those who still love “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” I don’t deny that those are great Christmas movies that deserve to be classics. I’m not arguing that “Bad Santa” is better than those movies or deserves to be in the same category. I simply believe that “Bad Santa” is the greatest Christmas movie for the current times in which we live and these are my reasons why.


Reason #1: It Reflects The Real (And Increasingly Jaded) World

Let’s face it. These are not the upbeat, idealistic times of yesteryear. People no longer trust in their government. People keep seeing once-beloved celebrities self-destruct. In general, people just aren’t confident about the future anymore. As a society, we’re becoming more and more jaded. That’s exactly the kind of sentiment that “Bad Santa” appeals to.

This movie is a world where assholes keep being assholes. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That may not be a great basis for a Christmas movie, but it perfectly represents the real world, now more than ever. In this day and age, we see famous and powerful people get away with awful things time and again. There’s no miracle that comes around to right all the wrongs.

In “Bad Santa,” this harsh view of the world isn’t avoided. For the entire movie, Willie essentially channels the defeatist attitude of Al Bundy. His life sucks. He hates himself. He barely even flinches when he’s staring down the barrel of a gun at one point. Beyond the self-loathing, though, he finds a way to provide real insights into the holidays.

Do we really need all the crap we ask for on Christmas? Do we really need magic, miracles, or some grand spectacle to appreciate it? Willie’s entire persona is an indictment of those who rely too much on magical thinking during the holidays. In the real world, that doesn’t get anyone anything other than a gut punch and a kick in the ass.


Reason #2: It Relies On Choices Rather Than Miracles

As deplorable a human being as Willie Soke is, he does have one defining trait that makes him somewhat sympathetic. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t blame the world or everyone else for his lousy lot in life. He’s very much a product of his choices. He chooses to drink, spit, swear, and piss himself while wearing a Santa suit. There’s no extenuating circumstances. These are his choices.

Granted, they’re deplorable choices from someone inclined to self-destruction, but he makes them freely and doesn’t hide from the consequences. These same choices are what makes his relationship to the dense, but lovable kid in the movie, Therman, so meaningful. Willie has no reason to care or help this kid in any capacity and the kid is in no position to stop him.

In the end, though, Willie doesn’t need a miracle or some visit from Christmas spirits to make his choices. Therman’s influence on him, while ridiculous and downright pathetic at times, is sufficient for him to make the choices that make the story work. While they don’t necessarily redeem Willie for all his misdeeds, it does show that even a drunk like him can do the right thing without a miracle.

That, in and of itself, is a testament to the spirit of Christmas. When someone like Willie Soke can actually choose to do something good for a gullible kid, then that offers hope to any jaded soul on the holidays.


Reason #3: It Highlights Small (But Meaningful) Gestures

Many of the most memorable Christmas movies often have these big, elaborate gestures that attempt to make our hearts gush with holiday cheer. Whether it’s embracing loved ones at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life” or reuniting with family in “Home Alone,” it feels like a Christmas movie has to go overboard with holiday sentiment.

Bad Santa” takes the exact opposite approach, but somehow finds a way to make those gestures more meaningful. The movie doesn’t take place in the North Pole or some fanciful holiday setting. It takes place in Phoenix, Arizona where it doesn’t snow and heavy coats are useless. It effectively removes the ambiance of the holidays beyond the tacky decorations that people put up.

That works perfectly for “Bad Santa” because it ensures any gesture carries more weight. Whether it’s Willie trying to get Thurman his Christmas present or Willie putting back together the Advent Calendar, these small moments feel bigger in a setting devoid of traditional holiday magic.

There’s no sweeping change that turns Phoenix into some sort of Christmas haven. The world of “Bad Santa” never tries to be anything other than a world of shallow holiday imagery because that’s all it needs. Anything more than that is just fantasy and there’s only so much fantasy you can muster in a story that follows a misanthropic drunk.


Reason #4: It Offers Perspective Rather Than Hope

Another major trait of classic Christmas movies is the hope they inspire. When you get to the end of a Christmas movie, you’re supposed to feel a sense of hope. There’s this sense that the story has somehow rekindled someone’s holiday spirit. While there will always be a place for that kind of hope in a fantasy world, “Bad Santa” offers something different, but valuable.

