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By Sam Carrigan
“Anything can happen on a snow day.”
So goes the promise of the children’s film Snow Day, released in 2000, directed by Chris Koch and produced in part by Nickelodeon Studios. Character after character repeats the line in just about every form possible, imperative, exclamatory, verb-subject-object, everything but an epilogue saying, “It was a snow day, anything happened.” In the history of lies told to children, this one may be the most quickly debunked. A kid experiencing the rapturous hold of a snow day simply needed to ask a parent if they could get a ride to the theater to hold the cinematic mirror up to their life, only to be told, “No. The roads are iced over. It’s not going to happen.” With messages like “anything can happen” being crammed through our eye sockets in the final decade that children’s television was virtually unopposed by the internet, it’s no wonder our current crop of young adults grew up to be bitter, distrustful little shits.
We also have difficulty letting go of the past. One recent Saturday, I awoke to another heavy snowfall dashing any hopes of going out and doing things on my day off. A friend trudged over and suggested a few of us watch this 15-year old film that we all vaguely recall seeing as children. Being snowed in on the precious weekend, a movie about the joys of a mid-week snow day seemed like a qualified recipient for our millennial venom. Who could turn down an opportunity to immerse themselves in sarcastic takedowns of a childhood gewgaw that has rusted over the years? Well-adjusted people, for one. There were none present, so it commenced.
There’s no need to list all of the movie’s shortcomings: child actors and low stakes conflicts populate a tame Ferris Bueller rip-off. Conventional fare becomes a contradicting insult as the motto “anything can happen!” is repeated between the predictable setups and outcomes you’ve seen a million times. The utter domination of whiteness in the film’s color palette must have seared through the eyelids of exhausted guardians and prevented them from turning a reluctant 89 minutes in a theater into a quality nap. And so on.
So why did we all remember this movie of all the uninspired garbage culture from our youth? Maybe it was all the Smash Mouth on the soundtrack. It may be that some of the aspects of the production were more memorably artful than anyone would reasonably expect. The snow plow operator is only known to the children and listed in the credits as “Snowplowman.” With some slightly improved dialogue, he would be a dead ringer for a Cormac McCarthy villain, kin to Death from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. He exists less as a man than an avatar of primordial destruction unbounded by society, and yet he upholds society’s own rules in terrifyingly literal ways. He’s accompanied, arbitrarily, by a raven that evokes Norse mythology and their world-ending winter storm Ragnarok. There’s a long shot of Snowplowman arguing on the horizon of a frozen plain with one of our plucky protagonists that would look right at home in a Coen brothers film.
The principal is also an intriguing figure. Naturally, he’s a clone of the Ferris Bueller principal with no desire other than to make children go to school. Unlike with Bueller, the snow shuts down the school and thus also the only conflict he could care about. The rest of his appearances in the film feature the hapless administrator being rapid-fire pelted with snowballs by an ostensible mob of off-screen children.
There seem to be two possibilities here: One, the children attacking him are a grim-faced firing squad finding no joy in their duty – these professional killers do not laugh or jeer or even appear on screen. Two, the children do not exist and the snow is murdering this man of its own volition. I tend towards the second interpretation. This principal taunted the divine forces of nature with his Tower of Babel Middle School. He challenged their will by building an educational institution that he would even keep open on their holy days. For this, he is punished. No one tries to help him or even comments on it. They turn their heads away in pity. They know the look of a man marked by the gods to be destroyed for his arrogance. When he finally thinks that he is safe and is barraged by snowballs within his own home, crying out in agony, we know that we have glimpsed at a Sisyphean torture that will last him for an eternity. Snowplowman, too; he ends the film tied to a sign, surely to have his liver eaten by his own bird for the rest of time. Perhaps our tragic hero might still know the warm release of death. Anything can happen on a snow day.
The political reader may be at a loss attempting to analyze the film. The main antagonists are a public school principal and a snow plow operator attempting to re-open public spaces to common use. One major subplot is about a working woman abandoning her job to devote herself to the traditional gender role of motherhood; another is about Chevy Chase regaining the right to wear pants at his TV meteorologist job. Is this not a remorselessly conservative vision of society? Or are the children rebelling against a fascist school system? Is the restoration of Chevy Chase’s dignity representative of the triumph of Enlightenment-era scientism? No one knows other than the auteur Chris Koch. Perhaps it’s an unrewarding exercise reading so deeply into an incoherent, condescending cash-grab. To that I say: it has not stopped us yet.
The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk put forward the idea, more or less, that the ruling class has become cynical in its use of ideology. It knows that when it says things such as “anything can happen” or “love is endless” or “war criminals will be punished” that these things are not true, and yet it continues to say them as a means of manipulation. You can’t ‘outwit’ the elites by pointing out the faulty logic behind these things – they win simply by dragging you into an argument where they profit from all available answers. The mask no longer has its original use, yet it continues to be worn.
Sloterdijk also proposes “kynicism” as a name for the ironic or sarcastic rejection the masses use to cope with the cynicism of our overlords. In all likelihood, Coca-Cola knows that it looks ridiculous when it offers to help you understand true happiness, and yet it still does it and sales aren’t hurt in the least. They also probably know that such smarmy “aw-shucks” artifices inspire the kind of snarky backlash that has their advertising get talked about and shared. In that sense, both Coke and your humble narrator are playing our parts in the great infinite reproduction of neoliberal ideology. Who’s doing the plowing, and who’s getting plowed? Can the roads plowed by capitalism be “un-plowed” as the children do in the end, or would our energy be better used ending this once and for all and crashing that snow plow into the fucking school?
It’s not holding children’s movies to unrealistic standards to want something sensible, enjoyable to viewers of all ages, or even to have a catch phrase that doesn’t haunt one at night. Ratatouille did a good job with their highly specific slogan, “Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great.” Nor is Snow Day the best we can do with the blank slate when we wake up to a morning of fresh snowfall. Does a storm that reshapes the world, our means of travel, and our pursuit of education have to stand for the death of dreams, or can it set the stage for an eventual revolution unlike anything we’ve ever seen? Let us not be bounded by the answers of the past when we affirm, as we must, that anything can happen on a snow day.
#Real #Snow #KidsMovies #KiddieMovies #Children #ChildrensMovies #FamilyMovies #KidsAndFilm #SnowDay
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