To me, watching March of the Wooden Soldiers is like opening a Christmas present.
It still offers surprises, no matter how many times you do it. The fact that it was on TV on Xmas Day, as usual, drove that point home. This year, I marveled at the elegance of Laurel and Hardy’s routines. I smiled at the charm of Victor Herbert’s lilting score. And I pondered the idea that those mean “bogeymen” invading Toyland at the end were racist caricatures.
Yep, I did just that. It basically ruined my naive memory of viewings past. But it also instilled an awareness that many of the pleasures we grew up on don’t always retain their innocent luster.
OK, you say, but this movie is totally silly. It’s just fantasy and isn’t political. It’s escapist. It’s Laurel and Hardy, for crying out loud!
It is, but I’m reminded of other “innocent” routines in otherwise sterling pictures, such as the big musical number in A Day at the Races, that have disturbing social connotations attached to their entertainment value. In March, the bogeymen are monstrous, cartoony, but also apelike in their movements, unintelligible and savage. Plus, they attack Toyland in masses, attempting to carry off the inhabitants while causing as much damage as possible.
Doesn’t that sound like the white establishment’s worst fear—that the race it has pressed down for so many centuries will invade and destroy it?
This isn’t a subtle message, yet I’m chagrined that it has taken me this long to understand it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen it so many times and, in the past, have only looked at it superficially. Now, however, I’m noticing the subtext, and although I still find the movie amusing, my joys are somewhat deflated. Like Races, it’s attained a mark that—though based in misconceptions of yore—serves as a strike against it. These ideas can’t be discounted, no matter how old they are or antiquated they seem.
That’s because they still appear on TV … every year, in the case of March. And they still have the capacity to be offensive.
If we examine all of our holiday traditions, I’m sure we’d all find concepts we disagree with. The hardest ones to explore, though, are the ones we’ve grown up accepting but don’t make sense once we revisit them with older eyes.
I’m feeling that way about March, though a present worth opening is also worth discussing. Perhaps we can continue to do that as the holidays amble by.