More than anything else, “Bad Santa” conveys a sense of perspective about the holidays. It’s not this wonderful, heartfelt occasion for everybody. There are a lot of miserable, self-loathing drunks like Willie Soke out there who don’t want or need hope. They’d rather have something that’ll make life suck a little less.

That’s the best Willie can strive for in “Bad Santa” and that’s exactly what he does. Being around Therman doesn’t make him a beacon of Christmas spirit. It just makes his miserable life slightly less miserable and he’s grateful for that. As a result, he makes an effort to help the kid have a good Christmas.

Sure, his efforts result in him getting roughed up and shot, but that’s perfectly appropriate for the tone of the story. In the real world, noble efforts like that aren’t always rewarded. Sometimes, they end up pretty messy, which Willie finds out the hard way on more than one occasion. It’s not the most uplifting message, but it’s the most honest.

Perspective today is more precious than it has ever been before. In the era of fake news and alternative facts, it’s hard to maintain a firm grasp on reality. Christmas movies tend to obscure reality for something more cheerful, but “Bad Santa” for something more real and that’s what makes it so effective as a story.


Reason #5: It Finds Humor In Bad Situations

To this point, if I’ve given the impression that “Bad Santa” is one depressing slog of a movie, I apologize. Yes, it can be depressing and bleak, but it’s also obscenely funny. There are dark moments in this movie that involve depression, alcoholism, and even attempted suicide. However, many of these moments are perfectly balanced with moments of raw hilarity.

Whether it’s Willie beating the snot out of a bunch of bullies or Marcus berating Gin with a masterful string of profanity, this movie invests heavily on humor. Granted, it’s a very adult form of humor, but it works perfectly within the context of the story. From the very beginning, Willie and his supporting cast are in all sorts of awful situations. Injecting humor into the mix helps balance it out.

It helps create a particular tone for a movie that goes out of its way to spit on so many holiday traditions. Things are ugly for these characters. They’re miserable excuses for human beings, but they often find themselves in funny situations that they make more hilarious with their reactions. No matter how bad it gets, they find a way to make their devolving situations entertaining.

In an era were awful situations unfold in real time because of social media, it’s important to find humor wherever you can. There’s only so much we can do to change a situation. Willie makes that clear from the very beginning of “Bad Santa.” Sometimes, all you can do is just laugh at the absurdities and that’s exactly what this movie does.


I won’t claim that “Bad Santa” is the new standard for Christmas movies. I doubt it’s going to start the kinds of trends we’ve seen in other genres. However, the story it told and the dark humor it utilized struck a chord when it first came out. As the years have gone by, it keeps finding new ways to resonate with an emerging audience.

There will always be a place for “Home Alone” and the Grinch. However, I think for the current generation and all the others who have watched this world embrace new levels of absurdities, “Bad Santa” deserves a special place in our holiday traditions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, human nature, Movie Reviews, movies, nihilism, philosophy

Al Bundy, Circumcision, And Double Standards In Humor

does-male-circumcision-shield-women-from-hiv-750

When you want to know how taboo a topic is, it helps to look at how sensitive people are to jokes about it. Most people can comfortably joke about teenagers, old people, the President, the French, and the Pope. Some of those jokes even make it into popular cartoons and sitcoms that we still laugh at to this day.

Then, there are topics for which making jokes is a gamble. Make the wrong remark at the wrong time and it could really cost you. Just ask Gilbert Gottfried or Roseanne Barr. The stakes get even higher when you joke about religion. Some have a better sense of humor than others, but those that don’t tend to make the news for all the wrong reasons.

Since humor and religion rarely mix, I want to focus on a topic that’s slightly less sensitive in circumcision. I say slightly because gender-specific humor is a lot trickier these days. Old jokes about women drivers and gay men just don’t work anymore and not because more cars are driving themselves.

Between trends in feminism and outrage over Wonder Woman’s armpit hair, the current state of gender politics is no laughing matter. I’ve talked about gender conflicts on many occasions and I’ve also discussed serious issues surrounding circumcision. I’m also aware that the current issues surrounding circumcision aren’t on many peoples’ radar, but I still think it’s worth talking about.

This isn’t just about representation in media or offensive stereotypes. This is about purposefully mutilating parts of the human body. When it happens to women, it’s a major problem that warrants major resources to combat. When it happens to men, though, it’s no big deal and prone to plenty of humor.

It’s more than just a double standard. It reveals a lot about our overall attitudes when we’re willing to joke about something. It shows how much the issue matters and how much energy we’re willing to put in to confront it. To understand the state of circumcision for men, you need look no further than an old episode of “Married With Children.”

