The Weekly Geekout: Christmas Movies

By Emma Louise Backe

For our readers that celebrate Christmas, I wish you the merriest of yuletide gatherings. Whether or not you ascribe to the religious rituals that have been associated with Christmas, the holiday can also be full of culturally specific traditions, rooted in the folklore that surrounds the season. In Germany, for example, St. Nicholas is accompanied by a dark companion on the night of Christmas Eve—Knecht Ruprecht, a devilish figure, is said to punish the wicked children on the naughty list and fill stockings with ash. For the families that anxiously await the arrival of Santa, there is also a fascinating anthropological component to the magic typically associated with Christmas. If parents want their children to believe in Santa Claus, elves, and flying reindeer, they must willfully act out and fabricate an epistemological and ontological reality for their kids. For the holiday season, parents around the world create an alternative, lived space in which magic is not only possible, but necessary and expected.

The holiday is also a great excuse to binge eat candy canes, watch old cartoon Christmas specials, and dress up like an elf. Some of the older Christmas movies, like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) even celebrate the underdogs, the outcasts and the cultural renegades, such as the Island of Misfit Toys. There’s a thrill of enchantment blended into the personal personal family customs we all develop and accrue over time. As you decide which classic to stream next on Netflix, bursting with holiday cheer, here are my top five geeky Christmas movies.

1. Batman Returns (1992)

One of those forgotten classics in the comic book movie canon, Tim Burton’s Batman sequel makes Christmas dark and twisty, like drawing the poison out of mistletoe. Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, is (dare I say it?) to die for and Michelle Pfieffer’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman is absolute purrfection. Chock full of raunchy puns and creepy clowns, Batman Returns will definitely not fill you with good will towards men.

2. Gremlins (1984)

Why sing Christmas carols when you can watch malicious creatures stalk down your friends and family, full of bloodthirsty vengeance because someone forgot that you shouldn’t feed Mogwai after midnight.



3. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Michael Cain as Ebenezer Scrooge. Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens. What more could you want? Great adaptation of A Christmas Carol (1843) or the greatest?

4. Rise of the Guardians (2012)

A movie for all you mythology geeks, Dreamworks brings together the old gods, giving them a wry spin and a sly sense of humor you might not notice on your first viewing. With an American Gods-esque flair, Guardians makes us consider the ultimate power of belief.

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

I can never decide whether to watch this movie around Halloween or Christmas. But, hey, it’s pretty fantastic at any time of the year. Who wants to kidnap Sandy Claws with me?

Honorable mentions include It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town (1970), The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985), Scrooged (1988), Home Alone (1990),  The Santa Clause (1994), Jingle All the Way (1996), Jack Frost (1997), Catch Me If You Can  (2002). Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and Elf (2003). What are some of your favorites?

Merry Christmas you filthy animals.

Works Cited

Bass, Jules (1970). Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. Rankin/Bass Productions.

Bass, Jules (1985). The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Rankin/Bass Productions.

Burton, Tim (1992). Batman Returns. Warner Bros.

Burton, Tim (1993). The Nightmare Before Christmas. Touchstone Pictures.

Capra, Frank (1946). It’s a Wonderful Life. Liberty Films.

Columbus, Chris (1990). Home Alone. Hughes Entertainment. 20th Century Fox.

Dante, Joe (1984). Gremlins. Warner Bros. Amblin Entertainment.

Dickens, Charles (1843). A Christmas Carol.

Donner, Richard (1988). Scrooged. Paramount Pictures.

Favreau, Jon (2003). Elf. New Line Cinema.

Henson, Brian (1992). The Muppet Christmas Carol. Walt Disney Pictures. Jim Henson Productions.

Jones, Chuck (1966). How the Grinch Stole Christmas. MGM Television.

Joyce, William (2001). Santa Calls. Harper Collins.

Kon, Satoshi (2003). Tokyo Godfathers. Madhouse. Sony Pictures.

Levant, Brian (1996). Jingle All the Way. 20th Century Fox Film.

Miller, Troy (1997). Jack Frost. Warner Bros.

Pasquin, John (1994). The Santa Clause. Walt Disney Pictures.

