The other day, I was on my way to work, when something magical happened. Actually, to be more specific, I was on my way to my full-time job, where I work forty hours a week, as opposed to my part-time jobs, where I only put in thirty or so. Anyway, I was on my way to one job, trying to figure out when I'd find the time to use all of the extra cash I'd been putting together and actually get my holiday shopping done, when I saw one of those little signs of Christmas that you never notice, but is always there. In my rear view mirror, there was a beautiful red light flashing right next to a blue one, and I thought, "A cop car! Now that's Christmas to me!"
This probably raises some issues about what kind of Christmae I've had, and while those wistful yarns are amusing, very few of them actually involve police vehicles, nor would they be easy to relate to. Instead, I direct your attention toward your favorite Christmas film. Think carefully. Was there a cop car anywhere in the film? I must admit there is not an absolute here, but a very strong theme. Therefore, I predict your answer was yes, even though it can't be a prediction since you've already come up with your answer. More accurately, I hazard a guess that you recall a cop car. If you don't recall a cop car, when you watch that beloved film this year try and keep an eye out for them.
Some of the more obvious films for these carriages of justice include THE REF, DIE HARD, and BAD SANTA. These are films in which crimes occur at this special time of year, but the criminal element is as important if not more important than the holiday message itself. Still, without conflict a story is not a story. For somebody to be the good guy in a film, there needs to be a bad guy, and to be a bad guy typically wrongdoing is needed. Therefore we can look at films like CHRISTMAS VACATION or HOME ALONE, which involve kidnapping and burglary respectively, and know that the authorities will be involved. While it was at heart a good guy doing the kidnapping in CHRISTMAS VACATION, he needed to be a bad guy to an even bigger villain to show that doing right sometimes means bending a few rules (or laws) for those you care about.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, A MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, GREMLINS, all heartwarming classics, all with the presence of the 5-0 (though I think technically the "5-0" in HAWAII 5-0 was indicative of Hawaii being the fiftieth state, and most of these films do not contain Hawaiians). Frankly, I could go on listing examples for days, and in an earlier draft of this article I actually did. Instead, I think it's worth taking a closer look at why so many holiday films feel the need to place Officer Friendly in the ranks of Kris Kringle and Jack Frost.
Perhaps it is a need for a feeling of security. Whatever happens, we know that there is somebody out there watching over us. Most of us are at the age where we don't believe in Santa anymore, but your local authorities keep tabs on who is naughty or nice as well. It probably helps Mr. Claus out, since he doesn't need to go over rap sheets to realize most prisons don't have chimneys.
This may be a part of it, but often the officers are acting against our protagonists. They appear as a threat to the anti-hero who has rediscovered the beauty of the season, the meaning of family and love, or some other uplifting bit of character growth. They are the final hurdle one must try and get past in order to start their life anew. In this regard, perhaps the police are the voice of cold, hard reason once we've been brought to a sympathetic point beyond reason. They provide a moment in which we allow for a second chance, though the person may not traditionally deserve it. After all, how many times is Clark Griswold going to be able to talk his way out of going to the clink?
Perhaps they are present because, from a logical standpoint, they would be one of the few people out working on Christmas. While those not having major film-worthy calamity around them are at home quietly enjoying egg nog, the police remain out on the streets. They serve as available and believable characters to have show up and affect the story as needed.
Very often they are a symbol of something else: Christmas can be a really effed up time of year. The shopping, the working overtime, the snow and ice, the relatives, the cooking, everything all piled up until finally the 25th hits, you're sitting down to a nice meal wearing your new sweater, and all there is to do is relax. It's over. All of the headaches, all of the pains, all of it is done with, and for another year you survived. When the cops show up, you know that one way or another it'll all be over soon, for better or worse. The bad guys are taken away, or maybe you get a nice quiet cell and three squares for a little while. Either way, they are the harbinger of some well-deserved peace and quiet.
If you interviewed the creative teams behind all of these films, chances are they would each have their own reasons for including Johnny Law in their film. There's not a chapter in McKee's STORY that declares this a law of the proper holiday screenplay. It isn't taught at film school. It's just one of those strange little things that has happened, and will continue to happen. Part of the collective conscious, or maybe a secret message implanted by the great Xenu to disrupt the very notion of Christmas. It's just something I've noticed, and like a pile of mashed potatoes shaped like the Nativity, I have a feeling this means something.
Of course, there is one other theory. I can't deny that those red and blue flashing lights look pretty festive dancing across a nice snow-covered lawn. Sadly, my neighbors disagree.
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Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.|
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