I’ve mentioned this classic Fox sitcom before. I put it at the top of my list of TV shows that could never be made today. The fat jokes alone would get it cancelled. It’s a show that went out of its way to be controversial, much to the chagrin of a Michigan house wife. That included an episode about circumcision.

This particular episode was called “A Little Off The Top” and if you know anything about male circumcision, you understand why that’s an overly appropriate title. It starts with Al Bundy getting injured in a basketball game, going to a hospital, and getting circumcised due to a medical error.

It’s all portrayed with typical “Married With Children” hilarity. In fact, one of the most memorable moments of the episode is when Peggy gets a call from the hospital and Marcy, the Bundy family’s neighbor and one of Al’s many enemies, laughs hysterically. I’m not going to lie. When I saw a recent rerun of the episode, I laughed too.

That’s the genius of “Married With Children.” It can take depressing situations like a loveless marriage, a lousy job, and idiot kids and make it funny. It’s part of why this show is one of my favorite shows of all time. When you strip away the humor in this episode, though, there are some disturbing overtones.

To illustrate, here’s a quick thought experiment. Imagine, for a moment, that this isn’t happening in a TV show and you just randomly stumbled across a news article.

“Local Chicago man rushed to a hospital after injury playing basketball is mistakenly circumcised. Family and neighbors make fun of him.”

Take away the iconic Bundy family and the context of a sitcom. Just look at it in terms of raw facts. A man gets an injury, goes to the hospital, has his genitals mutilated against his will due to an error, and is laughed at because of it. The fact that it happens to Al Bundy makes it funny. If it happened to anyone in the real world, it’s not likely to be as funny.

Medical errors are already horrifying enough. This one is extra disturbing for men because it involves our genitals. There’s already a growing reservation about circumcising baby boys for no medical reason who cannot consent, which did not exist when “Married With Children” was on the air. On top of that, there’s a distinct double standard in play.

Even in the lewd world of a 90s Fox sitcom, there are lines that even the Bundy family cannot cross. If you were to reverse the genders in this episode, as I’ve put forth as part of previous thought experiments, then the humor just doesn’t work. If the episode involved a woman who’d been circumcised against her will by accident, then it wouldn’t be funny. It would be disturbing.

The reasons for that aren’t entirely simple. There is a medical and logistical difference between male and female circumcision. For the most part, female circumcision in its various forms are prone to more complications, even in a medical setting. Male and female anatomy are different. There’s no getting around that.

However, the logistics are the same. They both involve cutting, altering, or outright mutilating someone’s genitals against their will. Despite these similarities, one is still capable of being funny while the other is not.

That idea matters because when something can be funny, it impacts how seriously we take it as a society. We can joke about ditzy blonde women, bone-headed men, and irresponsible teenagers because they’re not seen as dire issues. That’s also the reason why we can make jokes about the Vatican in 2018 that probably would’ve gotten people killed half-a-century ago.

The fact that male circumcision can be a joke or the premise of a sitcom says that it’s not serious enough to be on the same level as female genital mutilation. They may not be the same thing, but the implications are still there. When a woman is mutilated, it’s a travesty. When a man is mutilated, it’s comedy. That is not a trivial gap.

I doubt “Married With Children” was trying to make a statement about male circumcision when the episode first aired. The show made a lot of controversial jokes and circumcision barely cracks the top ten. Even if that episode aired today, it probably wouldn’t be that controversial, which says a lot about how little our attitudes about male circumcision have changed since the mid-90s.

In that same time, though, efforts to combat female genital mutilation have gained ground. Efforts to beautify and protect the female body are part of a larger social trend. However, those efforts are not equally prescribed to men, even when the concept is the same.

Now, I’m in no ways in favor of making jokes about male circumcision taboo. Historically speaking, making anything taboo only tends to make an issue worse. I’m also not advocating that we start joking about female genital mutilation, either. My point in citing a memorable episode from a raunchy 90s sitcom is to show the vast disparity in the circumcision debate.

When something is a joke for one group of people, but an atrocity for another, then there’s a major disconnect in the issue. Both sides can and should be discussed seriously. Both can and should be held to similar standards are humor, as well. When you start making exceptions for one over the other, then that obscures the debate for both.

2 Comments

Filed under circumcision, gender issues, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality