Monday, December 08, 2014

Reader's Diary #1096- John Hughes: Christmas '59

Earlier this week I discovered that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (one of four Mutford family must-sees during the holidays) was based on John Hughes' very own short story, "Christmas '59." I just had to read it.

Look, I know Christmas Vacation isn't a perfect movie. Roger Ebert only gave it 2 out of 4 stars. But amongst its issues, I didn't recall racism being one of them. Fortunately they had the good sense to lose the Xgung Wo character. Remember Mickey Rooney's horribly racist Mr. Yunioshi character in Breakfast at Tiffany's? Even he'd say Wo was crossing a line. He'd probably say it in an over-the-top bad accent, but I'm not about to try and type that out. I will, however, share this gem from "Christmas '59" when Wo, a young man from Thailand, makes his first appearance:
"I'll sreep in your base-ments," Xgung Wo said, bowing to Mom
"Don't be silly," Mom said. "You can sleep in Johnny's room.
That was bad news for me. Not only was he all grown up, but he had huge beaver teeth, glasses like my Grandpa's, and he buttoned his shirt all the way up to the top. He also had his sweater on backward and he wore red socks with sandals.
Oh, and if it only stopped there. Perhaps we might still consider forgiving it, chalking it up to an unfortunate scene in an otherwise funny story, like the Chinese restaurant in A Christmas Story (another of the 4 must-sees). Sadly, it only gets worse.

If you're a fan of the movie, perhaps you'll enjoy comparing minor details. Instead of a squirrel leaping out of a tree, for instance, it's a bird. However, I found it almost impossible to focus on anything except Wo, mostly because Hughes kept coming back to him, and every time was more offensive than the last. It was to the point where it didn't come across as much as a sorry product of the times, like when older relatives throw out casual racist jokes or remarks not even realizing or considering the hurt such words have caused in the world, but more like a deep-seated, almost bizarre hatred.

Here's another one,
It's weird how a normal house can get very scary when there's an Oriental guy in the basement.
"Shh!" I whispered as we tiptoed down the stairs, trying not to make the old wooden steps creak.
"What if he's really a jap?" Dale said.
To top it off, Wo is a thief. He's also a bad driver (of course) and winds up crashing his getaway car into an ambulance.

I'm just glad someone was able to see through this horribly racist shit to discover something worthwhile.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I am stunned by this level of racism. Thank jeebus they didn't ruin one of my favourite Christmas movies with its inclusion.
Good (and that term is relative) find.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Yes, it's quite awful! Seeing as Hughes was one of the producers, I'm kind of surprised it didn't make it in actually.

John Mutford said...

Update: Too bad I hadn't seen Sixteen Candles before writing this post. (On a side note, how does one escape the 80s without having seen that?) Maybe Hughes didn't drop the offensive Asian character from Christmas Vacation out of a new found sensitivity, but because he'd already used it.