Ramsey, Peter (2012). Rise of the Guardians. Dreamworks Animation. Paramount Pictures.

Roemer, Larry (1964). Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rankin/Bass Productions.

Schulz, Charles M. (1965). A Charlie Brown Christmas. Bill Melendez Productions.

Spielberg, Steven (2002). Catch Me If You Can. Amblin Entertainment.

Williems, Patrick (2010). “25 Days of Christmas Episodes Day 21: Justice League–‘Comfort and Joy.'”

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“Of Crickets and Gourds: Pokemon as Ancient Chinese Folk Game”


Full disclosure: I love Pokemon. For some people, being passionate about a topic invalidates research by destroying objectivity. I don’t find this particularly bothersome for two reasons: 1) I would rather be fully honest and open than worry about portraying myself as a sort of uber-professional and 2) the scholarly insight that one is supposed to gain by embedding with a community seems as if it would be hampered by ignoring the personal feelings to which participant observation naturally leads. After all, how can one hope to interpret a community predicated on an activity of enjoyment without, well, enjoying the activity? With that caveat, here is the story of a cultural phenomenon that people have been sharing with one another for over 1800 years, almost entirely because of personal enjoyment.

History: China

(Gourd Cricket Containers; Cultural Entomology Digest 3)

People in China have been keeping crickets as pets since before recorded history. Gourd cages for carrying around these musical companions have been found that predate most of the established ancient empires (see links below). The tale really begins in the Tang period (600-900 C.E.). At that time it became high fashion for courtiers to carry around decorative boxes and gourds with various species of cricket inside. The different species were prized for their songs and the more expensive containers were even shaped to optimize acoustics. This is a practice that continues today, in fact, as a great many people in China how been known to use recordings of insect songs as their ringtones.

To wit, you can’t fix a critter fight.

One of the distinguishing features of the Tang dynasty was the influence it had on surrounding cultures. China has gone through alternating phases of isolationism and extroversion (historian Valerie Hansen calls it the “open empire”), with the Tang being one of its most outgoing periods. At the same time, it’s often seen as a golden age for the creative arts and, thanks to some pretty savvy domestic policies and robust foreign trade, leisure activities flourished at all levels of society. Among these were pursuits that may strike modern Western readers as… distasteful. They included cockfighting, goose fighting, ram fighting, and, of course, cricket fighting. All of these were enjoyed by different classes of people, but it’s safe to say that three broad categories will suffice: men who looked to profit by gambling on the matches; upper class scholars and bureaucrats; and children. As will become important later, all of these people mixed together at the contests, which served as a social leveling mechanism since victory could never be fully assured for any given bout. To wit, you can’t fix a critter fight.


Deep Multiplayer: Pokemon’s 2000-Year History and Social Impact

Just a brief introduction here: this is a lecture given by Jared Miracle on the cultural history behind Pokemon. Tomorrow we’ll be posting a piece by Jared expanding on this material, but this video gives a great overview of his research in this area. /NM

Jared Miracle holds a doctorate in anthropology from Texas A&M University, where his research has focused on transnationalism and folklore between East Asia and the West, especially where violence and the fighting arts are concerned. His professional interests include popular culture, martial arts, East Asia, archives, narrative, masculinity, violence, the supernatural, human exploration of space, and foodways. In addition to anthropology and folk studies, he has experience working in archives and document curation, is fluent in Japanese, can read Mandarin, and is a popular guest speaker on topics involving the martial arts and Japanese popular culture. He is currently seeking a publisher for a manuscript exploring the history and social role of Japanese martial arts in the United States. Jared is also at work on a book about Pokémon from a social scientific perspective. He is available for guest talks and happy to travel or tele-lecture.


The Weekly Geekout: My Little Pony FIM

A little over a year ago,  I decided I wanted to understand what the buzz was about over My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP: FIM). Why were so many adults, and so many men, fans of the show? Having read about bronies and pegasisters, I was intrigued: were these people truly into the show or were they making fun of it? So one night, my husband and I pushed play on the first episode while having dinner. Out of curiosity. Without expecting anything.

Today we own matching Rainbow Dash t-shirts and we know the lyrics to most of the songs on the show. Welcome to the herd indeed.

