Christmas Specials are about Pain

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Christmas time is here and with it all the complex “feels” of the season.

The holidays are often a good barometer of how you are feeling about yourself and life. If you’re happy Christmas will make you happier as the festive joy of the season and being with friends and family will only make you feel warmer inside. If you’re sad however all this joy in the air can almost feel mocking or chastising, like “how dare you not be happy during this time of year?”

It’s not binary either though, a depressed person might feel less sad, of course given, the upbeat of the season and a happy person might feel like they should be happier than they should be leading to cold apathy to match the weather of the season. Christmas season is weird and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and can influence us in a multitude of ways.

(‘Tis the season to be melancholy)

Our pop culture does a pretty decent job of communicating these often nuanced feelings through the power of the Christmas special. Though these specials are obviously for commercial appeal as well, as “Bojack Horseman’s” own meta special critiqued, how these shows and their various themes are expressed take on extra meaning when put through the lens of the holiday season.

Through the overarching narrative viewers get to see not only how these characters interact with the season but more than likely how the writers feel about it as well. Whether it was “Invader Zim’s” cynical, pessimistic world view taking on Christmas and the power that blind idolatry holds in the form of Santa, or the more touching, emotional story that “Hey, Arnold!” gave us instead on the very same channel with a tale of war, broken families, found-families and selflessness these specials are quite varied in their worldviews and how we all act during this time of year.

(But seriously who didn’t ugly cry during this special?)

But the overarching feeling all these specials seem to have is about pain and how we deal with it through this time of year. Pain can manifest in a multitude of ways within ourselves and how we handle it is a reflection of ourselves. We can dig deeper into our reclusiveness and/or depression as Bojack does in his special as he reflects on his past and the times that has left him behind. We can see that perhaps its time to move past pain as well and not dig deeper into it as even “Batman: The Animated Series” explored in “a Very Joker Christmas.” Then of course it can manifest into the far more complicated feelings of pain through identity as the character Suzy (later Theo) did in “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” in “A Midwinter’s Tale.”

There’s a lot of themes our Christmas stories take on but pain and how we deal with it is so prevalent in almost all of them that it’s almost Buddhist in nature. The way characters like Arnold, Bojack, Suzy, Batman and even Zim take on Christmas through the pain the season causes is not unlike what the ancient religion/philosophy speaks on. Each character is dealing with feeling empty to some extent and a need to fill that emptiness with something to feel whole. Arnold needs to bring a family back together, Bojack needs to feel like his glory days again, Suzy needs to be a boy, Batman needs to work because he can’t slow down in his vendetta and Zim just needs to conquer the world.

(Hard to slow down when the Joker is on the loose, of course)

Their desire to take on whatever task or thematic narrative their main stories have them embarked on dominates their emotions exponentially more during these specials. Each character is worn down by it; its aggravating, depressing and the jolliness of the season only makes it worse for them. Each of these specials come to different conclusions regarding this of course but if there’s one theme that connects them all, as the season often reminds us in real life, is the people we have around us do help. Arnold relies on his friends and Helga commits a selfless act to bring Mr. Hyun’s daughter home. Bojack is reminded he has at least one friend who cares about him in his life that he hasn’t alienated yet. Suzy and Sabrina come together in their shared loving friendship despite everything that has happened around them. Robin reminds Batman to slow down. And Zim…well…Gir loves him at least.

(And like most Invader Zim episodes it’s bat shit insane.)

Not all specials are deep of course but I don’t think they need to be either. They fulfil a nice purpose of bringing families together, much like how these characters learn in these shows, and dive into the feelings this time of year often bring out in us through characters we have grown to love all the same.

I guess my point here is Christmas specials are unique takes on story-telling within our pop culture sphere that try to find new ways to explore old themes that the holidays are all about. Our TV shows and stories are expressions, even in the most fanciful sense, of the world we inhabit and when these characters and their respective narrative themes collide with a holiday we all experience in unique ways they become just a bit more real, even in the most superficial sense.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Cheers to all my fellow weirdos this season.

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