Welcome to the Herd by Astanine on Deviantart

Welcome to the Herd by Astanine on Deviantart

We instantly liked the show. While I have introduced my other half to several TV shows I love, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Stargate SG-1 and Doctor Who (11th), MLP: FIM is the first show we are both equally enthusiastic about. (Since then I have convinced him to watch Fringe, which he adored, but that is a discussion for another Weekly Geekout post).

So why do I love MLP: FIM so much? Here are the mane 6 reasons why!



Freaks & Geeks: Freedom from the Outside

In the previous Freaks and Geeks articles, we examined the origin of the geek concept in culture through its etymology and associated millieu. Next, we considered the term through consumptive patterns and the communities that form around those patterns. Most recently, we considered the place of geeks through the study of pop culture – another term for consumption (see Azuma (2009) for a discussion on this) – and its place in Anthropology as a whole. After watching the television show Video Game High School, I’d like to take traditional gender roles and consider them through a few logical leaps through both gamer and geek culture (see Cassell 2002 for clarification).

Specifically, I’m interested in the old adage that concepts like gender are erased by the losses accrued through computationally-based interaction (Blank, 2013). While we traditionally view concepts like these as antiquated, there is something left there to discuss. Perhaps it isn’t that gender or race are erased insomuch that we gain new tools, ones not couched in history, through which we can challenge these concepts.

Logical Leap 1
When I was younger, I sought a way to rectify an internal conflict. You see, my parents spent most of their time trying to get me to play sports whereas all I wanted to do was play video games, Dungeons and Dragons, and read books. When I began to get more in to pen and paper role-playing games, it allowed me to approach this idea through game design. To that end, I designed a really awful role-playing game called, “By the Bike Racks.”


There is more diversity in this picture than the entirety of game culture.

The concept behind this game was that one day, Nerds woke up with the powers of magic whereas Jocks gained a significant degree of physical prowess and general resilience to magic. Despite this, the increased power of the nerd allowed them to come to dominate the world and thus begin a way to eradicate nerds around the world. Here is where Video Game High School comes in. As this was written in the mid-1990s, none of us knew just how prescient this game really was…though, this case it wasn’t magic that set the nerds free, but the creation of the internet.

Logical Leap 2
If you haven’t watched Video Game High School, this show was born out of Freddie Wong’s Youtube Channel. The easiest way to describe it is that it is an alternative universe through which video gaming has taken the place of professional sports. Instead of worrying about amassing wealth or power, the world centers on one’s skill in specific kinds of video games. For example, at the beginning of season 3, a well thought of female soldier with a strong record of fighting for women’s rights is competing with Tony Hawk to become the next President of the United States. Think about it.

As they begin to declare a winner (of the nuclear launch codes), the actual president, who had been missing for an unspecified amount of time shows up bruised and bloodied. He grabs the launch codes and as he speaks in to the camera to tell America what happened to him, the television channel cuts to a news room in order to feature a kill streak happening during the national high-school FPS tournament.

Where are we standing?
So where do we stand? Well, my definition of Geekdom is that it offers us a means through which to eschew the structure of gender by allowing us alternative means through which to express ourselves. While geekdom stands inside of capitalism as a means through which to establish itself through buying patterns (Azuma, 2009), it is a movement born of modernity. Shows like Video Game High School or even my terrible pen and paper role-playing game allow us to delve more deeply into what masculinity or femininity is really capable of despite their birth as consumer products (note: my game was never going to sell but I had great dreams at the age of 20!).

Despite the recent skirmishes along the stereotype of the gamer, we have begun to see all manner of socially aggressive gender stereotypes pop up all over the place. In fact, as these gender stereotypes have progressed, the appearance of trans-geek stereotypes has managed to begin to crack the dichotomy of gender altogether.


Azuma, H. (2009). Otaku: Japan’s database animals. U of Minnesota Press.

Blank, T. J. (2013). Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular Expression in a Digital World. O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Cassell, J. (2002, January). Genderizing Human-Computer Interaction. In The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook (pp. 401-412). L. Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Tocci, Jason. 2007. “The Well-Dressed Geek: Media Appropriation and Subcultural Style.” MiT5.